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Diary: Google Invades (lrb.co.uk)
84 points by hoverkraft on Feb 8, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 113 comments

This kind of journalism really bugs me.

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.

If the Caltrain connected to any other public transit system in a reasonable way, I don't think the Google busses would exist. Riding trains is much more pleasant than riding busses, but not if it adds an extra hour to your commute each way.

Furthermore, if you want cheaper housing, build more of it. I don't think there's an easier way around it.

It's a tiny piece of the puzzle. To have a really usable public transit network ala Chicago or New York, you have to coordinate zoning with transit.

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.

> To have a really usable public transit ... you have to coordinate zoning with transit.


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.

That comment about parcelling land reminded me of something I read about the parcelling system used in the French colonies along the St. Lawrence and Mississippi rivers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seigneurial_system_of_New_Franc...

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.

Great comment. Also: where can I subscribe to your newsletter?

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.

Thanks. Sorry, no newsletter, blog, rss feed yet. Went dark while I recharged my batteries. Been working on some open government stuff. Will hopefully go public soon.

It's worth noting that they're in the process of extending BART to the Caltrain (which is relatively recent itself.) There's a ton of cut-and-cover work going on down 4th street to do this.

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.

That's MUNI to Caltrain, IIRC (central subway project). But that's probably better anyhow, since BaRT only serves a single corridor thru SF.

Whoops. You're right, my bad.

They are in the process of building the Transbay Center [1] which would bring Caltrain closer to the heart of SOMA. Slated for completion in 2017. You can see the construction of it on google maps: http://goo.gl/maps/iMfZx

[1]: http://transbaycenter.org/

The TransBay development looks awesome. Reminds me a lot of Ogilvie in Chicago (exiting into the base of a skyscraper with integrated retail). It looks like the future--I'm sure San Franciscans hate it.

If this is the future, the folks who made the MTR in hong Kong must have access to a time machine ;)

There's only one way to test the efficacy of these proposed solutions: SimCity.

I thought the Central Subway (4th and King to Chinatown) could improve this, if you could go from Powell to Caltrain without taking that long loop around the Bay (or walking, which can sometimes be quicker). But that probably won't be there for a while (anyone know the date?).

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/...

An hour between trains is ridiculous. On Metro North I've got 8 trains between 7 am and 9 am from my town into NYC. Weekends are on the half hour.

To be fair there are (just looked it up) 8 southbound trains between 7 and 9. After 9:07 it gets spotty. It's harder for me to make those early trains because in addition to not being much of a morning person (yes, for that I'm just whining), I also take Muni to get to the station which takes a while.

I usually catch the 9:37, which end up being pretty empty (compared to the earlier trains I ride once in a while). I get why service drops off.

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.

If you're talking about the Transbay Center, that's supposed to be completed in 2017. http://transbaycenter.org/construction-updates/project-sched...

I agree with pretty much everything you're saying but at the same time, I found the perspective of the author fascinating.

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.

I'm not sure it's right to call this "journalism." It's an individual opinion that doesn't seem to be supported by much actual investigation, or reporting. It's how she sees the world through her eyes and imagines things to be, based on her experience and anecdote, much of which is grossly inaccurate.

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.

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.)

"Real estate holding companies?"

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.

You seem to be getting oddly defensive and completely missing her point.

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.

I'd have to take issue with the idea that an influx of well-paid workers "distorts" the housing market. Do they drive housing prices up? Yes. Is that really a "distortion"? It seems like the normal process of supply and demand to me.

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."

Journalism? I read it more as a blog rather than any sort of investigative journalism piece. People have their perspectives on how places have changed with the boom and bust cycles that have come to the Bay Area.

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.

All I read from the author is a bunch of whining. My employer hires a masseuse once every two weeks and all employees who want to will receives a 15-minute chair massage. Should the "person on the street" whine because this isn't provided to non-employees?

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?

