Not long after moving to San Francisco, I stumbled upon a scene that will forever remain a vivid memory: a pigeon eating leftover kale salad. At first glance, no imagery is more emblematic of San Francisco than this. Between an abundance of high quality local produce, an emphasis on wellness and all things leafy green, it should come as no surprise that everyone — even birds — would eat well here. But over time, this image for me has taken on greater meaning, one that speaks to San Francisco as a place of contrasts.
On paper, the city’s numbers boast of diversity, but in reality, the divide between classes is palpable and often physical. As someone who lives and works in the Tenderloin, it’s impossible to ignore — I need only to walk out my front door to be reminded of the extreme economic disparity that exists here. My neighborhood is characterized by both the bars and ethnic restaurants that function as post-work pit stops for the young and upwardly mobile and the SROs and organizations providing social services to impoverished residents — many of whom are homeless.
My apartment is situated in a small food desert. Access to fresh groceries requires a walk to the Mid-Market corridor, where the closest market is a shiny, new, high-end oasis in the lobby of Twitter’s headquarters. A couple handfuls of cherries there recently set me back $11. It’s always on my walk home — struggling under the weight of my bounty while narrowly avoiding the piles of human excrement lining the streets — that I feel my own privilege most acutely.
Much attention has been paid to San Francisco’s 2011 Mid-Market and Tenderloin tax program — commonly referred to as the “Twitter tax break” — which offers incentives designed to draw tech companies and luxury developers willing to move and build within the redevelopment zone. Indeed, the jobs and revenue generated by the plan has been both swift and impressive — some of which will undoubtedly fund new social programs. But with rents at a record high, and by only requiring the minimum of affordable housing units in new buildings mandated by law, it’s clear that the plan is designed with a moneyed monoculture in mind. My fear is that the gap will continue to widen — with classes adjacent, but never bridged.
In a city bolstered by so much capital and growth, it seems that only the tech-working, high-rise-dwelling, kale salad-eating class shall continue to thrive — along with a few enterprising pigeons.