In The Future of the American City Is This…, you read about Your Survival Guy’s recent trip to Rome and Paris and the optimistic view of what America’s cities could become if they avoid the pitfall of becoming “vacant canyons of office buildings.”
San Francisco has not avoided the pitfalls. Residents are leaving fast, especially those high-earning tech workers who populated the city’s office buildings and spent their money freely in its stores and restaurants. Giulia Carbonaro describes San Francisco’s current plight in Newsweek, writing:
Struggling with rampant homelessness, a drug crisis, surging crime and several business closures, San Francisco is no longer the thriving city it used to be. Its decline in recent months has led some to say the city “is dying”—especially as its citizens move elsewhere.
A quarter of a million people have reportedly fled the Bay Area since the beginning of 2020. According to U.S. Census estimates, San Francisco’s population dropped by 7.2 percent between 2020 and 2021 and by 0.3 percent between 2021 and 2022.
This exodus, sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the change in working habits that came with it, continued in 2022 even as the health emergency drew to a close. While life in other big cities started getting back to normal, San Francisco and the Bay Area continued to shrink, although at a slower pace.
It is wealthier people who are leaving San Francisco, too. Lee H. Ohanian, a professor of economics and director of the Ettinger Family Program in Macroeconomic Research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), wrote that this exodus caused a $7 billion net income loss within the city.
But how did the City by the Bay get there—and could a similar decline affect other major American centers?
“The pandemic really changed the pace of the city and, to a certain extent, the lifeline of the city,” Lu Chen, San Francisco resident and senior economist at Moody’s Analytics, told Newsweek.
San Francisco, with its proximity to Silicon Valley, had grown in the past few decades to become one of the country’s main tech hubs. Young, skilled workers flocked to the city in this modern gold rush as giants like Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter set up their headquarters there.
But everything changed when the pandemic hit. Many San Francisco tech workers moved further out to cheaper cities, while many outside of the city decided against relocating there.
“We started seeing the caller cities—smaller cities which are close enough to San Francisco—attract more people,” Chen said. “These cities are more affordable, they have lower cost of living, they have equally nice weather, they have a larger lot, bigger houses, newer houses, nice neighborhoods, good school districts, safer, and are easier to commute.”
And tech workers appear to want to stay there. Because despite the end of the pandemic and its lockdown restrictions, many have chosen not to return to their offices. This has left many buildings in San Francisco partially or mostly empty, harming retail and causing a fracture in the city and the way it used to work, said Chen.
The office vacancy rate in San Francisco is about 30 percent—or about 35 million square feet, Colin Yasukochi, an executive director at commercial real estate firm CBRE, recently told NBC.
Who can blame San Francisco office workers for wanting to avoid the city when those who enter risk their lives walking its streets? While San Francisco has pushed the big blue blob city model to its predictable outcome, Miami is trying something different. The city is one of the fastest growing. Read more about the Miami model here.
Action Line: Americans want safety in their cities. They want to watch their children play outside without being harassed by vagrants and drug addicts in their parks. Cities that protect that lifestyle will thrive. Cities that treat taxpayers and parents like they’re the problem will fail. If you’re looking for a better America, start your search with my 2023 Super States. Then click here to subscribe to my free monthly Survive & Thrive letter to become a Survivor.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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