For the first time in a long time, I’m optimistic about the future of San Francisco. I know that’s a weird thing to say considering most of us barely leave the house, tons of people don’t have jobs and many of our favorite institutions keep closing down. But honestly, I can’t remember the last time I felt SF was so full of hope.
The reason for this is that almost every person in San Francisco is here because they want to be here. Whether they’re transplant or native, rich or scraping by, tech worker or artist, nearly everyone here looked the pandemic in the face and said, “Not even you can make me leave San Francisco.”
Of course, there are some folks who wanted to leave but couldn’t afford to, and there are plenty of people who wish they could be here but aren’t, but everyone I talk to in this city is excited to be part of building the San Francisco that comes next. It’s actually exhilarating.
And it makes sense. We spent the last decade in a culture war where one side didn’t care enough about this place to even participate in the culture war. We saw our loved ones evicted, our rents skyrocket, and our favorite places shut down (well, I guess some things don’t change). And all this was to accommodate tens of thousands of people who only planned on being here for a short time anyway.
And now they’re gone. One hundred thousand of them. Yes, some of the people who left actually did love SF, but the toll of the pandemic was the final thing that made them buckle. You know who you are and we miss you. But for most of the people who left, being able to work from home meant not having to live in San Francisco, because San Francisco wasn’t their home. And that’s fine — farewell, good luck, and please try not to ruin things wherever you end up.
For those of us still here, it’s a brand-new day. Suddenly, for the first time in a decade, people can afford to move from the golden handcuff of a rent-controlled apartment to a better one. They can finally leave dilapidated buildings or unhealthy living situations, and not have their rent tripled. They can make decisions that benefit them more holistically instead of having to sacrifice safety and sanity just to be able to pay rent. Because that’s what so many of us have done just to live here. That’s how much we love this city.
And the best part is, the strife we endured over the past decade has led to many more renter protections and discouraged some of the most egregious speculation. If these laws had been here 10 years ago, many of our loved ones would still be in The City. But maybe now some of them can come home.
So, hell yes, people are optimistic.
Even the blight is filled with possibility. While all the empty commercial space we see around places like Union Square is unsettling, people are already scheming to see what kind of beauty they can create once things open back up. Commercial landlords will have to lower rents to meet the diminished demand and quirky shops owned by local people may take over where corporate flagships once existed. The Westfield mall downtown is already paying attention. They plan on opening up space previously inhabited by huge brands so that local artists, designers, and craft makers, can sell their wares instead.
The performing arts are starting to adapt to the new normal as well. The Midway in the Dogpatch is beginning to book seated, outdoor dining experiences with fantastic live performances. And last weekend Red Light Lit, the sexy literary series, had a live reading at Chambers in the Phoenix Hotel. While most venues don’t have the outdoor space and capacity that these places have, it shows the creativity folks are using to move forward, taking the performing arts off of Zoom and back into real life.
The most important part of my current optimism is the fact that vaccinations are real and they are happening. (My parents just got their second shots last week, YES!) There is light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccinations obviously aren’t just a San Francisco thing, but that combined with everything above fills me with hope.
We are just beginning to come out of one of the most trying and traumatic periods any of us will likely live through, and what we might find on the other side is exciting. San Francisco has a bright future ahead of it because the people who live here believe in this place. I’m looking forward to whatever comes next, and I’m glad we will be experiencing it together.
Stuart Schuffman is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list at http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. His column appears every other week. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.