Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Is San Francisco The Brooklyn To Silicon Valley's Unbuilt Manhattan?

A vision of a Green Future, in which the air and the new SF metropolis are actually green, as in this Star Trek movie still.
Like many people who moved to San Francisco in the early 1990s, I did it because San Francisco was cheap. It didn't have the lowest rents—in the California of three recessions ago, a Silver Lake bungalow or blocks-from-the-beach Santa Monica apartment were even more affordable than the chilly city by the bay—but it was the only West Coast town you could survive in without a car. With a $35 Fast Pass, all the smelly buses and dinky Muni trains and even the cable cars were there for the riding to and from work, whether you were a bartender or a waiter or (like me) a very fast typist irregularly employed by temp agencies. It was fun, mostly, but it also felt like a town imprisoned by a past of already crumbling 70s architecture alongside the beloved Victorians, weary from 60s hippies and 80s punks, AIDS and fern bars. (Did you know that the fern bar was created in San Francisco back in 1970?) When I worked in the Financial District across from the Transamerica Pyramid, I would put on my trenchcoat and leave my Sam Spade flat at Bush and Leavenworth and walk up the hill through the fog and drizzle to hop the California Street car headed downtown, where the ruins of the Embarcadero Freeway were still being hauled away. It was the prettiest town around, and it was a bargain.

The first text-and-images Web browser, Mosaic, was released at this very moment in time, the spring of 1993. A year later, Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark launched Netscape Communications with Silicon Valley money. They based the new company in Mountain View, alongside the tech companies that spread over the Santa Clara Valley in the decades after Hewlett-Packard launched from a Palo Alto garage back in 1939. Wired, the magazine that would define the first decade of the Internet Era, didn't launch in Silicon Valley. It set up shop in San Francisco.

In 2013, the bigger tech companies are still in Silicon Valley, but the people working there—from Mark Zuckerberg to the newest $100K hires straight out of college—want to be in San Francisco. Zuckerberg is a part-timer, with a fancy apartment in the Mission. The rest are part-timers in Silicon Valley, commuting to and from work on immense luxury buses run by Google, Apple, EA, Yahoo and the rest. This has caused problems, notably for San Francisco residents unlucky enough to survive on less than a hundred-grand starting salary. Talk of raising the city's skyline is met with anger. People argue endlessly over the appropriate comparisons to New York. Is Oakland the Brooklyn to SF? What about Berkeley, or Marin, or the Outer Sunset? And what does that make Bayview or Burlingame?

All of this assumes that urban San Francisco equals Manhattan. It does not. San Francisco, with its leafy parks and charming row houses and distinct villages and locavore restaurants and commuters fleeing every morning to work, is the Brooklyn to an as-yet-unbuilt Manhattan.

There are tech companies in San Francisco, with Twitter's takeover of an unloved chunk of Market Street at the foot of Polk Gulch the most conspicuous new example. But there's no room in the city for anything like Apple's 176-acre spaceship headquarters being built in Cupertino, and there's no reason for the whole of Silicon Valley to gaze up at the peninsula, and the whole problem in San Francisco today is there's not enough housing for humans when they're not at work.

As disappointed visitors and new employees discover, Silicon Valley is a dull and ugly landscape of low-rise stucco office parks and immense traffic-clogged boulevards. The fancy restaurants are in strip malls, like you'd find in Arizona or something. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go. Massive arcologies like the new Apple campus are where the tech giants are headed, but until there are living urban neighborhoods connecting these monstrosities, anyone with hopes for a life outside of work will pay a ridiculous premium to live in San Francisco and spend two hours of every day sitting on a bus.

Meanwhile, the areas around and in between the tech giants of Silicon Valley are mostly ready to be razed and rebuilt. There are miles and miles of half-empty retail space, hideous 1970s' two-story apartment complexes, most of it lacking the basic human infrastructure of public transportation, playgrounds, bicycle and running and walking paths, outdoor cafes and blocks loaded with bars and late-night restaurants. This is where the new metropolis must be built, in this unloved but sunny valley.

