I am leaving San Francisco when I graduate in 2014; by doing so, I acknowledge that I am giving up. I am giving up on a city mutated into a playground for the privileged and frankly boring, with no room for the weird or the sidewalk chess tables. No room for the poor either, considering that according to Al Jazeera, housing prices increased 26 percent in 2013 and the average rent is now over $1900 per month.
I am no longer comfortable here, as I am uncomfortable with luxury gourmet, “artisanal” organic consumer pap (give me dirty basements and ratty clothes; there is honesty in them). And I am not comfortable with a city government that is desperate for the handshakes of the wealthy and affluent and has no connection to its people (not that government ever has much of one), that is desperately trying to sweep its poor, its homeless, its oddities under the rug in favor of luxury merchant shops (“small business!”), techie capitalists, and Whole Foods.
Mayor Ed Lee claimed in a Time Magazine interview that people have got to go “beyond the blame game” in dealing with gentrification. This is because Lee is a sweating politician who does not care much about the residents of the city he supposedly serves save the tech company executives who have slightly bigger wallets than everybody else. The man continues to spew his devotion to the people of the city even after sending riot cops to trash their tents in Justin Herman Plaza in 2012 over and over and over.
The worst aspect of it is that the startup employees (some of whom I have personally met) are not evil monsters, but are often naïve about their impact on others and deeply sheltered (not coincidentally, the vast majority of tech workers and venture capitalists are white and male, according to recent New Yorker statistics) and have no concept of why their residency would be negative; the city has changed so massively that it has become a bubble of hip, decadent consumerism, built specifically for their pleasures – no wonder the CEO of AngelFire rants about the homeless. How can one even see people with dirty fingers, inside the clean windowless convenience of the Google Bus?
Google is moving into the Mission. Mark Zuckerberg has a home there. The sidewalk chess boards on Market Street by the Warfield have left. So will the punks, so will the anarchists, so will the writers and artists – they will decamp to Oakland (already undergoing gentrification in and of itself) and to the East Bay or, following former San Francisco musicians Ty Segall and John Dwyer, to Los Angeles. Personally, I head back to New England, feeling like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, exhausted by excess and the search for a good time. And either San Francisco will continue to be overrun with Dolores Park hollow men while bohemians hide in the Excelsior for the next decade or so, or the dot-com boom will bust, just as it did in the 1990s, and the new structures built by the city will seem curiously abandoned, a ghost town of Trader Joe’s and thrift stores.
I hope to find somewhere like the San Francisco promised to USF students. A place diverse and eclectic, a city on a hill where bohemia was possible. Where I saw chess boards on the sidewalk and felt routine pleasures in their lack of regulation. A city for exiled people, a city for anyone. A city that was free. This is not that city anymore —“free enterprise” made sure of that. And it will make San Francisco into a warning, not a promise, for anyone looking for something beyond bland, terrifying comfort.