Reinventing San Francisco

We need to make sure development isn't just code for finding new ways to gentrify neighborhoods and displace existing residents

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By Christopher D. Cook, Karl Beitel, and Calvin Welch. 

OPINION It's hard to trust hope these days — to imagine that our world, or even our city — could be different. But for the next 10 or 15 minutes, as you read this, we invite you to suspend the cynicism and disbelief that hang over contemporary life, and allow your mind to imagine that, yes, a different San Francisco is possible. Just for 15 minutes, although we hope this helps kick-start a much longer-term revival of hope and urban reimagining.

It's time to create something new in San Francisco — a visionary movement for constructive change that's bold and unapologetic. Imagine, for instance, if San Francisco became a national model for how cities can reinvest local profits (public and private) and assets to expand economic opportunity and social equity. Imagine if, instead of promoting a dispiriting and volatile blend of corporate development and Darwinian "free-market" anarchy, San Francisco transformed how American cities define success by creating concrete alternatives to the chaos of capitalism.

Now imagine that San Francisco had its own public bank — a fiscally solvent, interest-generating financial force (potentially a half-billion dollars strong) dedicated to public financing and economic stimulus, that functioned as a vigorous incubator for homegrown industries and sustainable, true-green job creation.

We are proposing no less than a reinvention of San Francisco — a dramatic shift in priorities, resources, politics, and culture that marries the very best in both creative innovation and urgently needed reforms to make our city socially equitable and sustainable, both ecologically and economically.

Toward this end, the Community Congress, Aug. 14-15 on the University of San Francisco campus, will stimulate ideas, discussion, and planning to reinvigorate civic engagement and inspiration and create a concrete, locally actionable agenda for reshaping the city. You're invited. (Visit www.sfcommunitycongress.wordpress.com for more information.) The congress is a conversation starter and idea incubator — an opportunity to begin reimagining San Francisco as a socially equitable, racially inclusive, ecologically sustainable city that grows its own food, supplies its own energy, and is an affordable haven for working-class people, immigrants, artists, and creative folk of all stripes.

We humbly propose a city that embraces cosmopolitanism and international exchange while empowering its residents to achieve a decent and livable quality of urban life. We are not trying to turn back the clock; we are trying to create new forms of social and economic value that give people meaning and sustenance, and hope.

 

WHY A COMMUNITY CONGRESS—WHY NOW?

Couldn't we save such sweeping aspirations for a rainy day? The sky isn't falling yet, is it? Not quite, but the present constellation of crises San Francisco is ensnarled in — massive and rising structural deficits, a boom/bust economy that's profoundly unstable and inequitable, deepening economic and social divides that destabilize communities, to name a few — is simply unsustainable.

San Francisco's economic and fiscal crisis is not a passing moment. Rather, it signals long-term structural flaws in the city's economic policies and planning. San Francisco has lost roughly 45,000 jobs since 2000, and each "recovery" is marked by steadily higher unemployment rates (currently resting at 9.2 percent). More critically, as jobs and wages have grown more precarious and housing prices have steadily risen (over the long term), thousands of San Franciscans have been displaced.

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