And then the new supercity gets linked to San Francisco by an existing boulevard of run-down old malls and decrepit car lots that pours right into the Mission District and downtown SF, 40 miles north. The boulevard is El Camino Real, or California Route 82, the one-time king's highway that could be a new corridor of high-rise apartments and HQs and restaurants and museums filling in the long gaps between downtown San Jose and Apple/Google/HP/Yahoo/Intel and Stanford University and San Francisco. With local light rail at street level and express trains overhead or underground, the whole route could be lined with native-landscaped sidewalks dotted with pocket parks and filled on both sides with ground-floor retail, farmers markets and nightlife districts around every station. Caltrain already runs just east of Route 82, and BART already reaches south to Millbrae now.

Hey what's the Marin Civic Center and the Golden Gate Bridge doing in this future Silicon Valley metropolis?
Open space is weirdly abundant and well protected here, with a 25-mile length of redwoods and hills including the state fish and game refuge, several state and local parks, and various preserves stretching down to Pescadero and all the way north to Pacifica.

El Camino Real is already the focus of various plans to connect Silicon Valley and San Francisco, from Caltrain's own future scenarios to the Grand Boulevard Initiative, the dozens of cities and towns and jurisdictions on the peninsula are beginning to figure out the old way of just building cheaper crappy suburbs all the way to the Central Valley is not going to work any longer. Nobody wants to move to the Bay Area for work and then discover they actually have to live in a completely different climate an hour's drive (without traffic) from the actual bay. The magical part of the Bay Area is really confined to the Bay Area, with its relatively green hills and foggy mornings and cool ocean air. And in the post-automobile era, where else would you look to expand your metropolitan area other than the underused sections in the middle of your metropolitan area?

Building costs money, but the whole planet's technology business is centered in Santa Clara County, down the road from that other Gold Rush town, San Francisco. Just because Silicon Valley boomed during the ugliest age of mainstream American architecture doesn't mean Silicon Valley has to keep all those horrible beige buildings on their seas of asphalt parking lots.

Or maybe it's too late already. Last year, San Francisco had a 10% jump in tech employment. Silicon Valley had only a 3% increase in technology jobs. Twitter, Yelp, Quantcast and Pinterest are some of the bigger names that have made long-term bets on San Francisco as a Tech HQ town. There are tax breaks and incentives, but the main reason is because the people who run these companies would rather live in a beautiful urban center than some worn-out 1970s sprawl.

Ken Layne is about to move to San Francisco again, for the third time in as many decades.

66 Comments / Post A Comment

melis (#1,854)

This was great (in a way that made me very sad, because you are describing my least favorite parts of my life here in San Francisco), and seeing all the increased California coverage on the Awl is making me very happy.

deepomega (#1,720)

Wonderful, but also you don't need a car to "survive" in LA. Plan where you live and work around the (COMPLETELY REAL) bus system and you're fine.

Leon (#6,596)

@deepomega – Wait this actually fascinates me. I know I was just yakking about SF below, due to things I have heard re: cars, but I the fact that so many people who have never lived there bitch about how terrible it is makes me kind of want to experience living in LA. Is it really that feasible to just bus it around?

melis (#1,854)

@Leon It depends on what neighborhood you're in! But yeah, actually, the bus system there is really extensive, and you can take light rail if you're in the Silver Lake/Hollywood/etc hub.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Leon Yes and no. There are certain trips that are hellish on public transit – like, crossing the hills up into the valley is way difficult. Possible but difficult! But if you live along the Wilshire corridor… there are more people traveling on Wilshire Blvd every day by bus than by car. I'm not saying LA is NYC-ish in public transit – it's not – but you can definitely do LA without a car. As evidenced by all the *whispers* poor people who do that.

My experience has been that the buses feel very much like the DC metro area bus system to me – extensive, sometimes late, but covering a huge swath of territory in a pretty reliable way. (Of course, you have to be willing to do buses. I know some white people who get freaked the fuck out by their public transit being bus-shaped instead of train-shaped, so.)

deepomega (#1,720)

@deepomega My response to this should really just have been to post the system map and walk away. Explains the situation better than I can – you can see where you would and would not want to live if you didn't have a car, and you can see which trips would suck balls.


K. Mae (#240,479)

@deepomega You definitely don't need in a car to survive in Seattle or Portland, either.

Leon (#6,596)

Not to start a NY/CA debate (because they are pointless and terrible), I am really into stuff like this. I'm a NY'er (not native, but most of my adult years here) and, I fucking love this city soooo much.

But, sometimes, I think about leaving. Not for anti-NYC things, but just, I love a big move to shake off personal/professional stagnation. (My only stretch as an adult out of NYC was leaving for a few years in south Texas).

I work in tech, so NYC is great to me, but it sounds like California could be too. I don't/won't drive, so SF would have to be it. Are any commenters here people who've been in and loved both cities that could weigh in on the things I should be thinking about to figure out if it's a move I should really consider?

@Leon As another tech person in NYC with similar whims, SF is an immediate no-go because of it's overwhelming tech-ness. It's going to skew young and rich (or worse, desperate to be rich) and it's squeezing out just about any non-tech life that doesn't ride one of those facebook or google busses. The implication there is it's not just losing SF old timers or working class people, but also any of the white collar or media or artistic classes that survive just fine in the outer boroughs of NYC… they are all on the endangered list in SF proper.

Austin is always an option, and can be lived in without a car (but probably difficult without a license). Not sure if I'd seriously consider Chicago. Berlin would be awesome, but is fraught with all sorts of problems.

LA has a special kind of cynicism that is appealing to me and is most likely where I would land.

sigerson (#179)

@Leon – we are contemplating a move to Los Angeles. Probably live and work in the same neighborhood (Century City/Culver City) or just beyond in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills. There is mass transit in LA and in particular the expanded subway across the foothills (Hollywood/Beverly Hills/UCLA) and the Expo light rail expansion from Culver City to Santa Monica look very promising.

But I think we are fully expecting to have a two-car garage and all that, if only because we are breeders.

largemarge (#233,602)

@Techno Viking Martian Lander – you have described precisely why, having lived in SF for 11 years, I happily call LA home now. An endless sea of overgrown children, wearing what amounts to pajamas, obsessing over fancy food and forever chasing the next round of VC cash makes it a dull, dull place.
Los Angeles is horrible and grotesque in some places, but it's also beautiful and weird. It's a proper city.

Multiphasic (#411)

@Leon I have lived in both cities, but I've never worked in tech. I will say a) don't think SF is that public transit friendly. MUNI is slow as shit and turns into a bare skeleton after midnight (BART goes away entirely); and b) there really isn't that much culture able to persist in SF, and that which does has a distinctively luxury bent (dining/nightclubs/Michael Chabon charging $25 a seat to tell the Historic Herbst Theater what it's like to be poor in Oakland). Also, the galleries are basically ALL photography, which, barf.

On the other hand, it's truly beautiful in a way NYC just isn't. NYC can be sublime, but it can never be truly beautiful. Moreover, there is all kinds of amazing outdoor activities less than 45 minutes away (and, yes, public transit accessible). As long as you are not dedicated to ensuring your entire life is under 35, there is something to California culture that doesn't translate to either NYC or, really, LA, and you can pick up on that quickly. The Giants are likable in a way the Yankees can never be. And you can find places to be really, truly alone easily, which is something that's basically impossible in NYC.

Does this help?

Kate D.@twitter (#240,597)

@Multiphasic "Also, the galleries are basically ALL photography, which, barf."

I am raising my eyebrows most fiercely.

