Whither San Francisco? The way of all places, it seems, overrun by high tech and big money, the familiar villains of this oral history–based portrait.
By many accounts, San Francisco is the engine of a new kind of economy, one driven by young tech workers from all over the country who need only fast transportation and good bars to stay happy. What about the other workers? Writes documentary filmmaker McClelland, “as if radiating from San Francisco and Silicon Valley, economic pressures are pushing whole communities outward.” This is especially true of the elderly and the poorer working class, who simply cannot afford to live in the places where they work. Some of the older bohemian types whom the author interviews lament the passing of times when the place sported “a wild group of people…[who] knew that money doesn’t drive everything.” There are a few moneyed, techie types aboard, of course, including a pioneer of the self-driving car who has a cleareyed vision of “cool systems that bring us further as a society,” just as there are representatives of the various intellectual schools, mostly of the left, that have long characterized the region. Notes one, “a few hundred thousand professionals may think they make the Bay Area great, but they forget about all the people doing the other work," from cooking the food to driving the subway to taking care of the kids, all of whom could do better for their buck almost anywhere else in the country. The descriptions are long and the prescriptions few, but it’s striking how many of McClelland’s respondents, no matter what their work or background, are concerned with building a better, more equitable city. The book is firmly in the Studs Terkel tradition of first-person–based explorations of working-class life; if it lacks some of Terkel’s literary and sociological power, it’s still a solid contribution to popular urban studies.
Students of inequality and demographics will find powerful anecdotal evidence for how the changing cityscape brings both harm and good.