There are too many ways in which the author strains logic and reason. I think the companies of Silicon Valley are very interested in improving public transportation, but held back by an ineffective transit governance system. I think the comparison to the gold rush is ridiculous, as is the statement that "technology is just another boom" (what?). I think being a technology hub has done more to improve the lives of everyone in the Bay Area than any other human-controlled factor, but authors like this one are too concerned with irrelevant impressions and skin-deep, false comparisons to consider that.
Furthermore, if you want cheaper housing, build more of it. I don't think there's an easier way around it.
1) The terminal transit station should be built so as to exit right into the central business district. The Caltrain station is too far from SOMA and lacks decent public transit. Meanwhile, Chicago's three transit stations exit right at the perimeter of the Loop (within walking distance of nearly any office building, and with a transit ring around the perimeter of the CBD). New York's two transit stations exit right into Midtown.
2) You have to allow high-density construction near the transit stations, so people can live within walking distance of commuter transit. Look at the Menlo Park Caltrain station. There's nothing around it. There are far smaller Westchester towns that have a substantial downtown core around their Metro North stations.
With housing prices being what they are in Silicon Valley, there should be 30+ story buildings ringing the Caltrain stations in Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View, etc.
My position is a bit stronger: It all starts with zoning.
There was a geek news item recently that note the difference in USA and Canadian sprawl, which the authors believed started with how parcels of farm land were measured out. In the USA, parcels were squarish, requiring roads everywhere, requiring everyone to have automobiles. Whereas Canada made theirs long and narrow, to optimize farm-to-market transportation. Subtly different initial conditions causing very different land use.
In the jurisdiction I live, better transit has been actively thwarted for decades by the suburbans. For example, years ago, we got an Oregon-style Growth Management Act, which tries to slow sprawl, preserving farm lands and habitat. The suburbans frame it as anti-growth. But in fact GMO is pro urban and opposition is anti-urban.
I am fascinated by the increasing urbanization of the under 30 demographic: It's happening despite the pro-sprawl incentives and policies. An example of society way out in front of policy.
Locally, I think this is perfectly captured by the head quarters of Microsoft and Amazon. In the 90s, Microsoft created a campus atmosphere in former second growth woods (Bellevue/Redmond). Having nearly everything newly minted university graduates would need right there on campus. It was very desirable.
Now in the 2010s, Amazon is transforming an urban area, South Lake Union. The area now has housing, hip food, great access to parks, culture, etc. In fact, in order to attract the young talent they need, I can't imagine Amazon locating anywhere other than an urban environment.
Basically the same principle except in this case the transport system was the river and the land usage is optimized to give as many people access to it as possible. Interesting to see the idea cropping up again in reference to modern public transit.
My wife and I were just talking about this the other day. The "campus" tendency of old-line tech firms seems to be the result of wanting a smooth transition between college and work for new employees. But the newest batch of college kids is more urban and don't necessarily want their office to resemble a college campus or the suburbs where they grew up.
Why would you see big residential buildings in Menlo Park or Palo Alto? SF, unlike most cities, has a lot of people commuting outwards towards the suburbs from the city each day. It's SF where you need the extra housing, not SV.
What I'd most like to see from Caltrain is more frequent trains. It's annoying to arrive only a few seconds late (due to a Muni delay) and then have to wait an hour for the next one. The 9:36 southbound they introduced in October helps. I'd like to see more of this.
Edit: Couldn't find actual completion date, so edited to reflect that fact.
Edit 2: Was referring to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Subway
Edit 3 (Last one!): This page from a while back says service begins 2019 http://www.sfcta.org/delivering-transportation-improvements/...
Pro tip: Get off at 4th and King and walk to Caltrain if you are cutting it close. You'll beat MUNI most of the time.
I'm Irish and I live and work in London in the UK. I've only spent a couple of months in San Francisco when I was much younger (before I truly realised the scale of silicon valley) and all I ever really hear about the place is the glorified, rose tinted glasses perspective.
Reading a negative perspective of the city & the valley was genuinely refreshing despite the authors blatant ignorance of youth tech culture.
Would she be happier if Google didn't offer buses, folks were forced to either drive individual cars or live outside of SF, and SF couldn't collect all those tax dollars it needs to fund its immense city budget?
If SF didn't have the tech industry and adjacent biotech industry, it would be another Detroit - a post-industrial city without a new source of external income. Instead, the Bay Area benefits from rising real estate values, tax revenues and an international profile.
I think that's sort of the central point of the article, though--as this gentrification and displacement of established community members continues, what exactly is "The Bay Area" that is benefiting?
Is it the real estate holding companies (many of them likely international)? Is the current batch of fresh faces for the tech grinder, until they make enough money and burn out enough to move elsewhere? Is it the visiting people who want to see what SF is like?
The author seems to suggest--rightly or wrongly--that the true Bay Area is the established communities, the hobos, the homeless, the old, the artists, and that none of these groups are actually getting anything out of this deal.
(disclaimer: I live in Houston, so I have no idea what the day-to-day of the Bay Area is like. We've got very low cost of living here, terrible public transit, poor bikability, and no zoning...and I don't think I'd trade it for anywhere else in the States.)
The broad majority of SF housing is one or two family dwellings. (I'd guess as much as 90% of the city.) They're mostly occupied by owners, not rented, so the folks who benefit are the existing residents of the city who own their homes.
It isn't that IT/Biotech doesn't have a role to play in San Francisco. It does. But rather it should be more mindful about its impact on the broader community. The large number of well paid IT workers do badly distort pricing e.g. housing and IT companies should apply more pressure on governments to improve infrastructure wherever possible. It's always a legitimate point to consider the gap between the "haves" and "have nots".
And the Google bus was meant to be symbolic. I doubt she has an actual problem with it.
What I'm taking issue with is the underlying hypocrisy of folks who want the benefits of this influx (higher taxes, more city services, young people moving to town and spending their money) while complaining about what they perceive to be the negative effects like higher rents and Google Buses. They fail to note how many negatives would come from _not_ having a robust industry locally - fewer city services due to less tax revenue, more crime and an aging population that earns less and leans on city services more.
SF spends more per-capita on social services and non-profits than just about any other major US city. That budget comes in large part from the paychecks of these single young people who are choosing to pay some of the highest total federal/state/city taxes in the nation. That's why I find these kind of pieces hugely objectionable. Their underlying message is "we'll take your money, but you're an outsider that's not really welcome here."
The bus analogy is really just an example of the larger observation that the author is making -- with the technological boom currently going on, there is an impact on the city, it's culture, and those living there. This has happened a number of times in San Francisco. One of the not so distant past examples was the concern around the gentrification of Bay View/Hunters Point. There are only so many places in San Francisco where people, not making tech salaries, can afford to live. As those place turn over due to evictions, sale, etc. there is one less place someone who may have been in the city can afford to live.
I'm not arguing if it is good or bad, but these booms do bring impacts to a city with constrained boundaries like San Francisco.
My employer also buys us fresh fruit once a week. It's a perk for a healthier snack rather than a vending machine. Should the "person on the street" whine because this isn't provided to non-employees?
There have been similar such things written many times over about San Francisco over the years -- not just based on the influence of tech.
Improved the life of "everyone"? There are winners and losers in almost every change and the specific examples of evictions are likely just some examples of those whose life is not improved. The average effect may be positive but to deny that some will have lost out is quite narrow minded.
Situations like this tend to breed resentment and destroy communities.
but i don't expect people on google buses, or hn, to know that, even less recognise it.
[edit: and... the entire post has been flagged off the front page (59 points, 2 hours ago, page 2). because anything critical is clearly irrelevant, as well as poorly written, and clearly not understanding what it's really like. la la la. what a pile of shit this place is at times.]
