As a native San Franciscan, I’ve spent over 5 decades hearing people from all over the world discuss loving San Francisco. Her appeal is like the pull of gravity – an irrefutable natural phenomenon. Just to say you lived in SF even for a brief time affords one lifelong bragging rights.
There have been times that people fled the city – notably after significant earthquakes, financial meltdowns, or most recently a global pandemic.
It takes an epic event to spur an exodus from San Francisco, which is historically short-lived.
San Francisco is undeniably a world class city that still feels like a small town to natives who have never crossed paths but who can always seem to find an instant connection to each other. It may be the neighborhood you grew up in, the schools you attended, a shared memory of Playland, if you ever swam in Fleishhacker Pool, or the open space area where you learned to drive. 49 square miles bursting with music, dance, theater, fabulous and diverse cuisine, breathtaking natural beauty, and an iconic red bridge. And within a short drive of the city are bucolic places that remain frozen in time – The Russian River, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and ancient redwood forests.
San Francisco is filled with broad, breathtaking views and small, charming vignettes. We have ever-changing public art installations, revered and protected open spaces, and sea breezes and blankets of fog that gift us with clean air and a temperate climate. The Victorian, Edwardian, Spanish Mediterranean and Mid-Century Modern architecture in our city literally still makes me stop and gawk in wonder like a tourist. We built entire neighborhoods on sand dunes that were considered uninhabitable, hosted three World’s Fairs, and have welcomed movie stars, presidents, and royalty.
Granted, San Francisco also has serious challenges. Housing prices have risen to previously unimaginable stratospheric levels, quality of life crimes spiral out of control, the toll of the pandemic is evident on both businesses and individuals, and our homeless situation is chronic and seemingly insurmountable. I would add my own personal peeves of bike lanes that create confusion and bottlenecks, politicians who seem to value their career advancement over the future of our city, streets that are unacceptably dirty (Honestly – why can’t we find a solution to this?) and the crown jewel of our city – Golden Gate Park– in need of more attention.
Do I ever find the sometimes overly liberal politics maddening? Absolutely. San Francisco doesn’t just lean to the left on certain issues– it feels like we use a catapult to propel every current trendy political idea onto the front page and often the world stage. We elect a Public Defender as our District Attorney without enough consideration to the reality that the Public Defender and the District Attorney roles are very different – and they represent a much-needed balance of power. Supervisors that the majority of people in the district don’t support win elections due to “rank choice” voting, equitable public school placement is a decades-long debate, and nepotism and corruption in city government seems never-ending.
But I try to remind myself to look deeper to the underlying intent of our liberal political choices. Even if I disagree, the ultimate goal is always to further tolerance, fairness and compassion. San Franciscans don’t just walk by shaking our heads. We question, react, and demand action. We err on the side of being lenient instead of taking the easier road of turning to blame and judgement as a way of avoiding the hard work of finding solutions to our challenges. We acknowledge that there isn’t just one way to live, to act, or to think. Our way isn’t the only way – or even necessarily the best way – it’s just our way. We celebrate our diversity and see it as an asset and not a threat. We’re fiercely proud of our “live and let live” mentality – as we should be. It’s so appropriate that the charter of the United Nations was signed in San Francisco in 1945.
Growing up in San Francisco in the 60’s and 70’s brought the challenges of the world to your doorstep. My childhood and early adulthood was shaped by war protests, racial tensions resulting in deadly violence against our police, several serial murderers in our midst, the kidnapping of a local heiress and the resulting discussion of wealth inequity, a cult leader who caused the death of almost 1000 people, the Summer of Love, and the assassination of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone at our City Hall. Looking back, it’s hard to think about those times but they also remind us that we’re survivors.
While these events caused significant disillusionment and rampant fear, they also resulted in a collective sense of camaraderie and resilience. Learning invaluable life lessons at a young age has made me a stronger person. Living in those times influencd who I am, what I value, and how I see the world. I naturally think beyond myself and look for the motivation and passion of those with whom I may disagree. San Franciscans don’t just accept different ideas, we embrace them. We are the living manifestation of the ideals embodied in the Statue of Liberty.
Like any true, lifelong relationship, there are times that you feel completely in sync and loving – and times you want to smack the person you love dearly right in the face. The status of the relationship may occasionally be “it’s complicated” but remains strong due to deep love and respect. Even when we seem at odds with each other, this place helped me become who I am now and shapes the deep connections and unbreakable bonds that still sustain and guide me. While I have been very fortunate in love – with my spouse, children, friends and other family members – loving San Francisco is also one of the most precious and enduring relationships in my life.
My San Francisco always welcomes me with the perpetually beckoning siren call of home. Deciding to permanently live elsewhere is unthinkable. There’s no turning and running when we face challenges – we stay and do our part to keep our city vibrant and evolving in an ever-changing world. We don’t get to choose where we’re born, but we do get to decide where we call home and I’m forever grateful that San Francisco is mine.