Photo: San Francisco: Where the World Changes
Yes, San Francisco is getting expensive, and more so all the time.But really—we’re going to blame Google’s buses for the city’s housing crisis?
That’s what writer Rebecca Solnit argues in an utterly ridiculous screed in the London Review of Books that pretends to be about the crisis of capitalism in San Francisco but turns out to be a handwringing diatribe about her search for a home to buy.
The reason why house prices in San Francisco are going up is because the supply is limited and the demand is insatiable.
The supply is limited because of archaic zoning rules and cultural attitudes toward growth.
The demand is unlimited because San Francisco has become the red-hot centre of the world’s technology industry, with jobs growing in and around the city, while retaining its natural beauty, cultural delights, and singular tolerance for oddballs of all stripes.
Yes, the trash situation is absurd, and public transit is atrocious. But that brings me to my main point: It is monumentally stupid to complain about a brilliant innovation like workplace shuttles when the real problem holding back San Francisco is private cars and the way we accommodate them.
The reason why Google, Apple, Facebook, and other tech companies have instituted shuttles to carry employees to and from San Francisco to their Silicon Valley campuses is because they cannot retain employees who are forced to slog in traffic for an hour or more a day, each way—then spend almost as much time circling trying to find scarce parking when they get home.
Meanwhile, the reason why those campuses exist is because the suburbs are the only places where they can situate low-slung office buildings surrounded by seas of parking lots.
There’s an easy way to fix this: Stop allowing companies to give employees free parking at work, and stop requiring parking in housing developments in San Francisco. In fact, San Francisco ought to rewrite its zoning to discourage parking in all new housing developments, if not ban it altogether.
Here’s a news flash: If you don’t require parking in apartment buildings, you can build more space for human beings, at less cost.
Yes, that might raise more demand for public and private transit. Google might have to put even more shuttles on the road—horrors!
And San Francisco’s nascent alternative-transportation industry—everything from Uber to SideCar and Lyft and Getaround—might get a boost in its home city. (Heaven forfend we create any jobs, since those people will require housing and transportation.)
San Francisco was recently ranked the 7th happiest city in the world—and the happiest city in the United States.
And Solnit and 49ers fans aside, residents are developing some much-needed and -deserved civic pride, as Mayor Ed Lee highlighted at the recent Crunchies awards ceremony. Of the companies nominated for the various prizes for excellence in technology awarded there, fully 70 per cent were based in San Francisco, Lee noted.
There’s a reason why Twitter, Airbnb, and other fast-rising companies worth billions of dollars have located in San Francisco, and it’s not just that they save on the money they’d spend on corporate shuttles: It’s a great place for their employees to live and work, with an intellectual ferment they cannot find anywhere else.
Here’s an ad that Lee showed at the Crunchies, with Square CEO Jack Dorsey and other local figures highlighting the unapologetically boosterish attitude the local tech industry is adopting:
Now, if they can just do something about the trash.
Oh wait—Dorsey is doing something about that, too.
— Jack Dorsey (@jack) January 4, 2013
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