Where Does the City’s Soul Lie?

In an article released by the San Francisco Chronicle last week, USF and Foghorn alumnus Carl Nolte wrote about the ongoing concern that San Francisco is losing its “soul.” At a time when housing prices in the city are making national headlines and the family Mexican restaurant down the street has shuttered its doors to a five-dollar espresso bar, it is crucial to understand what San Francisco’s “soul” really is in the first place.

The city caters to a wide variety of people; what the city means to a student here at the University means something entirely different to an elderly woman who has lived in the Mission District for 35 years. In fact, defining the character of a city is a daunting task, but it is important to first sift through what exactly makes up San Francisco, and whether the city will encourage the growth of accessory over necessity.

As Nolte noted, it would be hard-pressed to say that the city has lost its glimmer, as it’s fairly obvious that there is explosive growth almost everywhere you look; a new coffee shop opening, a new restaurant, club, or bar. The city itself is thriving in many ways, but we worry that these commercial successes could come at the expense of what may be even more important to our city: personality. A city’s soul is almost certainly made up of glimmer and glitz, but it also requires depth. People love good food. To say, however, that the city hasn’t lost its soul just because there are a few new trendy restaurants is ignoring the larger forces at play.

Take the Richmond District, for instance, where a member of our staff works. There have been a multitude of complaints about the old small businesses being shut down, emptying a slew of local storefronts. Residents in the Richmond District feel pride in the intimate feel of their neighborhood where generations of families have been born and raised. Due to the high rent, they are seeing a loss of this old, homey feel. This may in fact be the closest we come to defining a city’s soul–do its residents feel at home?

Diversity is yet another element of the city that many have been worried about. While Nolte expresses delight and surprise at how many Asian-Americans he sees in the city, a sign which leads him to believe the city is growing more diverse, this anecdotal evidence should be taken with a healthy amount of skepticism. We as a staff would point to the decreasing number of African-Americans and Latinos who have been pushed out as a reminder that not all in the city have felt at home.

While San Francisco is a city that is struggling with diversity, it remains a bastion of inclusiveness, and our staff agrees that San Francisco continues to carry this trait, despite what the critics say. The city still opens its doors to those who are disaffected, whether it is a lesbian woman, or an immigrant being protected by sanctuary city policies. It is simply becoming harder for many of these groups to thrive, given the trend of increasing housing prices. It will come down to whether the city as a whole can create a space where everyone feels at home. This is truly where the soul of the city truly lies, and its future will be determined by whether it can rise above the glimmer and glitz and retain the inclusiveness it holds so dearly.


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