With all the Changes Going On, Who Will be Around to Write San Francisco’s Love Letter?
I love reading about this beloved city, San Francisco. I delve into its history, imbue myself with its charm, its culture, allow myself to be childishly enchanted by its fairy dust. It’s an assuring embrace offering security that my willing submission to my depth of love for this city is no construct of my own imagination. Considering every historic era to every literary and artistic, cultural or political movement; the mythos of San Francisco has shown itself to be its “tradition of special” and the people’s love letter back in heartfelt response. Every era has its unique markers and qualities that draw the next generation in and in turn that generation writes a love letter that draws in more and more and we are left with this beautifully rotating golden ring, but I sense its abrupt halt. There is a violently palpable epochal paradigm shift that can be witnessed in online discussions and can be overheard in the breath of current conversation. The panicked feeling of “What is happening?” “Who will carry on tradition?” and “Who will write San Francisco’s love letter?”
Much of the argument surrounding SF’s shift seems marred in the unnecessary and focuses a lot on the wrong things. We tend to talk of transplants in some pejorative like San Francisco isn’t historically a city of travelers, transient wanders and those from elsewhere. It is in this where we lose sight of a truth: being OF somewhere meaning being a part of, having a loyalty to, a conviction for and an unwavering pride in somewhere. Many of the city’s figure heads and heroes aren’t from here: The beat movement poets (East Coast), Herb Caen (Sacramento), Harvey Milk (NY), hell even Emperor Norton (England). But, with them and all of the many people who have written songs, done art, went to school or protested here it wasn’t a matter of from, it was a matter of connecting to some place real and being of that place and making that forever a part of your person. It’s about finding home in something and regardless of how long someone has spent here or when they came, San Francisco has always been a home.
This is where I’ve observed a lot of detachment by much of the new and increasing population. (side note: let’s try not to go down the abysmal rabbit hole of tech/startup/financial conversation. This isn’t to cast blame or vilify, but let’s have an honest conversation. We’re all adults here.) When I read old literature about San Francisco you are filled with a sense that those people were intrigued, interested, mystified or had some kind of very real visceral experience here: good or bad. I would sense their romance, honest bite, the sense that San Francisco was a truly unique place in and of itself and a place that begs your experience. Recently when I’ve read articles about the city or heard people refer to the city in conversation it seems very emotionless, nonchalant and detached. It’s a very vanilla “oh yea, we live in San Francisco now.” “My job moved me here last year. It’s okay.”
Okay? No, San Francisco is fucking amazing! As much as San Francisco has a history of art, culture, politics and progression I won’t act like it also isn’t built on the pursuit of money (i.e. The Gold Rush), but at least throughout the years there has been some semblance of a dichotomy that allowed the art and business worlds to coexist. That no longer exists and we are left, it seems, with pretty much a population here just passing through until their next stop on one long business trip. The soul of the city is held in the music, art, the diversity, the colorful personalities and stories. To make it obvious just look at an online argument about the changing city and the people of San Francisco are the ones lamenting and the ones who are detached and cold are the ones telling people to suck it up, pack up, things change, but you know what I rarely see from that group, “but, I’m in love with this place too.”
If people aren’t here for San Francisco in all of her beauty and brilliance and everything that makes her special and are only here for what she has to offer, then is she still special? Is she then just where the money currently is and people, live, eat and sleep? Just some place like anywhere else. Is this the new narrative: food, drinks, leisure, evictions, tech? Where’s the part about love? The soul? What’s making San Francisco the experience that would make someone drop everything to be a part of? It saddens me to ask, How will San Francisco’s Tradition of Special be kept and who will write San Francisco’s love letter?
photo from The Culture Trip