You want to live in Manhattan? Move there.

Can you see Valencia Street?

I feel like I've been having this discussion for 30 years, and it still keeps coming back. The latest installment (thanks to sfist for the link) is a Slate article by Matthew Yglesias arguing that San Francisco could solve its housing crisis by becoming as dense as Manhattan. Lots of highrise condos and apartments in places like the Mission. A total of 3.2 million residents.

Obviously, a totally different city:

Obviously that would have a transformative effect on Oakland as well in various regards. It's obviously not "politically realistic" to imagine San Francisco rezoning to allow that kind of density. But uniquely among American cities, I completely believe that 3.2 million people would want to live in a hypothetical much-more-crowded version of the city if they were allowed to. You'd need to build another heavy rail line or three and do some better dedicated bus lanes, but it'd be affordable with a much larger tax base.

Here's the problem. Two problems, really.

1. That level of density hasn't exactly made Manhattan affordable. (Although if you want to move there, it's probably cheaper than SF at this point). There's been a huge surge in housing construction in NYC, and housing prices are still way too high. The housing market in San Francisco is so unusual that demand is essentially infinite; you can't build your way out of this.

2. There are already 800,000 people living here, and most of us don't want to live in Manhattan.

One of the reasons San Francisco is so attractive is that it's still a human-scale city. I've spent a lot of time in Manhattan, and the rush is pretty cool, and some urbanists say that's how we're all going to have to live in the future -- packed into tall buildings in dense cities -- but that's not how I want to live. I know I sound old and I'm becoming a curmudgeon and one of those "you should have seen us in the old days" people, but I like the fact that there are no highrises in the Mission. 

Yeah, San Francisco is going to have to grow in population. There are ways to do that -- to make dense neighborhoods that are still very livable. See: North Beach. But San Franciscans have generally taken the position that we don't want to be Manhattan. We want to be San Francisco.

Now: My vision is not in synch with how housing is allocated in a hyper-capitalist system. Me, I think housing should be treated as a human right and regulated like a public utility. Landlords should be allowed a "reasonable return on investment" but not the greatest profit the market will bear. Homeowners should see their property appreciate at a reasonable level, but not at a speculative level. Housing shouldn't be bought and sold as a commodity. And it should be allocated by seniority -- that is, the people who have been a part of a community for the longest get the better housing.

That's how you avoid the demand-exceeds-supply issue (and again, in this city, there will always be more demand than supply.) I know that's commie shit, but that's the way it is.

Still, whatever the economic or policy arguments, you can't force that level of density onto this city. Because before you make those kinds of plans, you have to check with the people who live here.

I wrote this mostly to give the trolls some red meat, since they don't seem to be agitated enough lately. Go to it, Adam Smith.


"Housing shouldn't be bought and sold as a commodity. And it should be allocated by seniority"

Why does Tim hate young people?

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 6:20 am

which has unfettered powers to seize and re-allocate housing at his whim, according to his own personal quirky idiosyncratic precepts of political correctness.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 7:37 am

Either there is your pure, religious mystical and magical "free market" or there is totalitarian Stalinism, even if the historical record demonstrates just the opposite.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 7:55 am

And you should have the Correct Political Views before being allocated housing in San Francisco, Comrades!

Kulaks can go live in Oakland.

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 8:15 am

As in, yeah, respecting the existing build environment and culture as one adds one's contribution, not moving in somewhere and remaking the City to your standards so that it is as homogenized and boring as everywhere else.

The intent on the part of boosters is to build us out of our city. That is the centralized corporate authoritarian planning at work here.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 8:50 am

mandate. San Francisco has been changing forever and will always continue to. What galls about Tim's idea of freezing SF somewhere around 1967 and forbidding any change is that it takes away the very thing that has always made SF great - it's ability to adapt and change.

And that ability is natural and derives from the people. It doesn't take a government committee which, usually, just gets in the way.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 9:27 am

If the change proposed was equitable, that is, one unit affordable over a range of incomes for each unit of luxury market, covering the costs of added burdens on the infrastructure and of ongoing city operations and balancing the impacts on the existing neighborhood character, then we could talk about change.

But change is rammed down our throats on terms that screw affordability, screw the transit and utility systems and screw neighborhood character, than no change is better than change at all costs.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 10:06 am

That is why we have elections for Mayor - so that the majority who want new homes get to elect a Mayor who is committed to doing that rather than someone like you demanding a ridiculously unaffordable BMR set-aside, the only effect of which would be to ensure that no market-rate homes get built, and so no BMR homes.

Oh, and BTW, market-rate housing is not "luxury" by any stretch, which you went to see some new build homes. Not that they are nasty either, but claiming that every home is either luxury or affordable is disingenuous. Most are inbetween.

Change is happening because most people want it. I'm sorry that you cannot stand that.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 10:38 am

Ed Lee Lies. The mayor promoted affordable housing, as part of the full range of bland platitudes, when he ran for mayor and has presided over policies that will result in fewer affordable units as a percentage of new luxury market rate condos.

