EDITORIAL If you want to understand what we at the Bay Guardian and activists from the broader progressive movement mean when we say that we’re fighting for the soul of San Francisco, just peruse this issue’s 25th annual Goldies awards. The artists that we profile and celebrate are the very people that this city in now in danger of losing.
It’s never been easy for the idealists, those artists and activists whose passionate pursuits create our unique, world-renowned culture. San Francisco has always been an expensive city and creative types often have to struggle to remain here, pouring cocktails for tourists, delivering packages by bike, or helping corporations throw their parties in order to make ends meet.
But in the hyper-gentrification now underway, the city is at a tipping point. Every rent-controlled apartment that a real estate speculator takes off the housing market represents the loss of someone from the working or creative classes, each lost unit a lost opportunity to create a space for a young person with something important to say.
City Hall has gone to great lengths to keep big tech companies like Twitter and Zynga from leaving the city, offering tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks that have helped drive up both residential and commercial rents, squeezing out the individuals and institutions that aren’t motivated primarily by money. But the people who really need the help aren’t getting it.
If we simply allow the logic of the market shape San Francisco, it will lose everything that makes it great, becoming a sterile landscape of chain stores, expensive boutique restaurants, and disengaged citizens who work too hard and play too little. The Elbo Room and other great music venues will become condos, something the owners of that building are studying (but the club is strenuously resisting), something that might make economic sense even though it tears at the soul of the city.
Read our profile of Sara Shelton Mann, to whom we’ve awarded a lifetime achievement award for encouraging generations of local artists to express their creativity, thus helping the rest of us better understand and appreciate the human condition, in all its wondrous and challenging complexity.
That’s what it means to live in a major metropolis, rather than some suburban bedroom community. Cities are where we come together to engage with one another and with the struggles of our times, embracing messy urban realities rather than trying to scrub them away. This is where we figure it out, with the help of the artists and activists who are here to keep us honest and aware.
We need to find ways to preserve and expand the opportunities for creative, passionate people of all kinds to live in San Francisco. We need to make that our chief political task for 2014, as if our very soul depended on it.