Saying Goodbye. Again.

16 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye. Again.”

  1. Vegas too. Home and rent prices are low and artists / performers can make it in Vegas based on what they do because casinos are huge buyers of art and need talent for shows. Plus, it’s very much a startup city, always reinventing itself. The downtown area is coming back with increasing amount of walkable streets and a growing Arts District.

  2. My personal attrition list includes Portland, Dallas, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Sacramento, Oakland… Some from the East Coast or Midwest that went home.

    It seems many people like walkable living but it’s just one desire among many (jobs, cost, weather, schools, etc.) Statistics bear this out. Seattle is booming. But Texas even more so.

    IMO, S.F.’s fate is sealed, at least for this generation. Those clinging to vestigial Bohemia in SF proper are dillusional. The bubble will burst, of course. Things will sort themselves out.

    1. Indeed. Bohemia is always SOMEWHERE, and CAN be almost anywhere. Before San Francisco became the place to wear a flower, and eventually Harvey Milk, there was 1960s Manhattan, until the epiphany of “The Groovy Murders” made the Utopia project move to SF (and/or “back to the land”). Right now, back to the land is still popular, but today’s perhaps more jaded bohemians are colonizing the rocky soil of places like Detroit and New Orleans, which both have bad climates and bad crimerates.

      I have a high school friend who moved some years ago from SF in Oakland, which I suppose would’ve been MY choice if I were priced out of SF (as he, as a special ed teacher, was).

      It’s sad when you see lots of friends leave. That was a big part of the narrative of my early adult life in Upstate NY, except it wasn’t because the place was getting ever more prosperous….

  3. It’s funny, my block is kind of the exact opposite, with very little turnover. In fact, most of my neighbors have been here ten, twenty, even forty years. There are a couple of rentals that people move in and out of, maybe every five years. I put it down to prop 13 and rent control, both of which encourage old-timers to stay put (at the expense of new arrivals.) The downside is my neighborhood isn’t as friendly and social as yours is, although at least we mostly know each other and say hi in passing.

    I definitely hear complaints among my city friends that so-and-so’s son/daughter has moved to Oakland because they can’t afford to live in the city they grew up in, and my own children are anxious they will never be able to afford San Francisco. My daughter has just accepted a teaching fellowship for next year in Denver.

    Bubbles pop. This one will, too. Unfortunately, saner real estate prices in San Francisco often only appear hand in hand with disappearing jobs. In 2001 there were for rent signs on just about every block in the city. The good news is during this latest manic phase, a lot of housing got built, a lot of housing got seismically stronger, and a lot of housing that was moldering into a heap of dry rot got a round of reinvestment to make it last another 50 years. I would definitely like to see the artists, anarchists, and other creative types come back to San Francisco, but I’m also bracing for what will precipitate it. Because when this bubble bursts, I fear the shock waves will send most of us reeling.

  4. A lot of people lament this as the beginning of the end for cities like San Francisco, but as a Rust Belter I see this as evidence of how the new beginning starts and builds here. I think it’s really interesting that the cities your friends are moving to include Toledo and Pittsburgh. There may be family considerations in their moves, making them boomerangers in some sense. But they will take what they’ve learned in the Bay Area and put it to work in new places.

    This is an economic development strategy.

    1. Pittsburgh has a LOT of advantages and I am frankly a bit confused about why the place seems to still be stagnating growth-wise. Richard Florida (I am a bit of a Florida-Skeptic) famously diagnosed his former base-of-operations as having a case of The Borings, but there is no reason this had to remain so. Indeed, Toronto His present haunt) was not so long ago a pretty boring place, before all that Montreal and eventually Hong Kong and eventually Everywhere Else money started pouring in. What exactly holds Pittsburgh back really? A compelling question, because if you like well-built urban buildings, you can buy yourself a whole downtown of them in some of the smaller towns that ring Pittsburgh.

  5. Johnny – You are becoming one of my favorite bloggers. You always seem to shine the light on reality and friends moving away from SF is just reality. They come to SF, find a life they love, enjoy it for a while, until the reality of financial unsustainability sets in, and they move to a place is similar to parts of SF they love at a more affordable price point. It’s good they can find those places.

    The inability to build new neighborhoods with the good aspects of life in SF (or those pre-’50s neighborhoods in other places) lies directly with the builders in my mind. I recently listened to a Chuck Marohn podcast with Dan Parolek of Opticos Design as a guest. They discussed the Missing Middle Housing phenomenon. After reading a bit about Dan’s MMH ideas and the archetype forms of MMH that have gone missing, indeed become illegal under current codes, a light came on “Hey, I lived in one of those back in college (the ’60s).” I’ll admit to being kind of a drifter through the issues of life and housing and how the world has changed to accommodate the car.

    The apartment I lived in was a two-story fourplex, of brick construction built in 1909. It had central heat (steam) and central refrigeration (one central compressor serving the refrigerators (about 5 cu ft) in all four apartments (Wednesday was defrost day). The four one-bedroom apartments had a nice size living room, a small dining nook, a tiny kitchen, bath with tub, no shower, and a small bedroom, suitable for a standard bed, no larger. It was a pretty good apartment. Unfortunately the neighborhood had long since been destroyed by the stroad in front of it. It was located on Kellogg Ave in Wichita, KS, which had been widened to four lanes with a barrier down the middle by that time. The location was just two blocks from the original 1950’s Pizza Hut, although it was a BBQ place by the time I lived there. It was walkable, since it happened to be on the same side of the stroad. Here I am, 50 years later and I could definitely live in that kind of space again. Kids are gone, ego pretty much under control, so I don’t need any “That’s suitable for a person of my standing” fol-de-rol, what ever that might have been, don’t even like people who would choose to fence themselves off from their neighbors.

