You know that expression: "Don't kick a man when he's down?" It's a way of saying that we should not beat others when they are struggling. I'm a longtime resident and think SF is getting a bad rap.
It seems like everyone wants to pick on San Francisco. It's the media's favorite reversal of fortune story: "Look at expensive, high-flying San Francisco, and see what a mistake it was to buy into it. The crime, the homelessness, the anti-business regulations, the high prices are too much to take. We should all just move to Austin or Dallas and get more square footage, and parking." There's even a series in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled "Exit Interview" about people leaving SF.
But here's the thing: The San Francisco people have loved for years hasn't changed all that much. It remains a beautiful city, with terrific culture, great weather, interesting people, fantastic educational institutions, and more. People are leaving the city in larger numbers than arriving because their needs changed while national issues made life more difficult. But SF is the same wonderful, challenging, quirky place it's always been.
Our needs quickly shifted with COVID. Suddenly, we wanted "private outdoor space" to get air without being exposed. Many people can work remotely - giving some who wanted to move the opportunity. And the need for home office space increased.
But these changes are mostly about how people want to live during the pandemic. They are not a renunciation of what makes living in San Francisco great. Sure, some people will be happy with their move to the suburbs or to Dallas. They got more square footage for the dollar. For others, COVID hastened a move that was coming anyway.
But some people, like me, really value that unique, non-chain coffee place on the corner. And we love walking to do our shopping and seeing the Castro filled with people dining, and connecting, and laughing - albeit outdoors right now. And I still smile at glimpses of San Francisco's unique style - like a bedazzled Porche parked outside a bar (yes, it's covered in glitter).
When I DM'd the author of "Exit Interview" and asked if he'd consider including a story about people moving to SF, I got no response. That's not the storyline that he wants to sell.
I have concerns with the city and don't want to sugar-coat them. Homelessness, cost of living, and other issues are real. But I still love SF and want to be here. And many of these problems are part of broader, national issues like education and income inequality more than SF governance. Pre-COVID I was in Minneapolis – another wonderful city - twice a month. It is also dealing with crime and homelessness and other issues, even when the temperature is well below freezing.
So, our population decline doesn't mean the City's gone from great to terrible or that we were all silly to want to live here. It means the City is evolving as a result of the pandemic and national issues. Did you know that SF is 8th in the nation when you consider the homeless population as a % of residents? We hear a lot about SF's homeless problem, but there's little media bashing of Eugene or Anchorage.
There's truth in the exodus numbers that can't be ignored - more people are leaving than coming. Yet these numbers aren't the whole story. And the fact that no one wants to tell the part of the narrative that includes people enjoying SF and moving to SF right now is troubling.
I see signs of healthy, urban life on the streets every day. Guess what! There are people arriving in San Francisco and thrilled about it right now! Some are coming for career reasons, others because it's a dream they can now realize due to lower rents and remote work. Writing only of the exodus is a false narrative - a lie by omission. And that's a shame because piling on to an easy story - San Francisco's demise - serves no one.
People move for many reasons. It makes sense to leave a dense city during a pandemic. You can get more space elsewhere and, during a pandemic, you can't enjoy many of the things you love about urban life anyway. Dallas isn't San Francisco and San Francisco isn't Dallas – they aren’t the same experience so it’s hard to make a comparison.
To the guy in the "Exit Interview" article who is thrilled with Dallas, I say: "Congrats. You got a city that works for you." I'm glad he's happy there, and I'm glad he created a little more space for the many people, like me, who love SF - warts and all.