Our one month trip to San Francisco to work on our new startup has been very busy and fruitful. Besides hanging out at the German Startup Haus and going to work every day at Runway, we occasionally did get to do some things around the city like visit the Golden Gate Bridge and Chinatown, froze our butts off at Alcatraz, spent an evening with hipsters at IgniteSF, watched The Desolation of Smaug at the IMAX, toured the EFF and the Internet Archive, and generally walked around SF. A highlight for me was meeting up with some of the cast of The Incomparable, one of my favourite podcasts.
The last time I was in SF I was struck by how old everything was. This time I was struck by how conflicted the city is. The chasm between those in tech and those not in tech is nearly at class-warfare levels. Almost daily there are articles about the chasm widening (eg. the recent Google Bus demonstration). To get better sense of the civic strife, read the following link-filled article: Silicon Valley Is Living Inside A Bubble Of Tone-Deaf Arrogance.
Luckily I have some friends here that are outside of the tech community so I was able to get a bit more of a balanced view. As I commented on Twitter:
One thing I’ve learned while in SF: just like tech can leave behind whole industries, tech can leave behind whole cities.
Those in tech/startups understand the mechanics of disruption in a competitive market: if a new technology makes it to the mass market, tough for the buggy-whip makers and whale-fat farmers. Their time is over and they will have to find new jobs. The market is never static — it is the circle of life.
However, cities are not markets. At least, many people do not expect cities to act like markets. We often hear of large companies folding or shutting down factories, leaving a shell of a city behind in the wake of unemployment. But SF is an inverted case where there is much wealth being attracted (and generated) here, raising the cost of living so high that longtime residents are turned out of their homes.
So what happens when a city leaves behind its residents? In other words, what responsibility does a city have to its residents? The opposing viewpoints of whether a city is a competitive market or not underlies the tension in SF. I cannot offer any solutions, but I would be interested in hearing any historical comparisons if you know of any.
Despite this, our trip was fruitful. I write this post on the plane northward and look forward to reconnecting with the rest of our team in Kelowna to work on the next leg of our project. Exciting times!