Who Do You Plan Your City’s Future Around?

Found a provocative article today on an attempt in San Francisco to introduce  new smaller housing limits. Essentially it will allow developers to build living spaces no bigger than 150 feet. SF Public Press printed it at http://sfpublicpress.org/news/2012-07/developers-seek-to-legalize-tiny-apartments-in-san-francisco-citing-soaring-rents  Fortunately, unlike the Comicle, SF Public Press presented an in-depth article on the pro’s and con’s.

Graduate School Blues
Graduate School Blues (Photo credit: ChiILLeica)

Essentially the ideal candidate is twenty-something techie who works all the time and merely needs a place to sleep until the IPO hits. Why most of us know the IPO fantasy is simply a fantasy, it’s not the only industry catering to disposable employees. In the legal industry, I knew any number of young college graduates in the 1990s who slaved for two to three years to earn overtime money for graduate school. Sadly when they graduated law school they found the money was much better but the hours were worse sans the overtime. The same went for future MBAs. Then with the tech boom they migrated to Silicon Valley.

These small spaces with their cute IKEA furniture would stack on top of each of other in high rises. In theory the increased housing stock would drive down rents because of course these highly educated and well paid employees would flock to live near each other. It would be a step up from the tech hostels profiled last week in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/06/technology/at-hacker-hostels-living-on-the-cheap-and-dreaming-of-digital-glory.html?pagewanted=all) This is of course assumes these middle and upper class youth would surrender shared space allowing for all their tech toys, parties every twenty-something enjoys, and the amenities associated with living in San Francisco.

Lower East Side Tenement Museum on the Lower E...
Lower East Side Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Opponents fear overcrowding as people flock (read share) the smaller housing to save on rent. In other words the more likely tenant candidates would be low income workers and their families. I recall visiting the exhibits associated with the New York Tenement Museum (http://www.tenement.org/) These large buildings stacked tenants like cordwood, had shared sewage (big ditch), and housed any number of work sites (piece labor). Obviously it’s a leap to say these would automatically turn into these types of establishments. On the other hand, look at the McMansions in the burbs now overrun with tweaking squatters after the foreclosure crisis forced out the original owners (http://realestate.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=21179977)

Mcmansion north
Mcmansion north (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clearly this small (should be bigger than 150 feet) house would benefit many in the community. We need alternatives to homelessness. Similarly we don’t need to litter our suburbs with opulent, albeit shoddily constructed, monuments to consumer excess. Many of us headed toward retirement might choose a smaller living space, if only for the opportunity to stay in San Francisco. As the opponents astutely pointed not enough time was given the underlying decisions associated with this change.

However, the real problem is marketing fantasies keeps driving our  housing policies. During the boom period many bought the hype they needed and deserved an overly large home in the burbs. With many others the gentrification costs drove them to the outlying areas. Now it seems San Francisco wants to market its future around tech companies who (like many other start-ups) specialize in burning through employees for short periods of time. We need to ensure everyone has a seat at the table to discuss the future.

This does not mean we drive out the tech or bio companies. We need them. But we also needs the service employees, teachers, cops, and fireman. Perhaps most of we need to remember all of us will age.

Folks inching toward or past the half-century mark have lived through any number of recessions starting with Reagan and moving forward. Those slightly older can name more.  We need to remember things move in cycles. Thus the one thing we can’t do is tear up our social safety nets which carry us through the inevitable down cycles. Nor can we forget the ultimate survivors in nature are species welcoming diversification.