Some people here being, charitably, more focused on the tech side of the brain than other parts doesn't change that, though it can give misleading impressions.
But, there is certainly touchiness on hn when authors with, say, a "humanist" perspective critique the tech sphere.
There's a tendency to say these writers are not being sufficiently rational, that they are using incorrect terminology, and other things that seem like evasions on the part of much of the hn readership.
Another approach is to assume that the writer has a point, and to try to appreciate the piece for what insight it can provide. Or as a wise man said, "Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost."
It's actually quite well-written, but christ, what a pretentious, clueless, holier-than-thou, pseudo-pious pile of crap. Blamey dirges like this are why people hate liberals. It makes me hate them, and I am one. It's hard to know where to start, so I'll just dig in:
Why do you demean and dehumanize tech workers, while glorifying Latinos, homeless people, coal miners, and anyone who's lived in San Francisco since... 2006? 1996? 1976? How long do you have to live in SF to be fully human and deserving of empathy?
What do you have against German tourists and "Asian male nerds?" You are a bigot.
Why should people "drive themselves?" That's not noble-prole, it's stupid and wasteful. Fewer people should drive, period. Private or public, mass transit is mass transit. It's a Good Thing.
Why is capitalism "Janus-headed?" I think you don't understand capitalism. It has one face, with dollar-sign eyes. Which is ok. It's capitalism, not poetry. It's about capital.
Are rents being driven up, does growth create problems? Yes of course. Let's deal with those problems. Whining about them is just annoying, and paints you as a bitter person.
There's a solution, though. I say this as an erstwhile journalist, now software developer: Rebecca, you should learn Python. Then maybe you can get on the bus too.
And in that respect, you're right and certainly entitled to that opinion and entitled to express it however you'd like.
While her piece has a lot of problems, not the least of them being a tortured metaphor about gold miners, there is still certainly a kernel of truth to what she's saying. The city is growing at a boom-town pace and infrastructure is not keeping up with that growth, which affects everyone, longtime residents who make less money than young tech workers with higher salaries especially.
Where I'll emphatically disagree with you is your "solution" -- it isn't to turn every resident of San Francisco into an engineer. Much of the attraction of cities is the diversity of people who live in them, which mean ideally they are places that can support poets and programmers. San Francisco, even with its recent influx of tech workers, is not nearly the industry town that the valley proper of San Jose, Mountain View, Cupertino, and Palo Alto are. This is a good thing. This is why people choose to live here and commute there. This is why we have those buses.
This was a frustrating article to read because dealing with the massive, largely tech-fueld growth really is an issue worth exploring. But for all the problems this city has, Google buses ain't even close to the top of the list. Here are some that I think about on my walks home through the city:
* Why are there parking lots adjacent to public housing? Furthermore, why are blocks of public housing (walk up Turk from Market to Divis some time, just not at night) amongst the least dense in the city?
* How do we allow things like AirBnB to exist but not create loopholes in the housing code, which has the effect of further constricting the already tight supply of housing?
* What can the city do to encourage development in the Tenderloin to replace the far-too-many SRO's?
* The high-rises going up in SOMA are great and will hopefully provide housing for the influx of young, mostly single, tech workers. What's the city going to do about encouraging more single-family residences, say, between Van Ness/Masonic and Geary/Market?
* How does Western Addition avoid becoming the next Hayes Valley?
The busses are basically the opposite of government intervention in a free market; instead of the government stepping in to correct for a market failure, private companies are stepping in to correct a public sector failure (to provide usable transit for their employees).
SF always does a ton of hand-wringing about how white collar workers are driving moderate-income renters out of the city, but it also doesn't make it easy to construct the new housing stock that those white-collar residents would prefer anyway.
This is such complete bullshit i don't even know where to start. Every single company in the area has either offered to help, is helping, or had their help refused when it comes to public transport.