Ed Lie did not run for office promising to goose development by eviscerating CEQA and lowering the affordable percentages.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

the best way to build affordable housing is to allow new market-rate housing and take the affordable home setasides that come with that.

The real opponents of affordable housing are the NIMBY's who oppose projects like 8 Washington, thereby killing 11 million for affordable housing. Shame on them.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 10:09 pm

Ed Lie never said that he was going to cut a deal with developers so that they'd have to contribute less inclusionary affordable housing so that the nonprofits would get less money after the dissolution of redevelopment than they did before. Prop C produces less affordable housing than before only to support the nonprofit operations.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 7:57 am

That's the top priority and so it will sometimes trump other priorities.

But in the end, a bigger tax base is good for everyone.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:35 am

they have lots of unused space and much lower rents. Too many people who should be in Oakland are in SF, clinging desperately to their rent-controlled hovel and waiting for Mister Ellis to show up.

That's no way to live. Do people have no dignity?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 9:34 am

Or waiting for daddy-landlord to buyout their tenancies. Pathetic.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 10:42 am

The whole SF vs Manhattan thing is such a bullshit dichotomy. As if there are no integers between 800,000 and 3.2 million.

Paris is human scale and it's much denser (2.1 million in an area slightly smaller than SF: 42 sq mi).

The problem is that SF refuses to build affordable housing and guys like this author jealously guard the privilege of rich people to live in or move to SF without any thought for working class people who feed and serve San Franciscans but live elsewhere or who are multi-generational San Franciscans who will have to move elsewhere.

I'm tired of rich NIMBYs conspiring to make San Francisco disneyland for their fellow privileged friends. It's a city. If you don't like it, there's always San Jose.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

So here's the real question, gang: Do you want the additional people who will move to the Bay Area to live in San Francisco and Oakland, or do you want them to live in Brentwood and Fairfield and Tracy? Do you want them in dense cities or in auto-dependent suburbs? They will move here--the Bay Area economy is powered by the internet companies, the computer companies, biotech, strong tourism, etc. If you say you don't want them in San Francisco, tell me where you want them.

P.S. Paris is almost as dense as Manhattan, it's just built differently. This news will be tough on Tim.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

here they should live. That's their decision. We should just give them options.

Right now people moving to SF have an option they never had 30 years ago - a new downtown highrise condo where you can walk to work and everywhere else.

You'd have to be a fairly miserable person not to want to have that choice, along with all the others.

Let people decide where they want to be. And building helps that.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 10:07 pm

Tract housing in the exurbs does not compete with new luxury construction in the inner cities, there are different markets for each form of housing.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 7:58 am

People who cannot afford SF, buy in Oakland.

Those who cannot afford Oakland, but Fremont.

Those who cannot afford Fremont, buy Tracy.

Home values trickle out from SF and the Valley.

The idea that the Bay Area consists of 100 different fiefdoms is a myth.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:33 am

Paris is zoned for 6-8 stories, 1/4 higher than SF, and has few if any condo towers. Zone the BART ring for Paris or SF densities and then we can talk about peppering the east side of SF with luxury condo towers.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 7:59 am

SF's high rises are further in, which makes more sense.

But then SF doesn't have 17th century architecture to protect. Only some rotting Victorians.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:34 am

The point is this. San Francisco needs to build more affordable housing and since there's no room, it will have to be built up. But up doesn't mean Manhattan-like. It can also mean Paris-like.

People who oppose this are either rich or will be moving to Oakland soon.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 11:10 am
Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

Head east, to the 10001!

Posted by marcos on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

First, many cities that are NOT Manhattan have high density high-rise residential housing. Vancouver is a very human-scaled, livable city with a distinct Pacific Northwest flavor, and it has lots of high-rise residential housing. No one would ever mistake Vancouver for Manhattan, nor would anyone say that Vancouver is trying to imitate Manhattan.

Second, why isn't the "move there" argument applicable when SFBG cites European cities as examples for San Francisco to follow? From expanded public healthcare to "transit-first" policies to redeveloped parkland, etc., European cities are often held up as policy leaders that San Francisco should follow. So, it would seem following the thrust of this editorial that the rightful response of critics of any of these policies should be "If you want to live in Paris (or Zurich or Amsterdam, etc), move there!"

Third, it would be nice to see an alternative idea for SF addressed on its merits rather than have SFBG drag out the same tired bogeyman to scare everyone off from even considering the idea. It would also be nice if the SFBG would avoid exaggeration and straw-man arguments. I don't believe anyone has ever seriously argued that San Francisco should be built up to the same density as Manhattan. Arguing for more high-rise development does not mean that SF needs to have proportionally the same number of high-rises as Manhattan. Also, it would be nice to acknowledge that EVEN in Manhattan proper most residents live in 4-5 story residential buildings--yes, that's right, contrary to the popular myth, most people living in Manhattan do NOT live in a high-rise residential building--high density does not necessarily have to mean wall-to-wall high-rises.