Multiphasic (#411)

@Kate D.@twitter I can't quite see it, WHY DON'T YOU PAINT ME A PICTURE.

(Honestly though: nothing wrong with photography, but being a photography gallery–especially when there's ninety billion other photography galleries–is the easiest way to phone it the fuck in.)

Multiphasic (#411)

@Kate D.@twitter Actually, you know what, let's go back to the eyebrow thing.

I have absolutely no idea how one raises eyebrows fiercely. Is fierce startlement a thing? Or are you sort of imagining the 1990s latina look where your severe ponytail brings your brows to the top of your head?

John Joseph (#251,528)

@Leon: I wish there weren't as much truth in largemarge's comment as there is. SF/LA debates are more pointless than SF/NY. Having lived in SF for 11 years, having grown up on the east coast, I would prob never live in LA simply because of endless freeways, smog and glam. LA prob severely trumps SF on some cultural fronts but is way behind in many others. There is great diversity here in all aspects except political dogmas. While we have great culture, activities, waves, etc., there is a sense of self-entitlement among some that proves the adage that youth is most often wasted on the youth. This article while mostly on point really knocks Silicon Valley/south bay as an cultural void, which is not quite the case. Shitty 70's box homes, but nice people (at least the ones that aren't tech obsessed). I don't think you need a car up in Portlandia. Bottom line: if you're<35 and not in the entertainment industry, SF, not LA.

Forgot the "NIMBY" tag :)

dado (#102)

Dublin, Berkeley, San Lorenzo, Cupertino, San Jose. Those are my Brooklyns.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

For me, Oakland is the mini-Chicago of California.

KathleenD@twitter (#240,595)

@whizz_dumb This is so true!

Ralph Haygood (#13,154)

"As disappointed visitors and new employees discover, Silicon Valley is a dull and ugly landscape of low-rise stucco office parks and immense traffic-clogged boulevards….There is nothing to do, nowhere to go." I winced when I read this, because it's so terribly, terribly true. Two years ago, I moved to Silicon Valley; specifically, I rented a room in a big house in Atherton, the most vapidly affluent place I've ever lived or even seen. Six months later, I moved back to Durham, NC, having concluded that even if Silicon Valley was a good place for my software company – which it may not even have been – I simply couldn't stand living there.

@Ralph Haygood Durham >>> any "city" in the Valley.

julebsorry (#5,783)

@Ralph Haygood Thanks for bringing tech to Durham! My husband and I are finance/tech professionals who moved to NYC due to the dearth of potential employment in Durham. Durham has a great arts/cultural scene and could be an incredible place with some investment.

iantenna (#5,160)

while what you say is, for the most part, true, there are actually lots of lovely pockets in the peninsula/south bay. tons of jones/emmons eichler homes and my dad lives in a beautiful tudor just off el camino in san mateo. plus redwood city has, arguably, the bay's best mexican food.

hershmire (#233,671)

Why is it so hard to develop a modern urban center? Why are architects and developers terrified to make dense urban areas with apartment buildings, foot access to light commercial (small corner shops, etc.), and public transport? I just don't get it. There has to be a market for it, considering out staggering the rents are in places like NY and SF.

Any urban planners out there want to weigh in on this?


I'm no urban planner, but I'd say zoning restrictions are the major impediment to building denser communities.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@hershmire I'm no urban planner either, but my thought (from reading Jane Jacobs once or something) is that when you build entire new blocks en masse, you have enormous multi-hundred-million-dollar construction loans/financing charges to pay off, so the rent you are forced to demand is too high for corner stores and low-income renters to prosper. I remember one ridiculous new urbanist building in my college town which was about 5 stories of apartments atop a dozen or so small retail spaces. The rent was so high the retail spaces were all luxury boutiques and people living there still had to get in their cars and drive to buy groceries or toilet paper or whatever. Most of the older buildings in places like New York were built years ago, so the only costs to their owners are maintenance, taxes, and any mortgage they may have taken out to buy the place.