I'm not speaking in specifics, I am speaking to the general affect upon the make up of the city as a whole. The "bus" is just one small part of the overall "diary".

There have been similar such things written many times over about San Francisco over the years -- not just based on the influence of tech.

> 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, ...

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.

And the big problem is that native SFers who have lived in those homes for decades are being evicted in favour of overseas workers who may only be there for a few years.

Situations like this tend to breed resentment and destroy communities.

I'm not sure it's really 'journalism', per se, as it is flowery language complaining about something with vague metaphors.

it's very good writing, by an award winning writer, in one of the top lit magazines.

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.]

Good writing isn't the same as good journalism. If you have one without the other, it has very different implications for the impact of a piece.

The large, bold heading "Diary" would imply this was an opinion piece. No ?

Fair enough, although this comment thread was about its quality as journalism. Ultimately, this is a site about news "hence 'hacker news'", so you have to expect that a piece posted will be judged on its factual quality, and by proxy, its journalism, rather than the literary quality of its writing.

For the record, plenty of people at Google read magazines like LRB or NYRB. Significantly more than the general population, probably even the population of people with undergraduate or graduate degrees.

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.

I don't disagree with you that highly-educated groups, like at Google, probably read LRB, NYRB, n+1, and other magazines with cultural influence at a much higher rate than the population at large, and more than non-techies might suspect.

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."

Not a fan of Gonzo Journalism, eh?

Forced myself to read to the end so that I would be justified in saying what I had the impulse to howl from the third sentence: Rebecca Solnit, FUCK YOU.

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.

I get what you're saying. I think your response captures one part -- the id, if you will -- of a pretty common refrain I've heard about this article amongst my other nerdy, SF dwelling friends.

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?

Even New York City has parking lots adjacent to public housing. I don't know why either.

Perhaps having public housing adjacent makes them less desirable to developers?

Wow. Nice working reinforcing the stereotype there of IT workers being callous, selfish assholes indifferent to everyone else.

I may be an asshole, but I'm not callous or indifferent. Like I said, I think rising rents and other boom dislocations hurt people and are problems to be addressed. But attacking the Asian kid who worked hard, got a job at Google, and takes the bus to work doesn't really do that.

Want cheaper housing? Make it possible to build more. The fact that quaint New England towns have taller apartment buildings than most of the city of SF pretty much tells the entire story.

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).

This is a classic urban problem: the people who are already in SF and own places don't want more housing built, because the shortage drives up the value of their own homes (and anything that blocked their view would reduce it.) The best solution (which SF is kind of pursuing) is to add more high-density housing in post-industrial areas being converted to residential, where developers have big incentives to construct larger buildings.

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.

I stopped reading at " It means that unlike gigantic employers in other times and places, the corporations of Silicon Valley aren’t much interested in improving public transport, and in fact the many corporations providing private transport are undermining the financial basis for the commuter train."

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

People are getting mighty touchy from this piece.

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.

Look at public meeting minutes for various towns and you'll see it.

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".

For the first time in my 40-something years on this planet, I utilized passenger rail in the US. I recently took a vacation on a leg of the California Zephyr Amtrak route (which goes from Chicago to San Francisco). During a wait one of the stations, I picked up copies of the industry rags. Though I never would have guessed, it seems that there are strong political and financial forces that are very much against a prolific public transit system in the US, with California being quite a battleground of the pro and anti crowds.

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.

Many people think that limiting "competition" and forcing people to use their preferred method of public transit is a legitimate public policy goal. The intent is not to provide efficient transit that works well for those who need it, the goal is to ensure that Very Large Capital Projects get the federal funding they need to fill the gigantic money-losing gap they create.

I'm curious if you could link to any stories about Google's or Apple's (or other company's) offers to help the public system? Not that I don't believe this, but I am curious to read more about the topic.

This is absolutely ridiculous. I don't live in SF, nor California for that matter, but this comes across as "I was living in SF before it was cool. Money is evil and so is anyone with it. Especially if they are young."

