I Want My Recession Back

When I first moved here in 1992, San Francisco (and California) were still feeling the lingering effects of a major recession.

I want it back.

It sure was fun here back then. Things were expensive here even then, but people with marginal jobs and marginal incomes could still move to the city and have intereting lives. It was possible to share an apartment for a few hundred dollars a month. It was possble to rent whole houses in Potrero Hill for about a thousand a month. If you looked hard enough, you could still find a certain seediness even in sanitized zones like the Castro, in places like Castro Sataion or the doughnut shop across the street.

South of Market was a great place: it was cheap, you could park on the street, the bars were fun, and you could even find … ummm … companionship walking down Folsom Street or among the still-industrial alleys. South of Market residents were a quirky and odd bunch, and most of my friends couldn’t believe I lived here. AIDS paranoia was lifting and the “new golden age” of sex clubs like Mike’s Night Gallery and the Church was flourishing in cheap Victorian flats. And a live/work loft was a drafty warehouse which provided cheap space for artists.

The dowdy, 70s-era Safeway down the street was never crowded. The 12-Folsom buses ran on time. Sort of.

The came the boom. Now the economy is jumping. What have we gained?

First of all, it ain’t “jumping” for everyone. A certain set of skills is needed for this economy and not everyone has them (or can get them). And, of course, what’s really “jumping” is low-paying service jobs, which means a smaller proportion of people are making any money anyhow. And these jobs most definitely don’t pay enough to survive in the new San Francisco of $1000/month studio apartments and $400,000 one-bedroom condos.

So once again, what have we gained?

A new whiter and wealthier demographic, for starters. The marginal types who used to make the city lively and interesting can’t afford to move here anymore. San Francisco has always depended on new arrivals of artists, musicians, and immigrants both for its character and to staff its many service jobs. Sure…we’ve added new jobs, but most of these jobs just won’t pay the rent. Very soon we may face a city populated by upscale citizens who wonder why (a) it’s just not very exciting here anymore and (b) why Starbuck’s can’t “just hire more people” so the latte lines would move faster.

We’ve also gained the privilege of living with perpetual construction. Everywhere. It’s noisy, it’s irritating, and it slows down the traffic (which has also increased). We get to watch neighborhoods overrun with poorly-designed plywood “luxury condos” and wall-to-wall chain stores.

We’ve become a city which targets the homeless rather than the economic and development issues which make MORE people homeless. We gleefully allow developers to destroy neighborhoods and drive up rents in the name of “progress” and then run the displaced out of town or throw them in jail.

We’re fast becomg a city of chain stores and trendy bistros and brewpubs, where it’s easier to buy a $400 lamp than a $4 hammer. We’ve sanitized our back alleys, eliminated smoke-filled bars, and all but guaranteed that anyone who can’t make the cut financially or socially will not be able to move here and cause trouble.

South of Market bars are packed to the rafters with gawkers looking for a scene which hasn’t existed here in quite some time (not that they want to PARTICIPATE in this no longer extant scene, mind you). I don’t dare drive anyplace during the week, lest I find myself unable to park when I get home. Even the tastefully renovated Safeway is a nightmare.

Yup. Things are jumping in San Francisco. This economic boom has a lot of people thinking about jumping the hell out of here.

I miss my recession…