Zoning restrictions do also play a big part. For example, in DC a new building going up right next to a Metro station, which will be housing mostly very poor people and those exiting homelessness, had to get an exemption to avoid being forced to build 30 off-street parking spaces at enormous expense.

@hershmire if you're seriously curious, Ryan Avent's Gated City (a kindle micro-book, so not a long read) is excellent on this topic. Nutshell: zoning and nimbyism, though other factors (like what stuffisthings points out, and the cost of infrastructure that no one wants to pay for, like subways) play in as well.

peter cowan@twitter (#240,684)

@hershmire it's a chicken/egg thing. if a city is developed around the automobile as the principal means of transportation, then even new urban development will want to provide accommodations for drivers, making the development only semi-urban. so at the very minimum you need a place where people can live without a car, and people who want to live without a car, and–they can't just be people who are too poor to afford a car. then you factor in all those reasons mentioned above (zoning, nimbys, inertia, etc) and it becomes exceedingly difficult to seed such a neighborhood.

one thing that can be done, and is pretty cheap, is to make riding a bike safe. it's cheap, but it's not easy–drivers don't like it when lanes and parking spaces are removed, and there's small subset of drivers who won't tolerate any money being spent on anything other than road maintenance and new roads.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

I have had (and still am having) an illustrious career as a software engineer, and you know where I live? In The Brooklyn of New York City! It's ridiculous to me that we would discuss the issue of off-shoring (because this type of work can be done from anywhere) one day, and then turn around and discuss the issue of overcrowding in SF and Silicon Valley (because that's where the work is supposedly located) the next day.

I'm not saying it's not a real issue (it is, and great article by the way!) but if you are a programmer and you choose to be abused like that by Google or Apple or whoever, you are doing it wrong.

queensissy (#1,783)

DADO! I love your comment. Anyway, as a Sunnyvale native, I have to disagree with the "no bicycle and running and walking paths" in Silicon Valley. Seriously, where are you looking? Foothill Expressway and Central Expressway are both major thoroughfares with bike lanes, and most of Santa Clara, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos Hills, Palo Alto all have extensive bike pathways. Shoreline and tons of San Jose locations for walking paths.

And I hope you're not talking about razing all those neighborhoods full of Eichlers in order to build high-rise apartments, because them's fightin' words. Get off the 101 and try the 280 for a change.

shamelessplugster (#240,588)

I worked in Cupertino and Mountain View before joining a company HQ'd in downtown San Francisco (SoMa), and my only regret is not moving sooner. Like I'm embarrassed it took me so long. We have 30+ openings in our SF office, valley refugees welcome: http://preview.tinyurl.com/asgqr35

(Apologies in advance if I'm violating any commenting rules.)

As a more serious followup to my earlier flippant (but accurate) NIMBY comment: Brooklyn's population density is *twice* San Francisco's. Manhattan's is nearly *30* times Palo Alto's. So SF has a long way to go before it can claim to be Brooklyn- more density, more transportation infrastructure, more tall buildings and small apartments, more of many other things. The Valley, of course, has not just not enough but literally zero of many of these things; e.g., it would cost *at least* tens of billions of dollars to build Brooklyn-quality transit infrastructure in the Valley. And that's just transit- building housing stock for 2.5 million people in the Valley? That's hundreds of billions of dollars worth of investment. (Admittedly, that second one is something private investors would throw money at like no tomorrow- if zoning would allow them to do it. You might note, though, that the only NIMBYs more effective than SF's are the Valley's, so don't hold your breath.

Now, I'd be the first to tell you all these things should be done. I can rant at quite some length on the subject of how making SF more NYC-like would be great, if done thoughtfully and well. But the only plausible way for it to happen in our lifetimes (short of hiring Harry Potter to erase the word "zoning" from the minds of elected officials, and also dig subway tunnels while he's at it) is to let SF get Manhattan-level dense and have that spill out into a merely Brooklyn-dense Valley, not wish for the even bigger level of miracles that would be required to make the Valley Manhattan-like.

queensissy (#1,783)

@nevertooyoungtolearnaboutfreud But what about letting SF be SF and working on San Jose instead? It can never be Manhattan, but that downtown can and should be built up, and it's easily accessible by public transit to the rest of Silicon Valley. All the rich NIMBY cities on the Peninsula are always going to fight public transportation from that side up to SF. Why not go south?

queensissy (#1,783)

@queensissy PS – I have no real dog in this fight. I've lived in LA for about 25 years.But damn if it wouldn't be nice to have a real city close by to hang out in when visiting my mom in SV…

Multiphasic (#411)

@queensissy Actually, I've long maintained that we're about 5-10 years away from a real arts and music scene in SJ. The fact that I've long maintained it is a clear indication that I'm wrong, but still.

Multiphasic (#411)

Actually, you need to do something with the Outer Richmond and Sunset. It's about fifteen square miles of working-class family housing for a city that is inextricably hostile to working-class families. Start pushing greater commercial growth out there and improving the transit (perhaps closing off Taraval, Judah and Balboa to car traffic and reserving it for the trains and busses so it doesn't take an hour and a half to go 30 blocks).

That would enable those neighborhoods to become actual Brooklyn, at least in the sense Layne's using–beautiful old construction repurposed for somewhat-affordable shared occupancy by younger professionals. It would also force the dipshit tech companies back into SF, since as bad as it is to try and get to the Valley from the East side, it is painfully difficult from the West (as someone who at times has to commute from the SF to Palo Alto VAMCs, I can attest to the weird hypnotic hemorrhagic-stroke murderrage that is 19th/Sunset Ave. traffic–and god help me if my car croaks and I need to try Caltrain). It would, of course, suck for the working class families out there, but basically all of American history is a story of things sucking for working class families, and go ask the owners of Carmine's why they aren't more excited about the Meat Hook and the newfangled availability of artisanal pickles.

melis (#1,854)


melis (#1,854)

someone take me away from here

Multiphasic (#411)

@melis Not to be awful and point out the maybe extremely obvious, but Sunset can be totally worth taking–especially coming into the city. Exit John Daly, loop around the east side of Lake Merced, it should dump you right on it–and Lincoln has maybe two traffic lights before you get back to 19th.

This concludes my tedious bar smalltalk for the evening. I'll now go back to studiously reading the jukebox.

Oh, and for SFans interested in this issue: join SPUR. They have pretty thoughtful presentations and materials on Bay-area growth, albeit maybe more business-friendly than many Awl readers might care for. If you're more of the angry crypto-Marxist bent, Shaping San Francisco is awesome and has great city bike tours.

Since the late ‘60s the leftish environmental community here has decried the “Manhattanization” of San Francisco. Generally this has meant opposition to building tall buildings, though a certain element could be described as BANANAs (Build Almost Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) and they rail against any change. This has always seemed a losing argument to me as a good portion of residents would love to live in Manhattan. It might have been more effective if they had called it the “Houstonization” or “Clevelandization” of San Francisco.

Kate D.@twitter (#240,597)

Oakland is more the Brooklyn to San Francisco's Manhattan.

P.J. Morse (#232,627)

As a former SF resident with family members who are Silicon Valley lifers, I would like to say the burbs aren't that bad. But they are getting just as pricey as SF. At least the property values have increased, but they desperately need to improve public transportation in order for this Silicon Valley thing to work out. I don't want my loved ones giving up even more of their lives to a commute.

PS–Strip-mall restaurants in Silicon Valley are fantastic. (Merit Vegetarian, holla!) The newbies are too snobby to eat in them, so they aren't always full, and the prices are better than the SF places.

zzbenz@twitter (#240,627)

thank you for this! I'm relocating to san francisco, for the first time in my life, in 10 days :)

So then, have been considering a move to San Jose proper. What do you think of the core of SJ today? Is it anywhere worth being right now? nb: I'm oldish with a family. Anyway, I like the concept of this piece and makes a lot of sense to me. Trouble is the long timeframe it takes to build up. Will it still make sense in 2043?

I've having a great time working remotely in Wine Country for a top tech company, what with the after-work/weekend hot and cold running fermented squished grape product and French cuisine, the uncongested state highways and byways, and being able to jet to any part of Marin, San Francisco, and East Bay within an hour, super-rush hour on the 101 notwithstanding.

Tom Park@twitter (#240,644)

It'd be easier to build a Manhattan in Oakland than in Silicon Valley. Oakland has better BART connectivity, while Peninsula land is expensive and constrained.

peter cowan@twitter (#240,684)

@Tom Park@twitter can't build high in oakland due to airport proximity. that's why there's no skyscrapers there.

Frogbox (#240,681)

Why do San Franciscans think that no one can be truly happy unless they live in San Francisco? I lived for quite awhile for San Francisco, and it was fun for the first year–but it quickly becomes tedious.

You really like dealing with your absentee landlord who won't fix your broken toilet? You really like homeless people digging through your recycling at 4am, strewing beer bottles across the sidewalk, leaving a puddle of urine next to your front door? You really like dealing with the hourly Muni failures? You really like going to Target in Colma because there's no place in SF that sells basic necessities? You like your hour-each-way commute to your decent six figure job down the Peninsula? You like the zany theater that is the Board of Supervisors? You like listening to your next door neighbors, always under 20 feet away, having loud sex at 5:30am, just before they get up to walk their yappy dogs that keep you up all night?

Dude, if you want to build up a community, live there. Don't complain that San Jose or Fremont or Palo Alto should be more like your beloved San Francisco (which almost assuredly isn't anywhere west of Twin Peaks or south of Bernal Heights). Move to one of these places, notice that they're full of difference and nuance, and Make Change Happen change. You'll also hopefully find that not every place has to look like your little corner of San Francisco to be a happy and interesting place to live.

(Also: San Franciscans should really think twice about insisting that some suburb needs to look more like Excelsior or the Outer Sunset or Bayview/Hunters Point. Not every neighborhood in SF is a high rent boutique neighborhood, noooo, not by a longshot.)

aimango (#240,708)

@Frogbox I totally agree with you that there is no place in SF that sells (fairly priced) basic necessities. It's ridiculous.

@Frogbox @aimango FWIW we now have a Target in the Metreon downtown. Corner stores charge more but they're convenient and (I assume) usually family-owned. Also Walgreens is everywhere!

Many of your complaints could apply to any city (transportation woes, noise, neighbors, politics, etc) but they certainly ring true to SF. I think many residents like myself become numb to the dirty streets & homeless population in particular but I'm here while the pros outweigh the cons.

thuggyBear (#240,683)

I just moved here from the smoking shell that remains of NYC because my wife has joined the tech Borg out here. I was glad to go- I lived in Williamsburg 20 years, and watched it go from being an ugly neighborhood where families had lived for generation to the hipster stripmall atrocity it is today.

And while your city is overrun by soft rebels sporting giant, ridiculously amateurish neck tattoos they bought to punish their parents for not sending them to Europe over Spring Break, there are parts of the Bay Area that still seem to have room for the weirdoes and misfits with whom I care to spend my time. So I was happy to move here.

Homesickness smacks me in the face (NYC, at this point, is all I know- having never lived anywhere for more than 4 years my whole life before moving to Williamsburg) but what is miss is not the weird, bland, NYC themed amusement park that occupies the space where there formerly a thriving city- I miss NYC of the 90s.

No matter where I go, I'm not going to find that place again. So, here I am, enjoying walking my dog in January in shorts, and learning what it's like to own a car for the first time at 42.

