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“Backlash by the Bay”: Gentrification in S.F.

November 25, 2013

Think gentrification debates can get bitter in Vancouver? Well …


As the center of the technology industry has moved north from Silicon Valley to San Francisco and the largess from tech companies has flowed into the city — Twitter’s stock offering unleashed an estimated 1,600 new millionaires — income disparities have widened sharply, housing prices have soared and orange construction cranes dot the skyline. The tech workers have, rightly or wrongly, received the blame. …

City officials must grapple with the arithmetic of squeezing more people into the limited space afforded by San Francisco’s 49 square miles. And it is the housing shortage that underlies much of the sniping about tech workers.Gent

San Francisco has the least affordable housing in the nation, with just 14 percent of homes accessible to middle-class buyers, said Jed Kolko, chief economist at the real estate website Trulia. The median rent is also the highest in the country, at $3,250 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. …

Longtime residents of the Mission District complain that high-end apartments, expensive restaurants and exclusive boutiques are crowding out the bodegas, bookstores and Mexican bars. … Evictions are higher in this neighborhood than in any other part of the city.

“They are not only expelling the homeless and the gangbangers,” said Guillermo Gómez-Peña, a performance artist. “They are also expelling the performance artists, the poets, the muralists, the activists, the working-class families — all these wonderful urban tribes that made this neighborhood a very special neighborhood for decades.”

… the onus, many people say, is really on the city government.

“There has to be some kind of public support to make sure you don’t just have a city of the very wealthy, but people to make the city run,” said Kevin Starr, an urban planning expert at the University of Southern California.

“You can’t have a city of just rich people,” he said. “A city needs restaurant workers, a city needs schoolteachers, a city needs taxi drivers.”

Mr. Lee says he has a strong commitment to affordable housing — he pointed to the Housing Trust Fund, which will provide $1.5 billion in affordable housing over the next 30 years — and to preserving the character of San Francisco’s neighborhoods.

Wholesale evictions, he said, are “not good for the city.”

He conceded, “We have to figure some things out.”

Full story here in the New York Times.


UPDATE:  Story in ULI’s UrbanLand on how a deserted and distressed public-housing project – Hunters Point – will be transformed by Mithun/Solomon using traditional S.F.urban-design principles.

Hunters View may serve as a model of how to incorporate a large swath of isolated property in a troubled area into the rest of a city by first distilling the essence of urban design principles unique to that city and then extending them to the site to reweave the urban fabric.


Hunters 1




3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark Hornell permalink
    November 25, 2013 10:36 am

    This is an interesting challenge for desirable cities everywhere: how big can they grow without losing the character that drew people there in the first place? SF is already one of the most dense cities in North America and from forecasts I have read, is expected to grow to 1 million residents in its tight, Vancouver-sized footprint in the next 20 years. There still seems to be room south of Market to accommodate more residents. But how much additional density can neighbourhoods like North Beach, or the Fillmore take before have to fundamentally change physical character from the dense, but low rise form they currently have? However, if one takes a somewhat broader view of what constitutes the city, there is a significant amount of room in potentially walkable neighbourhoods in the Bay area. Oakland for example. The waitress that served us at a restaurant on upper Market lived in Oakland and she mentioned that at the end of her shift, it took only 15 minutes to get home, longer during the day. Perhaps its too much to expect but couldn’t there be a Bay area economic strategy that was both concentrated, but dispersed to a few other key nodes (Oakland/Berkeley; a more urban San Jose) in addition to San Francisco, spreading out some of the gain and the pain of gentrification.

  2. Frank permalink
    November 25, 2013 12:19 pm

    People like to imagine that they have a tremendous amount of control over the outcomes of the city.

    “how big can they grow without losing the character that drew people there in the first place?” That sounds as if it requires careful balancing by planners.

    In reality, we don’t have much control. There are two likely outcomes: If building happens at a reasonable pace, prices won’t rise unreasonably fast, but the city will have changed, and gentrified, and increased in population, and people will have to move and adapt.

    Or, if building doesn’t happen, prices will continue to rise very quickly as only the rich can afford the scarce commodity that is the San Fran lifestyle. The city will have changed, and gentrified, and become more expensive, and people will have to move and adapt.

    So, planners cannot control much. They cannot prevent change. They can only affect what type of changer occurs. Will the city change by growing, or will the city change by appreciating?

  3. Clyde permalink
    November 25, 2013 2:54 pm

    City Hall can’t be expected to solve a regional problem. San Francisco is viewed as a piece in the overall fabric of the Bay Area for planning purposes and problem resolutions by the Association of Bay Area Governments, (“ABAG”). In addition, the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) is a state mandated process for determining how many housing units, including affordable units, each community must plan to accommodate. See more on both items at

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