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August 7, 2019

Colin Blake

Alameda / The Mission

16 years in the Bay Area

0:00 / 43:37

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Gold Rush

San Francisco has always been a place where people come to

get rich, make it big. And nothing’s changed there. A lot of people complain about how it’s changed. But the fact is, it’s always changed. It doesn’t belong to anybody. The only people who can really claim ownership are the Ohlone Indian tribe. I think

people have been coming here for a long time, to try to get rich,

to get famous or to disappear if they don’t want to be found.

Queer Culture

San Francisco has a really important history as a queer place, place for

gay people.

Built / Chosen communities

People have come here for many, many years to find and to

make a family. What I mean is a family of like-minded people. So people come here because wherever they’re from, it doesn’t feel like home to them. And they come to make a home here in the West. And I think that’s really special. I didn't come here to make money. I came here for love of San Francisco in the Bay Area. What’s sad to me right now about San Francisco is that a lot of people are here now only to get rich. And I meet a lot of people when I'm out and I ask, “Where are you from? Why are you here?” They say “A job.” “How do you like it?” They say, “I don’t really like

it.” So I think why don’t you go back? I lose my temper sometimes when people say that to me because their act of being here, and the act of making all that money is pushing people away because of economics. And I don’t fault anyone for wanting to make money, that’s fine. But to also hate this place, which is so beautiful. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

San Francisco is not really

a place of high culture

There are so many talented young artists here. I think most of them unless they’re getting involved in tech, or food and drink, will probably leave because San Francisco is not really a place of high culture, at least as defined as high art, like traditional art, dance, music, film, all of those things. There are other centers in America and the world, which are much more culturally important. So I don't think San Francisco produces a lot of art anymore.  If you really want to be involved, it’s more likely that you’re going to end up in a place like New York, or LA, or another part of the world.

More and more San Francisco feels

like a playground. If you have the

money, it’s a playground for the rich.

It’s interesting that food and drink are such a big deal here, whether it’s wine or a fancy meal. There are great restaurants in

San Francisco, but I think it’s important that these are things

that are monetized meaning it’s for people with money, and more and more San Francisco feels like a playground. If you have the money, it’s a playground for the rich. I feel the same way about Manhattan. So like when I take a trip to Manhattan, I love New York, but I love it as someone who’s visiting who has some money that

I want to waste on fun.

Uber / Lyft as symbol of

the monetization

I truly, truly hate Uber and Lyft. I mean, deeply. I really hate them.

I never use their services. And I feel strongly that they cause a lot of problems from traffic to public safety. It’s a symbol of “the current culture” of San Francisco where you take a public space, like the roads, and you monetize it, you make a commodity out of it and you sell it. And what we’re seeing, I think with Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and many services like this is you’ve got what used to be free public space being used up and sold.

So I think the dream of Uber is that it’s going to be something

you do on the side for a little extra money because you have free time. Most Uber drivers are not from San Francisco. They’re coming from very far away into the city, usually at rush hour or over the weekend when they can charge the most money. If you look into the behavior of most Uber drivers who drive full time, you’ll see them often during downtime, they’ll find a quiet part of the city and park the car and fall asleep. Many of them will work an entire weekend

to make money, sometimes driving 12 or 14 hours at a time because you can make the most money like when the bars close. And then they’ll go back to some other farther-away places where they live. And I think this is symbolic of what’s going on that these companies are built on the backs of people who are marginalized. These drivers aren’t members of the San Francisco community. I’ve been with friends who ordered a Lyft or Uber. I’ve been in those cars and with these people. They don’t know how to drive in a city because they don’t know the city at all. They’re not from here at all. And honestly, they don’t get enough sleep. And they don’t know the city that they’re in. I feel so badly for them because they make very little money after the price of maintenance gas, cleaning, all that. 

Meanwhile, Uber just had an IPO. Their IPO was a flop. And I was happy to see that it was a flop because I don’t wish well for Uber,

I think they’re going to go out of business because right now they’re losing $2 billion a year. Every time someone takes an Uber ride,

they lose money. So their business model is totally messed up. The only way Uber can make money is if they hold on long enough to either become a monopoly meaning the only company that does it, then they can raise prices. Or they invent self-driving cars and

get rid of all the drivers, which is what they’re trying to do. Once they can do that, then they can make money. But that’s a big deal. In the meantime, I think it’s an example of this mentality—let’s just throw money at it and let’s worry about the consequences later. It’s a bit like when all the scooters came into San Francisco overnight, three companies dumped 2000 scooters into San Francisco. They didn’t ask the city, they didn’t tell anybody. And so the next day, there’s people everywhere on scooters, there are accidents, people getting hit. They just don’t care. They’ll just try anything for the

sake of disruption.

San Francisco is a place for

technological innovation

It’s interesting that San Francisco is an innovation hub or place

for technological innovation in many ways. The history of Silicon Valley goes back to the 50s and 60s, Xerox and HP, developing microchips and stuff. Way before there were apps or anything like that, and I respect that. It’s important. I have an iPhone. I’m not saying I hate tech. But it’s interesting to me that a lot of the products that have come out of San Francisco recently are products that the CEOs of these companies don’t use themselves. And most importantly, they don’t allow their children to use them. Like Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, started Facebook, but doesn’t want his kids to have a Facebook account, which tells you a lot about Facebook. Right? I guess I’m skeptical about the culture here today, but it’s changing all the time.

