Opinion: Downtown San Francisco had a good run. Can it recover?

Downtown San Francisco is in distress. Indicators of urban well-being point in the wrong direction: office occupancy, BART ridership and retail foot traffic are down, as is the city’s population. Every week brings news of another high-profile exit: Recent closures include a Whole Foods flagship and Nordstrom, which announced the end of its 35-year run on Market Street due to changes in the “dynamics” of downtown. First Republic Bank, another San Francisco success story, went under after it couldn’t retain its wealthy customers and was sold to JPMorgan Chase.

Now barely a day passes without a publication referencing a “doom loop” in the city. There’s a lot of finger-pointing, but no agreement about how to solve the actual issues, including the spiraling homelessness crisis, the unsustainable cost of living or a property crime rate consistently higher than that of similar metropolitan areas.

Like most people who had a good run for too long, San Francisco didn’t see it coming. I understand why. When I moved here from Boston in 2003, I fell in love unconditionally with that shining city. Even back then, San Francisco wasn’t exactly affordable. We ended up buying a house in the East Bay, and it still cost twice the amount we would have paid back East. But such was the Bay Area, our real estate agent explained: “Things here only go up.”

It made sense. San Francisco’s  job market felt solid even during the recession. Google had just gone public, as did Salesforce and many others. The city was awash with employees buying million-dollar condos near the ballpark, joining the nation’s “one percent.”

It was to cater to that millennial demographic that First Republic Bank, whose “privilege” it was to serve the city’s elite, hired me as a contract writer in 2018. Unlike older clientele, young tech millionaires preferred to bank online, managing their seven-figure balances electronically. I wrote the words that helped them do it.

In the 18 months that I worked at One Front, as we called the bank’s headquarters, downtown San Francisco seemed like the ultimate metropolis. European and homegrown coffee shops competed with juice parlors that unblinkingly charged upward of $10 a glass and still drew long lines.  Sometimes, after work, I’d pick a fresh loaf of sourdough before squeezing myself onto the down escalator at the Embarcadero BART station, whose entrance had to be closed periodically to manage the torrent of riders.

But on March 7, 2020, First Republic sent us home to shelter in place with our laptops and a few remaining bottles of hand sanitizer. A month into remote work, I was let go, along with other contractors.

The bank that seemed as impervious as its city is no more. Technology, the force that propelled San Francisco to the top, also carried the germs of its doom.

As the seemingly infinite IPO cash tsunami receded, it revealed the city’s less sightly realities that accumulated during the tech boom: homelessness, addiction, deficient public services. Office workers who financially fueled the city decamped to the suburbs — or they …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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