This is a critique of an article from The Economist which has been making the rounds. San Francisco and the Valley have hundreds of problems, and yet, this is still the best place to start most venture funded businesses.
Clearly I am biased here, but Evans makes good arguments. It is easy to blame big tech for problems. He doubled down with this argument in a different direction [over here]. Tech has caused negative changes, but let’s not pretend that Tech is guilty of everything.
I’ve talked about this before, too. Google is pushing SoMa as “The East Cut” on their maps now. I literally spend half my waking hours in this neighborhood and the only times I’ve heard it in conversation were either (a) people making fun of Google, or (b) referring to the uniforms that cleanup crews wear, emblazoned with “The East Cut,” which ends up leading to (a). There is a very Orwellian aspect to this story, and to how the digital world can reshape the physical world.
I’m biased, so not much to say here, other than my full agreement with Noah. This broken city would just finish breaking if the tech industry collapsed.
The startup market in San Francisco feels less overheated than it was 2-3 years ago, but investors are already hedging theirs bets. The housing crisis is a real issue, and the fact is that lots of people who would like to be here just can’t. Without people, there’s less talent, and with less talent there are less companies. SF might have killed the goose that laid golden eggs.
San Francisco is a mess. Things could be different.
The longer I live in San Francisco, the more desensitized to homelessness I become. I hate that about this city, and I think about it daily. In my opinion, the biggest problem is NIMBYism - there’s an interesting parallel here with the rise in national isolationism, and some irony in San Francisco’s contradictory positions when flipping the scale from local to national. The second biggest problem, which feeds the first one, is a deep misunderstanding of second order effects - the world is dynamic, and it is hard to think of the change brought on by change itself. The solution is clear. Seattle was already the guinea pig. Let’s build more housing.
In San Francisco, being religious puts you in the minority. As someone who was raised in a religious community and eventually gave up believing in God, and who was often stigmatized by family and friends for it, that aspect of the culture here was a breath of fresh air. Most people in the Bay Area try to be ultra-rational about their spirituality, some bordering on scientism, and I hadn’t experienced that until I moved here. With a wide range of interviews, this piece tries to put the perspective of the religious group in the Bay Area in context. It’s clear that they are not used to being in the minority position, and that brings a lot of interesing contrasts. There’s a lot to be said about what is lost due to the wave of secularization that we’re living, and I am sad that people in tech circles feel ostracized for their religious beliefs (I’m certainly guilty of this ostracization at times) but on the whole I think this is a good step forward. The big question here is how can we build up communities where people feel connected without having a basis in religion. Below I’ve linked to an essay by DFW that’s somewhat related - Everybody Worships.
Another labor market tightening. This is a topic I had discussed with friends already, and it is good to put numbers to our anecdotes.
These are re-branded and remodeled SROs, but people on both sides are doing mental gymnastics to convince themselves otherwise. On the one hand, you have the residents, signaling that their (probably annoying) neighbors are their best friends, and on the other you have the developers who are selling the renewal of these buildings as a good thing for the neighborhood (which I agree with) and a good thing for the residents (which, eh…). Honestly, I was suprised that the NYT was not more critical of this. It adds another layer to San Francisco’s patina of dystopia.
SF spent $275M on homelessness efforts in 2017. Where did they go? This city is insane. Collective action problems like this one are exactly the kind of things governments are meant to address, but San Francisco is dropping the ball. (I fully agree with Stephen Merity, who pointed me to this article on Twitter)
I have long held the view that governments operate with relative ignorance from what their constituents want - not because of nefarious reasons, but because humans are humans and communicating our needs and desires is individually really hard, and nearly impossible at the collective level. The Silicon Valley mindset has its blind spots, but the fixation on experimentation and short feedback-loop iteration is something that could improve policy decisions. It is good to see the top brass realize some changes need to happen outside of the market.
While Noah lives in San Francisco, he’s not really a Silicon Valley insider, so seeing his reaction to Scott Alexander’s Reality Check was interesting. His take? “All in all, Silicon Valley represents one of the least objectionable, most rightfully respected institutions in America today.”
There are a slew of insane facts in this piece. For example, San Francisco has the lowest percentage of children of any of the largest 100 cities in the US. The rate for San Francisco is 13%, for New York is 21%, and for Chicago, 23%, which is also the overall average across the United States. The number of dogs is roughly the same as the number of kids: 120k. There is one additional student enrolled in the public school system for every 100 apartments sold in the city. The public school system has shrunk by 40% since 1970. More than 10 private schools have opened in San Francisco since 2009. This city really makes no sense.
Shared without comment.
Are we at the tail end of the up-cycle in San Francisco? The economic indicators make it seem like we might be. With rents flattening over the past few months, and unicorns falling from their sky-high valuations, the Bay Area might become a little less insane in the near future.
San Francisco and the Gold Rush, both old and new. Labor, unions, and narratives of success.
The article talks about topics beyond management, but spends a good chunk of time discussing why projects with many moving pieces, many stakeholders, and many contributors are hard to do right. Mostly, because people are hard to understand. If you understand people, you’ll be a better engineer, better designer, and better manager.
The title says it all.
Long, but so worth it. As Paul Ford tweeted, this essay is “a great catalog of Silicon Valley self-deceptions.”
A deep dive into the history (and disaster) of the San Francisco housing crisis.
Politicians in the San Francisco Bay Area are getting pulled in every direction, this NYT article tries to explain some of the complexities involved. In a strange coincidence, this article came out roughly a week after I read Kim-Mai’s article, linked above.
A clear economic analysis of the housing market in San Francisco, its history, its distortions, and its intricacies. Zac makes good arguments, proposes attainable solutions, and brings examples of other cities arount the U.S. that have solved similar housing crises before.
While the city officials’ skepticism is understandable, their stubbornness to work with a capable person due to his background is not. Two very unexpected things I learned from this piece: 1) San Francisco’s homeless population has been around 6000 for over 25 years. 2) between nonprofits and city departments, $241M/year are spent on supporting San Francisco’s homeless population. That is, roughly $40k per person.
I went to a meetup at 140 New Montgomery this week. The event was unremarkable, but the venue was odd. This essay tells its story.