It's not even a Google vs Apple vs whoever, they are all trying to help here in any way they can.
Of course, since the author cites absolutely no statements or support for any of their claims, i'm just going to file this in the "not even wrong" category
How is it bullshit? For one, cites on any of Google, Apple, Ebay, Facebook, etc. either offering to help or helping and getting rebuffed? A quick Google doesn't bring anything up, though I suspect I'm missing out on a key word.
But even granting that, the saying "the proof's in the pudding" is pretty relevant here. If it were a priority for them in the same way it was for corporations in the past, it would be done. But because of our current economic structure, corporations no longer feel strong incentives to build out public transit.
Past that, most of the companies do it smart, and let the towns take the credit, and keep the rest quiet.
It is a priority for them, but unlike in the past, if you tell san francisco you want to spend 50 million providing public bus service, their answer isn't "sign us the hell up", it's "sorry, no".
Whether or not the tech giants in Silicon Valley are in fact trying to improve the public transit situation, they have a steep hill to climb in order to make any progress.
Though I am constantly surprised by public transit initiatives in smaller inland cities. Salt Lake City has made substantial public transit improvements in the past decade. Tuscon, already having a decent bus system, has a modest 3.9-mile light rail project slated to be completed late this year.
So I have some hope for public transit in the US as a whole.
Every paragraph includes an insult, but one of my favorites was comparing tech companies to coal mining companies. Wow. Couldn't be further from the mark. The tech industry frees people to work remotely and is even willing to ship them in expenses paid in luxury. The coal mining companies enslaved people, paying pennies in fatally poor conditions.
Runner up was:
"...but still has a host of writers, artists, activists, environmentalists, eccentrics and others who don’t work sixty-hour weeks for corporations"
This insinuates that tech is less honorable than these jobs. Again, missing the mark, assuming that tech can't somehow help these people. Or perhaps people in the industry aren't creative or some other dismissive nonsense.
This is borderline bigotry.
If you get the opportunity... No, scratch that... Make the opportunity to visit San Francisco some time. It's a beautiful city within a short drive of some incredible parts of the West Coast of the US.
Not sure this writer has actually had to deal with many "tech people".
This was Spain, not SF, but I witnessed a bus filled with 50+ tech people (videogames & CGI) remain completely silent while the driver did the route speeding like mad, eventually hit a car, then refused to stop and assist. I was the only one to ask the driver to stop, the only one to offer assistance to the car dude when he followed the bus to our destination, and the only one to report the bus driver to the company. Everyone else just looked, commented among themselves, and walked away as soon as possible.
This is done because otherwise, the towns get yelled at.
Heavily. There are lots of interest groups involved in this kind of thing.
The bus provides an appealing (relative to the Caltrain) option that's appealing to people who could also easily afford to drive. (They're more convenient than the train or driving, to boot, whereas taking the train is much less convenient.) In doing so, they take tens of thousands of cars off the road each morning.
Hence, not very many private entities want anything to do with the market.
Variable fuel prices doesn't really change any of the other private mass transit systems, like air, ship, and train (or even taxi?).
Environmental requirements are essentially irrelevant, especially compared the the fuel that will be saved.
High capital investment? I could start with a single van and one frequently travelled road. Or provide the service exclusively to one employer (ala Google style).
Demand challenges meet multi linear optimization. Our fire stations, electrical grids, gasoline stations, highways, office buildings, and eateries all have demand challenges.
Why would the profit be especially lower? If it were too low, entities would leave the market, if it were too high entities would enter the market.
The problem is that:
a) It's taking about us. People who are not software developers would brush past the descriptions of developers as mere scene setting. But it's rather insulting to those being described.
b) If it is true, it makes us the villains. And we don't like being the villains. We believe our motives and actions are reasonably noble (or at least not harmful). It hurts to be told that their not.
c) It's colored with a lot of emotion from the author. I get the sense that this is precipitated by an underlying feeling of: "Does my time in SF mean NOTHING!?" Which is a reasonable emotion, but comes across to the subjects (us) as a sense of superiority.
