for 27 April 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Ah yes...St Yogi of Berra (as always) provides the perfect quote: "It's gotten so crowded nobody goes there any more." Complaints that one lives in such a nice place that people with money want to move into it should always be viewed warily.
Oddly, nobody seems to worry that Paris or Milan or Florence or Siena or Lyon or Prague or Vienna (getting boring, I know) have lost their souls, even though careful zoning laws have ensured that you have to be (in general) fairly wealthy to live in their downtowns. Paris, just for example, sticks its dot.coms into a specialized suburb, easily reachable by excellent public and private transportation, and leaves its center city free for enjoyment. Of course, such a system requires smart planning and a willingness to spend public money. Enough said.
San Francisco is always going down hill. Steinbeck mourned its loss; 20 years later (in the mid60s, as I recall), John D McDonald compared it to a blowsy showgirl, still pretty in dim light but living off what she once had. So it goes. The foggy nights still feel the same.
Thanks, Alan. Your point about Florence, at any rate, is well taken. After seeing Hannibal, I resolved to write a Suck piece on Florence as the worldwide capitol of pashlust. Like so many of my resolutions, that one went nowhere, but I stand by the point the last genuine thing to come out of Florence was Dante.
Perhaps these bohemians should learn to get over themselves, just like the dot-commers are having to do now. What happened in San Francisco is a normal process, just accelerated by the dot-com boom. In the end, do the coffee-shop slackers and wannabe-artists really contribute economy of the city? Social environment is important, but it costs real money to keep a city going, and it's a pity that the money is going away.
Chances are that the aforementioned bohemian crowd will only continue to contribute kvetches and sneers at the rest of us eight-to-five squares, but very little of importance.
Well, you have to be fair, Albert. Isn't it the job of those Bohemians to contribute nothing but kvetches and sneers?
The relationship between bohemia and capital has been discussed at great length, and it's a topic worth following. If nothing else, it helps explain why bohemians have become kind of irrelevant in this second-best of all possible worlds. Who needs a bunch of unkempt artsy fartsy types when you've got James Lipton and the European Sleep Works mattress providing nothing by hi-culture?
Though I didn't read the book, I just have to say yur review of Hollow city one of the best thigns I've read in a while a truly insightful account of San Francisco today. Thanks
The book, if I didn't make it clear already, is worth reading. The cultural pool in which Solnit swims really is losing water rapidly, and her depiction of that is touching. I say that without any sarcasm. The only thing is Brian's Song was touching too, but nobody made the case that it was a searing indictment of the NFL.
The idea that "the beatniks" of society can be used a cultural marker is not necessarily a new one, nor should it be dismissed out of hand. In a very engaging and surprising book Jaques Attali in "Noise: The Political Economy of Music" (U. Minnesota), (yes, he's French, worked with Mitterand, is a cultural materialist, a futurist, and a Marxist as if this were surprising) makes a good argument that sub-cultural activity, and specifically music are a good way at understanding the machinations of a given society. The idea here is to "theorise through music" rather than theorise about the music itself (as if this distinction is possible), for Attali, music is a historian (oral tradition), it heralds (Beethoven's 6th Symphony), and predicts (Cage, Miles Davis, heck, electronica insert what you want here). Rather than measure a society through economic indicators, it might also be important to understand a people through art which is, of course, connected at the hip to sub-cultural activity.
While I agree that there are many other players at work in the SF scene, Solnit is not completely off her nut in choosing the angle she does. It would seem there is much more work to be done here (?)
Nice article Suck rocks my world.
U. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, United Kingdom
yeah... of course I had to come from a uni... where else could I examine my navel and get paid to do it? The real world sucks.
If music is a cultural indicator, than we need look no further than San Francisco Sound, one of the finest half-hours in the history of San Francisco public access television. Every weeknight the show features epic, arhythmic, fusion-style space jams that prove the Grateful Dead of the Keith and Donna Godchaux era was not the musical dead end we always thought. That so many people can form so many bands that suck in exactly the same way is really a hopeful sign for humanity. (I owe the discovery of San Francisco Sound to Suck's own St. Huck, whose connoisseurship of city arcana rivals Herb Caen's.)
But what does the Sixth Symphony herald? I always thought the thumbnail historical context was that Beethoven was a man of the early industrial revolution; wouldn't a Symphonie Pastorale be looking back wistfully, rather than heralding? Please explain.
Thanks for writing the best kind of book review the kind that lets me know I can save my time and money. I find it hard to believe someone could write yet another book about my beloved almost-native city that ignores the booming Asian population so young, so numerous, so totally stylin', and so good at buying apartment buildings in favor of profiles of art school dropouts whose greatest social contributions are their Burning Man camps, but apparently someone has. Who cares about white artists anymore? Really? I say unto my fellow honkies, this is rapidly becoming an Asian city, and not a moment too soon. Here in San Francisco I sit, observing the death of the West, and I marvel that I seem to be alone with my vision, despite the fact that all of my friends make out their rent checks to Mr. Chan or Mrs. Sun. When the Asian property-owner voting bloc becomes able to exert its political might... well I don't know what will happen. Nobody knows what will happen.