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.

I was wondering what these "gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us." actually looked like:

[0] http://sfcitizen.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/ip2ku-c...

[1] http://sfcitizen.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/IMG_003...

[2] http://missionlocal.org/wp-content/themes/calpress/library/e...

The bus in the first one almost looks stuck by how sharp the grade change is. Is this common in SF?

In some areas, yes. SF's Filbert and 22nd St make the top 10 steepest streets in the states:


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.

Look at the front of the bus; you can see some towing cables attached to it.

That's just the MUNI track.

ahhh. cool! (?)

Look again (the GP is correct).


Yep, definitely a spaceship

> but the passengers were tech people, so withdrawn from direct, abrupt, interventionary communications...

Not sure this writer has actually had to deal with many "tech people".

My anecdotal experience suggests that the author's point is rather accurate.

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.

Don't be silly, i'm sure the author even has one of those shirts that says they are a nerd!

Interesting point about public transportation -- by creating a private bus system, tech companies are actively suppressing demand for better public transport between SF and the valley.

If public transport were a better option, the google bus wouldn't be needed.

You do realize, of course, that all of these companies have offered to help pay for new bus routes, or are working on helping to build rail bridges, or helping to propose private/public partnerships on better light rail, or ...

Several people have alluded to this outreach elsewhere in the thread. I'd certainly believe it. Any links/references on what these companies have offered?

As I said elsewhere, most of this is known to employees of these companies, and privately mentioned, but not highly public.

This is done because otherwise, the towns get yelled at. Heavily. There are lots of interest groups involved in this kind of thing.

It's hard to make an argument with private/secret evidence.

It's not secret, just not very well known. As I said, you can usually find it in mountain view committee meeting minutes (for Google), cupertino council minutes (for Apple), etc.

You're assuming that a large share of those riders would take public transport, but most of them would probably drive, since that's what the large majority of people in SF who don't have access to a corporate bus do.

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.

So why do we need the public to run mass transit in the first place?

You are perfectly welcome to start your own mass transit system (rail, bus, boat, helicopter, etc). Chances are that you'll quickly find that between he high capital investment, highly variable fuel prices, environmental requirements, and demand challenges that it will be really hard to turn a profit.

Hence, not very many private entities want anything to do with the market.

Well most cities have subsidised public transit, so it is pretty hard to compete, even if it were legal (in cities like my own it is 100% illegal).

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.

Because it's a natural monopoly.

How are buses a natural monopoly? I could see trains with right of way issues, but buses on publicly accessible roads?

How can a natural monopoly have competition?

"Sorry, we can't make things better for you, because we can't make them better for everyone."

I think the piece illustrates a very good point that the general public would enjoy reading about. Which is that booms can push out diversity and that a tragedy of the commons is occurring in SF with people driving out the character they came to SF to experience.

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.

Someone doesn't like young people who work in tech.

I'm a young person who works in tech in Oakland, and I don't like the young people who work in tech in SF and ride the comfortable google bus every day to their jobs in the valley.

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.

That's just a complicated way of saying that you think some people's social choices are inherently worse than some idealized social path that you are advocating. Not everyone is the same as you, or even wants to be the same as you. Not everyone gets social satisfaction from "getting out" and "experiencing the lives of other people" in the way you're talking about, and that doesn't mean there is something wrong with them. Some people derive satisfaction from finding cool phone apps, some don't. Not everyone wants to "change the world," or disrupt a market, or get rich. Et cetera.

Yeah, stop getting paid well for working hard!

Google is making buses work. Good for them.

People who live in quirky neighborhoods don't like it when they get gentrified. A few decades ago San Francisco was a quirky small port city with a higher-than-average number of artists, free-thinkers, bohemians, aging hippies, gays, etc. Today it is becoming a large city of hardworking nerds, and the douchebags who feed off them.