I believe that it conveys it's point much better to a "lay" audience than it does to us because we (rightly) get lost in the details.
I'm very luck that I like what I like and that what I like is the "hot" industry right now. I do want to remember that everything isn't roses and sunshine. That this boom does have losers. But I'm still moving to SF because that's where the place I want to work is and because I like the city. And screw you Rebecca Solnit for making me feel like I don't belong. You were new to SF once and you don't have that right. But I might just take the train instead of a shuttle.
Ride public transit. Get out of your tech bubble and experience a sliver of the lives of other people who live in your adopted city. Not everyone owns an iPhone 5 and is downloading the latest app.
Work on something that will actually "change the world", not just disrupt a market and make you rich.
Warning for HN readers: the book is written in the same critical and class conscious vein as this article, so you may not like it.
The article mentions ways the tech boom is like the gold rush.
But the first set of ways does not intersect the second set.
I also found it ironic that the old "Yankee Go Home" sentiment was being expressed by an expat.
After taking a few extended cross country road trips over the past couple of years, this sentence from the article rang the most true.
Ideally, startups would look at those costs, do the analysis, and make the decision to locate elsewhere in order to minimize risk. But SF (and NYC) have a kind of legendary status as being where successful tech companies begin. I think that status makes it difficult to consider the value of location based on a cost-benefit analysis.
Paradoxically, the sector that has the knowledge and employee base to be geographically independent are also the ones that pay the most for their location. At a gut-check level I feel there is quite a bit of "Irrational Exuberance" going on in the VC/Tech sector right now.
I agree that more tech companies should be okay with remote workers. But its not the trivial thing you make it out to be - it takes work, especially in larger teams. And unless you're going to put that work in and make it a part of your team's identity, you have to be where the talent is. I don't think this concentration of tech companies is nearly as surprising as you make it out to be.
But my point was that this makes it really difficult for startups (or any tech company) to make a calculated decision about whether or not location is worth the extra expense. I don't think it's surprising that tech companies are located together, but I think the community would do well to investigate whether the costs provide adequate returns in a majority of cases. (TWGS;IHRTS)[Take with a grain of salt; I haven't researched this shit]
Fixed-route transit is a mess. That's why I can't wait until we have self-driving cars. Most public transit would die on the vine as cars, which typically are utilized perhaps 10% of the day, can increase toward 100% utilization. No more need for inefficient and inconvenient fixed routes and no more need for giant empty buses riding around during non-peak hours.
I'm not in my twenties anymore, don't work for the googles etc. although I have a relatively good tech job.
A semi decent house on the peninsula is coming in around 1 mil. And that's often for much less than 2000sq feet.
And this is for a house that has doubled in value since 1999. Afaik, salary increases are nowhere near that and certainly not mine.
This are for houses that in my mind, are the idealization of the American Dream. 3-4 bedroom, nice yard, 2 car garage. Not the McMansions of lore.
Taking that same amount of money and going to say Texas, would likely yield a ridiculously large house.
But more importantly, I keep wondering, are there really that many people around me that make so much money to be able to afford this without blinking an eye or is it more just keeping up with the Joneses....
Lumber(or brick) doesn't cost more in California.
It's not a lack of capital. Interest rates are extremely low thanks to the fed.
It can't be a lack of labor. I personally know several carpenters and electricians who would happy to work in California for 6 months building apartments. I don't think my experience is that unusual.
What is going on?
I looked up the author on Wikipedia and I find it rather ironic that there are quotes of her priding herself on her critical thinking abilities. Reading the article, I saw very little evidence of critical thinking or thinking of any kind for that matter.
As a side note, I see that she has a Masters of Journalism. Why on earth would you need a masters degree in Journalism? Find a story, research it/fact check, write about it. Do you really need to go to a university for 6~ years for that?