Again, I really do recommend the book just not on the terms through which it's being promoted. And to be fair, Solnit does include one passage, channeling Maya Angelou, that indicates how the African-American Western Addition was built on the remains of a relocated Japanese neighborhood. Too bad she doesn't draw the obvious conclusion that the government is the real enemy, and that heroes of the people like Tom Ammiano (or "Mr. Rogers goes to Washington," as Solnit calls him) will ultimately succeed in making more people more miserable than the dot-coms could ever have hoped to do.
Everybody loves a story of impending doom. If your conclusion is we will all be cooking cans of beans out in the street in 10 years, you will find a guaranteed audience. Where can I get a copy, by the way?
San Francisco today is exactly as it was 3 to 4 years ago. The dot-com boom left behind only its skeletal remains in the form of empty live-work lofts South of Market. God rest its soul, we will miss it and especially the artists. Nothing is sure to infuriate an artistic community than the absence of an oppressive enemy.
It is truly amazing the way the dot-coms provided the ideal enemy for the city's huge clusters of nativists, whose general operating principle always seems to be "Well, I'm here: Time to pull up the ladder after me." Of all the many insufferable things about "progressive" types, one of the worst is ignorance of the progressive movement's long history of yokelism, corruption and bigotry, coupled with a seeming belief that these things could never occur among a group whose motives are so obviously pure. Give me good old cigar-chomping backroom weaselry any day!
There are just two features of the S.F. Bay Area that sets it apart from other metropoli...Gorgeous Mediterranean weather of cloudless skies, cooling breezes from the Pacific, and a bay surrounded by hills affording magnificent views, enclosing a small bay-side valley.
The extraordinary price for real estate here is caused, not by .coms nor any specific industry, but by high DEMAND by all sorts of people who move here from elswhere because it's such a desirable place to live. The SUPPLY of land within the area, is limited by the ring of hills. They shelter this part of California from the cold of the coast to the west and the heat of the central valley to the east.
The cool prevailing wind acts as a natural air-conditioner, keeping our SMOG level much lower than in the L.A. Basin, and our summer HUMIDITY much lower than the east coast.
You forgot sourdough bread! What would the city be without that foul-tasting baked goo?
You may have a beef with Solnit's approach,and that's your own affair, but the picture of San Francisco realities you've painted owes a bit too much to the SF Weekly's "there's nothing wrong here that more market capitalism couldn't fix" school of thought.
To address a few of your points, in no particular order:
-Pricey apartments are still pricey, and evictions for tenancies-in-common continue. I have friends who have had rent increases in the past few months, and would love to move, but nothing "affordable" exists (and hasn't for some time) despite the downturn.
-Solnit probably doesn't use bus drivers as the canary in her economic coal mine because MUNI's got one of the strongest unions known to man. San Francisco's bus drivers are well-paid for the work they do, and are notoriously hard to discipline, let alone fire. Artists, on the other hand, are eminently replaceable.
-Ferlinghetti is so irrelevant that he's San Francisco's poet laureate.
-Immigrants (from other countries, not other states, ya dot-com weasels) sure do keep cities vital--provided they're not just well-off expats. You mention the large influx of Mandarin-speaking Chinese into SF--lots of those folks are former Hong Kong bankers and businessmen (who left HK with just about everything they could carry before the PRC put the place under new management). Their main contribution to the economy has been to drive up the price of homes and to outfit their children with fast cars. Not exactly the hard-working tacqueria-and-nail-shop set you probably had in mind.
-The Latino population leaving San Francisco for "the suburbs" probably isn't doing so out of a lust for lawns. The fact that rents have quadrupled in the past decade probably explains the efflux, and some of the suburbs enjoying the new residents are charming places like Vallejo--a post-industrial, crime-ravaged place, not likely to make the cover of Sunset any time soon.
-The dot-com boom is a rather poor example of a rising tide raising all the boats. In fact, it raised only a few of them; it put many more deeper in the water. Lots of my friends--like me, Bay Area residents whose roots here go back generations--have been forced out by spiraling rents. Their apartments were swiftly taken by emigres from (insert name of midwestern city here) who set about making sure that their new home resembled their old. We now have fewer venues for live music (and an embarrassing explosion of yuppie-friendly one-joke bands covering Neil Diamond tunes), fewer galleries, more Hard Rock Cafe-esque cookie-cutter entertainment centers, and more six dollar burritos than we did before. Yeah, that Internet boom. Good for the economy, you betcha!
-The businesses allowed to flourish here by the loopholes that the Board of Supes are closing are trying to sue the city to avoid paying their taxes. Meanwhile, city services are horrifyingly underfunded (go to SF General's ER waiting room, if you don't believe me). Hard to feel for 'em, especially when a huge number of the jobs they provide are held by people who commute into town from Walnut Creek and Burlingame.
I'm waiting for the former dot-commers to go back to the flyover places that spawned them, so that those of us who really love this place can clean up their mess. SF is used to gold rushes, and the type of get-rich-quick people whom they attract; it's just a matter of janitorial work after the gold runs out.