    So, back to the builders. Dan Parolek moderated a panel at a conference in Austin, TX which included a member from a builder in Austin who thought that the Missing Middle was addressed by their approach, which consisted of tearing down existing single family homes in older neighborhoods and getting permits to build new construction of a single family home with a granny flat in the back yard and selling them separately, $1M for the big house and $500K for the smaller one. She kept raving on about how they were “little jewels of distinctive design”, all the while missing the MMH point of affordable, higher density space in interesting places. As long as the builders don’t get it, it can’t happen.

    This turned out way too long. Sorry for the ramble. I did have one thought along the way. If anyone decided to write a book (Johnny) about the sweet spots in older towns, it would probably sell pretty well.

  6. The actions of your friends indicate that walkable neighborhoods with quality public spaces are developing all over the country. I visited St Pete a month ago and their waterfront downtown was pretty cool. I live in Knoxville, Tennessee, which has a really walkable, thriving downtown centered around one of the nation’s best public spaces (Market Square). But 15 years ago it was mainly a dull, nothing sort of place. So yeah, the places you want are already being built, even in cities you never think about.

  7. It’s encouraging to hear you’re finding so many sensible friends. Ultimately this is a very good thing as urban living is good but you can’t cram half the country in NY and SF. A lot of those other towns are better suited to re-urbanization than SF too.

    1. I’m always curious who this mythical “They” is. “They” are trying to cram everyone into little apartments in big cities. “They” are trying to force everyone out of their cars and on to transit. All the people I know moved to San Francisco voluntarily and wanted to stay. But the supply of space is limited and the demand is very high. That combination translates to expensive. People leave due to cost and look for a comparable substitute elsewhere. You can blame San Francisco for being spendy or you can ask why places like San Francisco are so rare yet we don’t build more of them to satisfy the market desire. We have no trouble building an endless amount of cul-de-sacs and strip malls. Why not a few more walkable neighborhoods with quality public spaces? It’s not rocket science.

      1. But it contradicts the formulas. And the relentless propaganda campaign for 80 years in favor of suburbia. And over-regulation (mea culpa).

        I think you have a special group of friends. Most people don’t question at all the cul de sac and the suv lifestyle.

      2. You’re really hitting the nail on the head. That’s why I dislike the idea of aggressively building San Francisco up. America should be able to sustain a few Parises – legacy cities preserved in time, at least to a reasonable extent. We should putting the onus on other cities to tap the insane demand for SF-style environments.

        1. Hmmmm…. even Paris is not entirely a “legacy city preserved in time” — 1. It experienced a major “Urban Renewal” project, albeit long, long before the mid-twentieth century and, 2. It had a development pattern rather similar to L.A.’s — it sprawled out and engulfed many other smaller old towns, like Berlin did.

          “SF-type environments” are indeed in high demand, but not because of what you see in the built environment — rather the geography of place, both locally and nationally, and the concurrent geography of who lives there and thereabouts. The demand for Paris real estate is less than for NYC’s and that is even with greater density in NYC —- I am actually a little more bullish than many folks on the future of SF’s real estate prices — the intrinsic value of the land (which includes the country’s, and perhaps the world’s best food region) + the legacy value of the institutions thereabouts will continue to attract talent worldwide in a way that Paris doesn’t even want to do, much less can. Meanwhile. downtown St. Louis beckons for anyone who wants walkable neighborhoods and impressive architecture. No, the demand for San Francisco is not because of what it looks like, and if development is curtailed, then Oakland and other places will take up the slack, no doubt.

          PS Paris is life is not all it is cracked up to be for middle class folks, at least. It’s actually rather stressful, like a flatter NYC. If one needs lots and lots of beauty (man-made) and style, I understand.

      3. Places like San Francisco are not rare because there are so few places that were built like it, but rather because of geography and national politics. San Francisco has a unique geography in an (in this day of a an emerging Asia) enviable situation. Just like the Hudson Bay was pinpointed by both the English and the Dutch as THE PLACE to colonize in the 1600s (the Merchant Adventurers originally wanted the Pilgrims to settle THERE, not at Plymouth, which was a big mistake), Dana described in Two Years Before the Mast in the 1830s, I think, his reasons for believing that wealth would necessarily be concentrated to a great deal at the San Francisco Bay if California were ever developed by more trade-minded cultures than the Spanish. He actually laid out his reasons for it to a certain extent. This in spite of the fact that he named Santa Barbara (I think) as the most PLEASANT place, climactically.

        As I’ve said before, I can list off dozens of places where I have liked the built environment than in San Francisco (or Cambridge/Boston, for that matter) that are stagnant to doomed.

        On another topic, I stumbled on an article by accident on a subject you have fleshed-out here — and may help flesh out the 1950s-1960s suburban blight issue:

        http://www.governing.com/topics/mgmt/Bungalow-Bind.html

        Enjoy!

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