It’s impossible for any city

to exist without culture

Every place has a culture or cultures. You can’t have a city, you can’t have a bunch of humans in a place without culture. Cultures change, cultures have tension, sometimes cultures die, or they leave. And new ones spring up all the time. It’s all very healthy and normal. I'm turning 39 in a couple weeks, and as I enter this stage of my life, I’m trying to remember not to become just an old

man and think that things were better before. Things are always changing. But is San Francisco different culturally from before? Absolutely. Is it better? Not for me. I’m sort of falling out of love with San Francisco. It’s very sad, but places are changing.

What does the city do without

a variety of people? A variety of work? 

I don’t really know how to fix the problem. I don’t know how to bridge the divide. I mean, obviously, people need to communicate. But I think the problem is essentially economic. The tech companies are not economically diverse. Their employees make so much money that the result has been to push out people who work in sectors of the economy that aren’t as lucrative. To me, the biggest issue is housing. I think if it was more affordable to live in San Francisco,

I think we would have a greater diversity of people doing so. But it’s not. And that’s for a variety of reasons that I couldn't fix like that.

But I believe in affordable housing, I think that people’s taxes should go towards making it more affordable to live here. When I go out

for lunch, I think about those people who are making my French fries, salads or whatever, where do they sleep at night? Are they commuting two hours to be there at that job making $15 an hour? So when I think about the future of the city, who’s going to make lunch? Who’s going to teach children? Who’s going to be a cop, who’s going to do these jobs when you can’t live in the community you work in? So it’s completely unsustainable to me. I can’t believe it’s still going on here. 12 years later, after this, (tech) boom, it’s just amazing.

I don’t know where these people come from. I think they must be coming from very far away. But eventually, they’re going to decide not to do that. And then what are we going to do? What does the city do without a variety of people? A variety of work? I’m very worried about that. Sorry, I couldn’t really answer your question.

A lot of things are much better in

San Francisco now, but the problem is

that no one can afford to enjoy it.

Let’s take Valencia St as an example. When I first moved to the Mission, I lived a block away from Valencia St. It was four lanes.

And the rent was way cheaper. There were empty stores. It was really kind of a rough neighborhood. The housing project that

was there had a 12-foot-high steel fence, it looked like a prison.

It was terrifying. So they’ve made huge improvements. Now it's

two lanes, bike lanes, and wide sidewalks. All of that is for the best. It’s really progress. The Dolores Park was terrifying 20 years ago. You couldn’t hang out there. It was scary. It was full of crime. You could find like needles in the grass. I don’t want to think about

the old days as being all good. The Dolores Park is awesome. They redid it, you know, added that playground, redid all the grass, added more places to walk. It’s beautiful. And look how popular it is? It’s like a big party every weekend. All that is great. But the problem is that no one can afford to enjoy it. And when it comes

to these businesses like a bookshop, the rent is so high, if you’re

not immediately making lots of money, you’re going to go out

of business. So we are going to end up with a bunch of stores that are by and for wealthy people. But I don’t want a city that’s full

of nothing but passion projects by the rich. It’s this weird dilemma because a lot of things are much better in San Francisco now,

like Valencia St. But a lot of these businesses like Dog Eared Books, they’re not going to be there forever and a lot of them are closed. So many venues are gone.

An old, old gay bar replaced by another

bar that looks like every other bar

A lot of the gay bars are closed, which is interesting to me. I'm

gay. So I’m really involved in that community. It’s a business like anything else, so they have to make money. The only reason these places close is that people stop going. So maybe the business needed to go out of business because it’s not making money. But when I see an old, old gay bar replaced by another bar that looks like every other bar, it’s kind of sad because that place had stories and history to it and now it’s just another generic bar. That kind

of gets me down.

We can build more housing, and also

preserve some of the more important places that are part of the history of the city.

There’s a bar called the Stud. It’s on Harrison and 9th St. It's been there a long time. There’s a lot of history there for the queer community. In summer, they were in danger of closing. If you do

a street view you’ll see this little one-story bar, and next to it

is a giant new ten-story condo. So they really wanted to tear it down and build more housing because it can make more money.

I think the employees got together and they made the business into a co-op, so that everyone who works there is also part owner, and they’re trying to protect it. I think that’s positive because

I think we can do both. I think we can build more housing, and also preserve some of the more important places that are part of

the history of the city. I’m from Seattle. If you visit, you know, you may notice that there are tons of new buildings. Seattle has decided to build, build, build, build, and build, unlike San Francisco, it kind of looks mostly the same as 20 years ago. In Seattle, it

looks completely different from when I was growing up, because they built a ton of housing. And it helps. We need more because there’s not enough places for people to live. I hope San Francisco can do that and also preserve some of the places that are important to its culture.

San Francisco is a tiny city. It’s very small but there’s a lot to see.