For further reading on the geography and political economy of California, I strongly suggest Mike Davis' City of Quartz, which is a series of essays about LA:


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.

Man, people in the tech bubble really don't like being reminded that everything their industry does and the effect it has had on an established community isn't all perfect. This doesn't surprise me in my (anecdotal) experience in the industry I've run into a lot of "those are problems caused by other industries, not us", but the author raises some good points about the effects of booms (and particularly this one) on the people who were established prior but not part of it. Some can't be avoided but some can be mitigated - and some people have been less defensive here and offered some solutions to things like public transport and housing.

The article mentions ways the gold rush was bad.

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.

How exactly is Solnit an expat? She grew up in Novato and lives in SF and has since well before the '89 earthquake, at least. I suppose she is if you interpret expat as "moved into SF from outside the city limits of SF," but that's an odd usage.

I stand corrected; I guess it's just the traditional old-fashioned form of xenophobia then. In that case, the irony is that she waxes nostalgic about SF's history as a place that welcomed everyone in the same breath as she's making fun of and rejecting the latest newcomers for being different.

The whole of the US sometimes seems to be a checkerboard of these low-pressure zones with lots of time and space but no money, and the boomtowns with lots of money, a frenzied pace and chronic housing scarcity. Neither version is very liveable.

After taking a few extended cross country road trips over the past couple of years, this sentence from the article rang the most true.

I was about to just make the same comment. I think the "tech boom" has done a lot for SF, but it's a great example of how wealth and investment is highly concentrated in just a few areas of the country.

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.

> the sector that has the knowledge and employee base to be geographically independent are also the ones that pay the most for their location

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.

Right, it's a self-reinforcing trend. Companies move to locations where talent exists, talented individuals seek those locations out.

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]

This article raises interesting observations. I find it fascinating to see how technology might be perceived as a distant animal. The tech industry, like most schools of thought, regularly faces the danger of becoming an Ivory tower, disconnected from the real-world. After all, technology bubbles hurt us all in the past. Similarly, technology is hard to understand, it is magical in a way, an alien tool. If you work in tech, don't be offended. Solnit is not claiming an absolute truth. She's raising awareness of potential collateral damage by tech companies.

Public transit, even in the densest of American cities, is a money loser and often pollutes more than if the riders were taking cars. It's badly in need of innovation and revolution.

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.

Self-driving cars don't necessarily help. Really, it's more a routing problem. Buses with human drivers would probably be fine if you could come up with a working system to route them on demand. Self-driving might save money in the long run, but cars are probably not as efficient as buses in a big city.

I've been looking at homes recently and it just depresses the hell out of me.

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.

Looking around San Carlos, there are entire stretches of houses going for $1.5 to 2mil.

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....

If housing is so expensive why the hell aren't they building more?

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?

Incredible building regulations. Trying to build anything in SF is a giant clusterfuck. Propose anything over 4 stories outside of Fidi/SOMA? People will complain that its "blocking light" or "out of character", or that it blocks their legally unprotected views. Propose too much parking? Pro transit people get mad. Propose too little parking? People with cars will get mad about the increased competition for street spots. It goes on and on...

Not much about bus but other problems in city like rent and housing that we already know about.

What a truly terrible article, how on earth did it get published? This is the type of small minded, stereotyping, garbage that should never make it past some hack's crappy blog.

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?

The London Review of Books is not "some hack's crappy blog". Check your critical thinking skills again; you might actually need a Master of Journalism to get published there.

I did not say that The London Review of Books was a crappy blog. I said that the article belonged on a crappy blog. Implying that it was like a poor quality rant from a personal blog and not worthy of being published in The London Review of Books.

It's not really that bad, as far as these types of articles go. The opinion column staff at the NYT churns out a worse article nearly every day.

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?


A pretty resentful and bitter piece by someone who seems to feel personally wronged by an industry he is clearly not a part of, but feels above on a moral and personal level.


I'm not really buying it...

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