Saturday, January 17, 2015

Childish Things: So Many San Franciscans Don't Wanna Grow Up. But Who Can Afford To?

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Earlier this year, an extremely clever married couple named Catherine Herdlick and Gabe Smedresman celebrated the latter's 30th birthday by throwing a citywide Logan's Run-themed chase game. What a perfect motif for a night out in San Francisco: A pastime for beautiful young adults in this city of beautiful young adults re-creating a movie about beautiful young adults enjoying a lavish, indulgent — and extremely temporary — existence.
In that film, the beautiful young adults of a dystopian future earth lived it up before aging out in the most extreme manner possible: They were vaporized to make way for more beautiful young adults.
Here in San Francisco, that would violate the city charter.
Instead, when aging young people reach the point in life when their parents "settled down," they tend to do so elsewhere. As urban historian Joel Kotkin told us, "San Francisco is Disneyland for adults, or a place people go until they grow up." And, like Disneyland, it's crowded and expensive here (and everyone drives in a vehicle the size of a teacup). We find ourselves with a surplus of young adults, and more arrive every day. The disrupting of San Francisco into The City That Tech Built is only accentuating a trend set in motion long ago. This has, for quite some time, been a city increasingly catering to the young and wealthy at the expense of most everyone else; San Francisco's existential quandary of near-infinite demand and limited supply is exploding as the former spikes while the latter dwindles.
This is the city of Peter Pan and, rest assured, someone will arrive soon toting a flying app. Pirates are already here; your humble narrator came across a young programmer in buccaneer garb sailing to work in the Mission aboard a BART train. When asked why he was decked out in piratical regalia, he calmly answered, "It's Friday."
If, for many of us, adulthood commences elsewhere, then our San Francisco adolescence extends into overtime. You can be 35 years old and a member of the San Francisco Young Democrats. They don't vaporize you when you turn 36 — but, increasingly, people decamp San Francisco before achieving that advanced age.
The hedonistic city that just won't put away childish things does away with other things: affordability, institutional memory, demands of accountability from our leaders. And, perhaps, a sense of context: The organizers of the Logan's Run event said that any statement about city dwellers' inability to grow up derived from playing a big treasure hunt game themed on an inability to grow up was unintended.
This is SF Weekly's Perpetual Adolescence issue (there's even an Activities Page!). In truth, we could have run an edition like this long ago. Well, there's no time like the present. And, in this city, it feels like there's no timebut the present.
And still, complaining about the loss of our San Francisco nostalgia has been going on so long that we can now grow nostalgic about how we used to complain. When he lived in San Francisco, Kotkin tells us, you used to be able to catch a bitter, salty whiff of the bay wind no matter where you were. That was a long time ago and he told us this a long time ago, back in 2007. But his observations about San Francisco hold up. Because, he claims, this is the city that pioneered gentrification. Why? Because it's the prettiest city: Educated Baby Boomers flocked here in the 1970s and '80s, and dot-commers, he concludes, applied the coup de grâce in the 1990s (what's taken place since has essentially been mop-up work; gentrification's heavy lifting was accomplished long ago).
This city's extremely limited space, ever-increasing cost of living, and relentless influx of high-earners leads to a situation in which it's increasingly difficult to be fruitful and multiply. As we've noted in this space before, census data reveals this city has added 65,000 residents in the past 50 years, while simultaneously losing 31,000 families. In addition to the hordes of San Franciscans departing by around the age their Logan's RunLife Clock would begin glowing, research by professor Bill Watkins of California Lutheran University also reveals a steady uptick of residents arriving here in their golden years. Joe Montana was atypical in racking up four Super Bowl rings — but when he moved back to the city in 2010, that was pretty typical. Wealthy empty-nesters are a burgeoning subset of the population here along with twenty- and thirtysomething never-had-a-nesters.
San Francisco, in so many ways, is the city without a middle.
Older people and younger people aren't an entirely similar demographic. But, in this city, they do both possess a passion for living in the present.
And lots of money, of course.
Economic necessities force so many in this city to retain the trappings of youth: roommates, inability to invest long-term, pets instead of kids. Even our ascendent young techies exist in a protective womb harking to a lucrative extension of college life: all-nighters, slovenly attire, a campus-like work atmosphere, built-in peer groups.
It's not a sustainable way of life, which only adds to the allure. And that's sad. San Franciscans of yore could afford to live cheaply in this most beautiful of cities, work sane hours, and then go home to their families. No more. Now it seems you must be wealthy and work like a galley slave.
And all the trappings of extended youth — hoodies at the office, bacon-wrapped everything — can't make up for that. Nobody remembers anymore how the bay's supposed to smell.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. 

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