Monday, February 24, 2014

Is San Francisco losing its soul?

From The Guardian UK: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/23/is-san-francisco-losing-its-soul

The big pay cheques of the tech boom are changing the City by the Bay as Twitter and Google millionaires take over its bohemian haunts. Could this be the end of the city as we know it?

ZoĆ« Corbyn The Observer, Saturday 22 February 2014

Poet and painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti came to San Francisco in 1951 because he heard it was a great place to be a bohemian. He settled in the Italian working-class neighbourhood of North Beach with its cheap rents and European ambience. And before long he put the city on the world's counter-cultural map by publishing the work of Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. But despite his status as world and local literary legend, the 94-year-old co-owner of the renowned City Lights bookshop and publishing house doesn't feel so at home in the City by the Bay anymore. 

He complains of a "soulless group of people", a "new breed" of men and women too busy with iPhones to "be here" in the moment, and shiny new Mercedes-Benzs on his street. The major art galley in central San Francisco that has shown Ferlinghetti's work for two decades is closing because it can't afford the new rent. It, along with several other galleries, will make way for a cloud computing startup called MuleSoft said to have offered to triple the rent. "It is totally shocking to see Silicon Valley take over the city," says Ferlinghetti, who still rents in North Beach. "San Francisco is radically changing and we don't know where it is going to end up."

Until recently, San Francisco, California – a small city of around 825,000 poised on the tip of a peninsular on America's western edge that sprang up during the 1840s gold rush – wasn't thought of as a centre for business. Rather, it was famed as an artistic, bohemian place with a history of flowering counter-cultures that spilled over and changed America and the world, from the beats in North Beach to the hippies in the hilly region of Haight- Ashbury to the gay rights movement in the Castro neighbourhood. Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner called it "49 square miles surrounded by reality".

But times have changed in Ferlinghetti's city. San Francisco has become the hype- and capital-fuelled epicentre of America's technology industry, which has traditionally centred on the string of suburban cities known as Silicon Valley 40 miles to the south. In 2011, Mayor Ed Lee introduced tax breaks for Twitter and several other tech companies to encourage them to settle in and revitalise the downtown San Francisco neighbourhood South of Market, or Soma, and help the city climb out of the recession. Soma has become home to some of the most important companies in the new economy, such as Twitter and Dropbox, and many small startups hoping to challenge them. AngelList, a networking site for investors, now lists 5,249 tech startups in San Francisco, each worth $4.6m (£2.8m) on average and offering an average salary of $105,000 (£64,000).

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/23/is-san-francisco-losing-its-soul

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