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The city of San Francisco has long served as the United States' epitome of counterculture and nonconformity. In the 1950's, it birthed the Beat generation of poets and thinkers, while in the 1960's and 1970's, it was a haven for the hippies and anti-war voices, as well as one of the most prominent voices and advocates for same-sex marriage. Even before all of that, it signed a bill that nullified the U.S. government's Prohibition law. In the 2010's, however, San Francisco's latest act to differentiate itself from the rest of the country is its technological renaissance. In the last few years, the city has been home to a plethora of startup tech companies and "business incubators," which are high-rise buildings that serve as shared workspaces for these startup companies to collaborate and get their business, website, or product off the ground.
Since the dawn of the decade, young entrepreneurs from all over the world have flocked to the city as a way to build their brand from the ground up. They've pioneered workstations that make full use of the relaxation concept, where anytime during the day, you can get up from your office chair and go get a massage, play with LEGOs, or simply grab a snack in the same room. This emphasis on comfort and recreation has attracted young people into shaping San Francisco into their oyster.
This, consequently, has left the countercultural customs, and, for that matter, anybody who isn't young, affluent, and privileged with the means and skills to form such a successful path, in a precarious and questionable position in present day San Francisco. In Alexandra Pelosi's short documentary San Francisco 2.0, Pelosi explores the destruction of middle and working class neighborhoods by the city of San Francisco in order to make way for expensive housing and buildings to accommodate this big business, in addition to restaurants, cafes, and businesses that will attract the young and wealthy in this neighborhood.
When the technological renaissance really began to take hold on people, San Fran Mayor Ed Lee offered tax breaks to companies in an area called "the Tenderloin," a crime-ridden, industrial area, which attracted many of these young people currently frolicking to the city. With that, the area was built up, and thereby gentrified, with 1,400 square feet apartments going for $10,000 a month. This has resulted in massive rich/poor segregation, says the famed economist and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who almost always is the smartest person in any room. Reich comments how you've seen Vancouver, London, and other cities essentially become "gated communities" or playgrounds for the young and wealthy and, as a result, numerous have been singled out, unable to find employment or even housing in an area thriving off of new money.
A neighborhood shopowner and activist comments on San Francisco's new technological progress quite negatively, saying it has ushered in a new generation of antisocial, impersonal young people that have no conception to the culture and history of the city. We see corporations, who are attracted to the crowd because of the wealth of commerce and money they bring to the city, carelessly tear down murals and locational landmarks in favor of these antiseptic offices that feed the internet craze.
Then there's the element of the mass-evictions San Fran has been undergoing in recent years. Thanks to legislature and these construction operations, numerous people have been victim to "no- fault evictions," which basically mean they are being evicted because they do not fit in with the city's current plan to rebrand and recreate the area. We see a man in his early sixties, who went from being a wealthy banker boasting two college degrees and over thirty years experience, to somebody living in a cramped studio apartment, tirelessly searching for work to no avail, and eating at a soup kitchen in the evenings. It's a tragic circumstance that, sadly, has seen numerous people displaced from their homes and their jobs.
Pelosi, daughter of House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, shows how the root of this problem is very simple; blinded by the technology craze and the countless possibilities, some even yet to be discovered, that social media websites and Silicon companies offer that they've created a city that doesn't cater to anybody other than the young and the wealthy. We hear from ex-mayors of San Francisco that in order for this problem to reverse, or at least go in an alternate direction, the gifted and intelligent people behind the doors of these lavish offices will need to look beyond those walls and see how they can help all people and not solely themselves and their companies (that is largely how the previous generations got us into the mess we're currently in). They will need to go from defying ritually accepted taxi and hotel regulations with companies like Uber and AirBnB, respectively, to find a way to be conscious of others in the area.
Pelosi's short documentary is a great film for those who thought the city of San Francisco was nothing more than coffee shops and unabashed sin; it's a city that could very well set a dangerous precedent for other big cities like New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles if people don't realize what is currently unfolding. It's such a fascinating documentary, albeit burdened by a narration that's a bit too pedestrian and cheeky for a subject like this, that one wishes it could've added another forty minutes to its runtime to fully explore the issue and allow other voices to speak.
As it stands, however, it's a briskly edited and knowledge-packed wake-up call to realize what is going on in San Francisco and to try and do something about it.
NOTE: San Francisco 2.0 will air throughout the remainder of September and the entire month of October on HBO.
Directed by: Alexandra Pelosi.
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