Thanks, Michael. Point by point responses:
1) I don't even read the SF Weekly, let alone know what its economic philosophy is.
2) Rents may not be dropping as fast as you like, but you just have to read the paper every day to know that they are in fact dropping. In the past four days, I have seen abundant For Rent signs in the following neighborhoods: The Mission, The Excelsior, Bayview, the Marina, Pacific Heights, Visitacion Valley, whatever that reservoir area between Visitacion Valley and Bernal Heights is called, the Outer Sunset, and Solnit's own nabe of the Western Addition. Two overpriced units in my building have been vacant for two months, and the process of slashing the prices has already begun. Perhaps your friends need to try a little harder.
3) Nobody needs to tell me about the shitty attitudes or awful union of the Muni drivers. But if you follow the link to the Chronicle story, you'll see it's about how Muni drivers can no longer afford to live in the city. This is the first of many points in your letter where you fail to consider that people you find personally distasteful may actually have some claims.
4) Poet laureate of San Francisco? Did he also win an Oscar? How about a People's Choice award? That Ferlinghetti still gets any props is a sad commentary on San Francisco's fetishization of pathetic and questionable traditions. His book store is a theme park every bit as bogus as Barnes & Noble, but with worse service and a smaller selection. And as for his writing, well, I notice you did not take me up on my challenge to name one of his poems.
5) People in Hong Kong speak Cantonese, not Mandarin. As for your other points, I don't get it: Are Asians only good when they're poor? Is it Hong Kong billionaires who are moving into Bayview in such large numbers? Or is it that Asians are not a hip ethnic group, and therefore it's not worth your time to figure out which ones are which?
6) I say potato, you say potahto. The Latino population of both San Francisco proper and the Bay Area as a whole has increased in the last ten years. Make of that what you will; common sense tells me that if things were as bad as you say the population would be decreasing, not increasing.
7) The fact that you use music venues, entertainment centers and burritos as your economic indicators proves my point that this was always more about style than economics. And I've never known a dot-commer who liked Neil Diamond. (He's huge in Latin America, though.)
8) As Solnit is honest enough to concede, these "loopholes" were put in place with the best intentions: Live/work was created for artists. As my view of the bay is blocked by an ugly high rise, I understand the impulse behind Prop M, but the fact is real estate limits cause real estate shortages. This is worth harping on because it gets to a point where I think you and I truly disagree: You seem to think strict housing law and impenetrable zoning regulations help preserve the city and protect tenants. I think they have exactly the opposite effect, that they hurt tenants, create situations where only the corrupt thrive, and ensure that the next time there's a boom in the city the housing crunch will be just as bad, or worse.
9) Your last point is just a collection of ad hominem attacks and smug self-fellations, and thus unworthy of a response. But that is one supercilious attitude you seem to have.
Your piece in last Friday's SUCK was fantastic and most welcome. I've read enough of "Hollow City" (and Solnit's interview in FEED) to be offended by her "my friends are most important to San Francisco than your friends" attitude. I've lived in SF since 1989 and was as stunned by the changes of 1996-1999 as anyone, but was able to take the good w/ the unsettling. You did a great job highlighting the fact that the writer hacks got good jobs, the slackers got good jobs, marginally-talented people like myself got good, well-paying jobs, and then boom -- it was pretty much over, just like Adam Smith said it would. Now we've got a safer city, a more diverse city, and even some of the lame San Francisco bands everybody said they were going to miss -- but who of course never left -- are back making music and practicing in out-of-the-way spaces. The Bay Guardian and the laughable board of supervisors will always be with us, and I'm sure we'll elect an Art Agnos-style mayor again soon. This IS San Francisco, and you have take the good with the, *sigh*, unsettling......
All that, and Critical Mass is back with a vengeance! After several years as a meaningless get-together, the original bike protest is back, motivated by the death of bike rider Chris Robertson, and determined to help escalate the ever-increasing dick-headedness of SF drivers. Be there.
Hit & Run 04.19.01
Reviewing of professors by their students is an absurdity rivaled only by parents running a school board. Both groups are the least likely on the planet to actually come up with an accurate analysis. If there are any groups associated with schools which need to be violently silenced, it is students and their parents.
Oh, there are plenty of groups that need to be violently silenced: food critics, landmark preservationists, the people who write letters to the editor at Newsweek that say things like: "The most fitting punishment for Osama Bin Laden would be to make him see the pain he's caused his victims' families. Marie Overcleaf, Dippity-Dieu, Iowa."
The list goes on and on
Sarandonphonecall.com: Hello, could I please speak with (blank)?
You: Yes. That's me.
Sarandonphonecall.com: Great! I'm calling from Sarandonphonecall.com and I have a great Sarandon-call for you!
You: Let me hear it!
Sarandonphonecall.com: Ok, let me go get Susan...
(click -- click) Hello, this is Susan Sarandon. You may have seen me in awful movies like Bull Durham, Witches of Eastwick, or White Palace. I'm working on a Water-Buffalo-For-Tibet project and....
You forgot the best part of Sarandon phone call: The heartfelt 15-minute critique of the Mumia evidence.