There has been a lot of press lately, nationally and locally, about the skyrocketing cost of living and doing business in San Francisco. While all that money keeps the city in better fiscal shape than most places in the U.S., it doesn’t necessarily improve the quality of life for San Franciscans. In fact, it kills city life for those residents forced out by evictions and rising rents. It also hasn’t infused money into public infrastructure, as evidenced by the controversy over private bus systems run by Google.
“Community space” implies something that is open to, well, the community. Subverting of naming conventions to suggest public access and transparency, while providing neither, is troubling and increasingly pervasive. But this turning inward, despite the incessant drumbeat of “community,” is quickly becoming the rule rather than the exception.
In my class on urban economics, we talk about the movement of firms back to central cities, explained by their desire to be near amenities that their workers value (in addition to other benefits of agglomeration economies). But increasingly, these firms then create private amenities out of semi-public spaces, which challenges our notion of what it is that makes cities desirable, to both firms and workers. These are not idle differences: the protests over how tech firms and workers use public space–including both physical spaces and the public spaces of governance.
In “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” Jane Jacobs wrote, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” We’re losing that here. The further the tech sector gets from the reality of the problems it’s engaging with, the smaller piece of the problem they’ll end up actually fixing.