Cities, Reimagine an Urban Paradise

The End of San Francisco

Friday morning I woke up and the first thing I saw was an article shared by one of my favorite authors, Rebecca Solnit (perpetual swoon) on the insane rent explosion in San Francisco. The astronomical cost of living in that lovely city by the Bay is no secret to anyone but just how dramatically it has increased is stunning.

Sunday Streets - EditedAccording to the blog Pricenomics, “Today, the median apartment for rent in San Francisco is $3,880 per month. The median studio is $2,722, and the median one bedroom is $3,452. A two bedroom now rents for $4,400 month and three bedroom goes for $5,125.”


I moved to San Francisco in 2011 to work with Sunday Streets, the magnificent and wildly popular Open Streets program in San Francisco. Sunday Streets happens monthly and allows everyone the opportunity to experience different neighborhoods free of cars for five hours. It’s democratic and free and for everyone, and completely wonderful.

I knew I wasn’t going to be making tons of — or hardly any — money but I was okay with that because I was so giddy about working with an official program that was (temporarily) giving the streets of the city back to people.

Easter in Dolores Park, 2011
Easter in Dolores Park, 2011

I was idealistic (and clueless) and thought that San Francisco was and would always be a place for people that are “others” somehow everywhere else. I thought it was still a place for people who were writing books and plays, making art, playing music, being themselves, ending wars, and changing the world, not just changing apps.

But I was too late. Way too late.

I had not realized how much San Francisco had been transformed by the technological giants that settled around the Bay. I had known rent was going to be expensive, but I was certain I could make it work. I had some savings and I’d lived in Washington, DC for almost a decade as a nonprofitress so I was no stranger to expensive rents and creative living.

(Phone number is no longer valid)

Since I didn’t know very many people, I made a flier about myself and my housing search and passed it around to everyone I met through my job. Living with a lot of people is one way to make living in pricey cities more affordable and I have lived in an impressive variety of  “group houses” (not homes) with as few as two other roommates and as many as 21, like the cooperative house I loved so much in Chicago. I’m an extrovert and so it’s easy and pleasant for me to live with lots of people, but I can’t imagine how difficult those circumstances must be for people who require serious alone time in order to recharge.

The Washington, DC solution of large houses filled with lots of people sharing resources didn’t seem to be as possible in San Francisco. There were still large houses but so many of them seem to have been split up into individual smaller apartments, making them way out of my price range. A landlord can charge a lot more for six one bedroom apartments in a house than for a six bedroom house.

I just couldn’t imagine  how could anyone afford to live here. How could families? How could people making minimum wage? How could people making lots more than that afford it?The Future - Edited

I interviewed at a number of houses and managed to score a pretty great spot in the Mission, splitting an apartment with a guy who was a private chef for some Pacific Heights woman that employed two full-time chefs. He’d had lived in the apartment for ten years so there was some sort of rent control. This fella had one Porsche when I moved in and a couple months later, he had purchased another one and was renting three garage spots for all his posh cars. Our lives were … pretty different. I was squeaking by, devouring my savings on rent and basic expenses and my roommate was the owner of multiple Porsches.

Even doctors and others in traditionally well-off professions are struggling to pay for housing in San Francisco, so how could a lil’ nonprofiting lady swing it?

I couldn’t.

I bailed.Streets of SF

What was the point in trying to stay in formerly-dreamy San Francisco now anyway? The people keeping the city running and interesting and a place worth living in and dreaming about are being forced out faster and faster. Evictions and rapid rent increases are tools for making outrageous profits in the housing market by turning even sub-standard housing into a luxury commodity.

And frankly, it’s just boring.

Who wants to live in a city where everyone does the same thing because they are the only ones who can afford it? Everyone who makes San Francisco the magical fairy-tale land will be gone and people will survive on the memories of what it used to be.

But they’ll have an app for that.