The Death of the City? Reports of San Francisco’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

By Rachel Brahinsky

As part of the Boom California summer 2014 issue, I have a new essay on SF, looking at the tech boom and its effects in a new way. Here’s an excerpt:

You may have heard that the wave of gentrification that’s crashing through San Francisco these days has brought “the end of San Francisco.” You may have heard that the cool city of fog and freaks is over and done with, run over by Google buses filled with techies who have no sense of community or history. At the risk of being very unpopular, I’m going to tell you this isn’t quite true. The “Google bus,” which is what people in the Bay Area call the mass of private, tech commuter buses that fill the rush-hour streets, is not essentially the problem. In fact, it may be the seed of the solution.¹

The San Francisco Bay Area is undergoing a period of rapid transformation. In many ways, we’ve seen this boom before. Yet the unsettled atmosphere of the current moment—in which the middle class fears eviction alongside the most vulnerable—has refueled another familiar Bay Area process in the fight against displacement. The San Francisco you love exists because, as capitalism’s “creative destruction” tears through the urban landscape, community advocates fighting for what I call an “ethical city” try to reshape that destruction²—and sometimes they win.

This latest wave of advocacy has been centered around tech wealth and motivated by the great, white shuttle buses. Defended as a way to keep the tech industry “green,” even as it blocks public transit and weighs heavily on city streets, the Google bus has become a metaphor for life in an age of seemingly warp-speed urban change. Neither gentrification nor real estate flipping—in which investors buy and resell property for quick profit—were invented in San Francisco, and neither of them are new. See New York’s SoHo and Lower East Side in the 1980s and 1990s, and see cities around the globe, which have produced enough variants on the theme that academics have created an advanced taxonomy of gentrification.³ Even so, the rumble of urban change has been deeply jarring on many levels ….. Follow this link for the rest of my essay, available for free on JStor

Read the rest of the Summer 2014 issue of BOOM: What’s the Matter with San Francisco?

A few spots left! Graduate Program in Urban Affairs at the University of San Francisco

California Studies Colleagues: If you were inspired by the interdisciplinary approach of our California on Fire conference in April, please share this announcement with those who may be interested in a similar approach to learning and understanding the challenges facing California.
From CSA Chair Rachel Brahinsky comes this announcement about the Graduate Program in Urban Affairs at her university:
Greetings: We have room for just a few more fantastic students to join the Fall 2014 cohort of our MA program in Urban Affairs at the University of San Francisco. I’m writing to encourage you to share this email with aspiring urbanists who may be interested in diving in for further studies, now or in the future.
This is an interdisciplinary two-year program, with a strong emphasis on community-based research in the San Francisco Bay Area. The program combines rigorous academics with an internship and applied research. Community-engaged projects will contribute to and benefit from the vibrancy of the San Francisco Bay Area, while encouraging students to reflect on their role as global urban citizens.
Please follow this link to our website for more information.  And please encourage students to write me with any questions they may have (rbrahinsky (at)
We will continue to review applications on a rolling basis until the cohort is full.  Thanks so much for spreading the word!

Next California Studies Dinner Sept. 20: Rachel Brahinsky speaking about Race and Redevelopment Politics in San Francisco

The next California Studies dinner will take place Sept. 20, 2011 in Berkeley; the speaker will be Rachel Brahinsky, Ph.D. candidate in Geography at UC-Berkeley; the title of her talk is “Still Haunted by the 60s:  Remaking Race-Space Redevelopment politics in San Francisco”

7 :00 p.m. – 10 :00 p.m.
Director’s Room, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, 2521 Channing St.(just above Telegraph Ave).

The dinner is buffet style. Dinners are free, but a small donation is requested from those partaking of wine and beverages.

PLEASE RSVP by Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, to Delores Dillard, Department of Geography, 507 McCone Hall, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA  94720-4740 phone (510)  642-3903 or FAX (510) 642-3370, or e-mail: