San Francisco is presently transforming from one of the world's greatest cities to an uninteresting generic metropolis. There is an alternative to keep San Francisco as the unique, vibrant, fascinating, & interesting city it is today.
There are a large number of great paying high tech jobs in the area. And the number of jobs keeps increasing. This directly drives a demand for more housing, for the people taking those great jobs. And the people with this demand for more housing can afford to pay well for their housing.
At present S.F. is looking at two choices. The first is to disallow any expansion of housing, keeping the existing mix of homes and small apartments. This way S.F. will retain its physical structure and will not grow to gargantuan size. But the cost of each unit will increase substantially year over year and S.F. will become a high priced country club where it will lose the economic, cultural, and sociological diversity that makes it so special.
The other alternative is to re-zone and allow tall apartment buildings. This will keep housing prices under control, but at the cost of dramatically increasing the number of people in the city and turn many streets into deep canyons surrounded by tall buildings. With the increase in people S.F. will turn from special into yet another generic gigantic city that is nothing special.
There is a Solution
The root problem is not the limited housing. It's not the well paid Google employees. The root problem is more jobs than the housing can support. The trick is to move the jobs. And there is a solution. It's different and as such many people will respond with a NO without truly considering it. But all the standard approaches destroy what makes S.F. special, so we do need to consider a very different approach.
Detroit at one time was the 4th largest city in the U.S. with a population of 1.8 million. It has character, culture, universities, and a wide variety of interesting venues. It also has room for 1 million new residents without requiring any significant capital expansion (present population is under 700K). Detroit could easily absorb a large number of new jobs.
Equally important, it's a city with a personality and lot to offer. No new city can equal the cachet of Detroit. And that matters to potential employees.
What if Apple, Google, Facebook, HP, etc. went to the City of Detroit and said they would move 50,000 jobs there?
When they said they had some requirements, I'm guessing the City of Detroit would agree to them before hearing them. I'm guessing the State of Michigan would also sign up for anything requested. 50K high tech jobs would lead to another 250K jobs for the people providing services to those 50K, and to the corporate offices created. For Detroit and Michigan this is a game changer turning them from a symbol of rust-belt decline into a vibrant city centered around high-tech.
At the same time the high-tech companies gain something incredibly valuable, being able to offer their employees jobs in a vibrant interesting city with a cost of living that they can easily afford. High housing prices in Silicon Valley are pushing a lot of high-tech employees to go find jobs elsewhere. For many couples, even with both working at high-tech companies, owning a house stays out of reach. And when they have children, they want to own a home in a kid friendly environment. In Detroit they can offer that combination.
And with 50,000 jobs and 10 anchor companies, you will get the supporting companies they all need. The companies that are feeder fish to the biggies will all open offices in Detroit bringing the needed supporting systems (and providing even more jobs).
I'm not saying this would be easy. I'm not saying there wouldn't be problems. But rescuing Detroit and saving San Francisco sure beats degrading San Francisco. If the companies step up and make this happen, imagine how good they would feel in 10 years when they look at what they created.
Follow David Thielen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DavidAtWindward