I don't understand, however, why it is that the South Bay is so undeveloped. Rush hour, to me and my wife, is a complete, almost incomprehensible, phenomenon. In NYC, if you hit rush hour (easy to avoid, really) your subway was just overcrowded- it didn't take twice as long to get where you were going.

I've only been here a month, but why don't people live in the South Bay? People say it's boring. My question is: WTF are you doing that is so interesting it's worth spending 3 hours commuting every day to get to?

The trendy restaurant we ate in last night (where the waiter didn't know what the difference was between Tapatio and tomatillo, salsa verde and pesto) is only 45 minutes from Mountainview, right? So doesn't it make more sense to live in MTV (as they call it) and drive to and from the restaurant, saving yourself an hour and half of commuting?

The answer must be there are no bars/shows were you can get laid in the area, and a 45 minute drive to the South Bay i more than you can ask of your one night stand.

Ciaran@twitter (#240,696)

Interestingly Google is trying to do something different than the usual corporate campus which sounds really promising – except that the City of Mountain View pissed on the housing part of it :(


antonba (#240,732)

I am surprised nobody is mentioning Seattle as alternative to SF. I've been living here for 1.5 years and here is what I see:
– a ton of tech and growing very fast – Silicon Valley north – e.g. Amazon seems to be hiring 10,000 new people over the next couple of years
– an urban city – almost *every* building in the dense part of Seattle has retail on the first floor. In SOMA, in comparison, most new condo buildings just have a private lobby and are uninteresting to people who don't live there.
– not averse to growth – Seattle is building 40-floor luxury highrises left and right without constant arguing about "Manhattanization"
– a much better public transit system
– local service is on average twice as fast as MUNI – I am not making this up, MUNI is 8.1 mph average (incl. stops), KC Metro is around 16 mph
– express service that compares to driving – kind of like Caltrain's baby bullet, but goes many places – this is a precursor to the currently under-construction light-rail system
– no war on cars – driving in seattle for those who want it is much easier than in SF
– the area is smaller obviously, but developing faster and better – can SF learn from this?

amul@twitter (#240,693)

@thuggyBear, @Frogbox, @Jeffrey Davis@twitter I have lived in my downtown SJ home for the last 10 years. It's a great place to live if you like a walkable neighborhood and diversity. We are surrounded by mountains with over dozen open space parks within 20 minutes. Culture is there if you go looking for it. If culture or nightlife is so important to you but not enough that you will go looking for it, this isn't the place for you. The bike trails are great, there could be more and there are more planned; great way to get around the region and to see people out and having fun. It's also nice to be in a city that is changing, more fun businesses are starting up and more festivals are getting established. The party crowd is distasteful but they need to have fun too. Most importantly, San Jose is great if living is your focus rather than image.

Western Massachusetts, affordable, chock full of colleges, music venues and good-to-excellent restaurants, is the new Brooklyn.

This is one of the best ideas I have heard in a long time. Build where the jobs are and create the "New San Francisco" down the peninsula, preferably on higher ground. Brilliant idea.

Dennis @twitter (#243,100)

Funny how they used pictures from the San Francisco in Star Trek. The folks south of San Mateo & north of San Jose (we can call them the Stanford sphere) have blocked all development for generations. BART failed & it was a struggle to get Caltrain. Those Patricians fight hard to maintain that small town vibe & they have the wealth & influence to defend it.

The Manhattan comparison is used alot, but it fails alot. Something is growing there, but not a second New York. With a decentralized downtown (500 suburbs in search of a city), no natural harbor, and a hyper focus on a single industry it should be obvious what Silicon Valley is: the second Los Angeles.

The Manhattan comparisons are just something every non-New York city does for self-flattery and to stir up talk.

Dennis @twitter (#243,100)

Also all this talk is fun and exciting, but let's not forget the flipside. With but a twist and turn and a paradigm shift here and there, Silicon valley can also become a future Detroit.

Not saying it's going to happen, but it's just as probable an outcome as those who look to the future and see some shining city on a hill

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