Posted by Chris on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

Vancouver built the uber expensive high rises to attract Chinese investors from Hong Kong and Singapore. So I was told by a Realtor who sells units in some of these buildings.

European models for healthcare is funded in part by high rates of income tax - for all residents. In the US, only 1/2 of the people pay income tax. I doubt you are advocating Universal Income Tax (although I would).

I don't think San Francisco should "follow" anyone else. We should be San Francisco.

Posted by Richmondman on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

Richmond, I suppose your post qualifies as a response of sorts in that it references certain things in my comment, but it sure doesn't make much sense.

(1) Whatever the motivations the government of Vancouver may or may not have had for building high-rise housing is unrelated to my point that the city has lots of residential high-rises and still manages to be a human-scaled city.

(2) I didn't comment upon the merits of universal healthcare (I actually favor it). My point was that just saying, "Move to New York" demonstrates the same narrow-mindedness as shouting, "Move to Europe" to someone who suggests we look to European models for healthcare solutions.

(3) I didn't advocate that San Francisco "follow" anyone. You can be your own city and/or your own person and still look to the outside for ideas and inspiration.

In short, your post merits a big "Huh?"

Posted by Chris on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

We can change how we finance health care as a matter of policy, we can switch from one framework to another pretty to easily.

When it comes the built environment, once a building goes up, we're stuck with it for 50 years.

If you want a different built environment, then move to a place where that built environment already exists. If you want different social policies then work politically to bring them to life.

New development is a get rich quick scheme and there are boosters working overtime to make sure that public policy is changed so that they can get rich quick and those policies are in effect irreversible.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

The profit is needed to motivate the developers but the real purpose is the need. The need comes first and then the development. It does not happen in isolation.

Your idea of people moving to where the architecture suits them more is naïve. I do not want to live elsewhere, and can afford to live in SF. But I want denser, more affluent, safer neighborhoods. And developers give me that.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 10:04 pm

Your entitlement to change the existing nature of a city runs square into the entitlements of existing home owners who will be having none of that.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:01 am

property owners do not care a hoot about the city and just want to make a fast buck from their investment. And yes, that invalidates their position.

The NIMBY's and the affordable crowd are opposed to each other - yet another way the left fragments and loses.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:31 am

We need to build and we need to build it now.

Posted by Garrett on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 7:52 am

It's not a matter of here versus there. It's a matter of both.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:29 am

San Francisco, with crumbling schools and sky-high rents ...
San Francisco, which can barely manage to accommodate a measly 20,000 cyclists ...
San Francisco, where the drivers run over cyclists, the cyclists run over pedestrians, and the pedestrians run over each other because they can't see above their iPhones ...
San Francisco, which passed a law punishing homelessness ...
San Francisco, the densest city west of the Mississippi but can't get's its act together to build a functioning transit system ...
San Francisco, which worships parking and chooses not to punish vehicular homicide ...
San Francisco, where people who drive a Prius actually believe they're saving the environment ...
San Francisco, where the "hippest" neighborhood is the one where all the tech billionaires hang out in their third homes ...
San Francisco, where there are no public swimming pools ...
San Francisco, whose city council is owned by a natural gas utility and rejected a plan for 100% renewable energy ...
San Francisco, which got conned into paying millions to allow a billionaire and his buddies to race yachts around the waterfront ...
San Francisco, where people go apes*** for F-16s dive bombing quiet residential neighborhoods ...
San Francisco, where people love to drive across massive, stunningly engineered bridges but don't want to have to pay for them ...

Yeah, "progressive" San Francisco. You can fool each other, but for folks who've been to progressive cities, that's truly a joke.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 10:22 pm

Guest, you make some good points there.

San Francisco's progressive reputation has been overstated since forever. Fifteen years ago, changes in demographics were well under way leading the town further from its hardcore leftist history as the site of the only successful general strike in the U.S. and a birthplace of the union movement. The type of voters who elect and re-elect Nancy Pelosi because of her connection to the political machine and soporific support for hot button issues such as reproductive rights here and abroad don't mind at all that she rubber stamped so much of the mistaken and destructive "free trade" and war policies of the Clinton and Bush years.

San Francisco *is* more progressive than much of the country, but it has no claim on leadership in that regard. The reputation is based as much on Faux News' malingering hyperbole than fact.

It's great that S.F. is a place were gays can be themselves -- and that is progressive -- but gays themselves are not more than preponderantly progressive on average. Same for ethnic groups; the fact that different ethnic groups coexist and mix

Posted by lillipublicans on Apr. 25, 2013 @ 5:57 pm

One, there are public swimming pools.

Two, where are these progressive cities you refer to in your last sentence? Must be outside the USA.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 25, 2013 @ 7:16 pm

these greedy slum landlords want more and more for these over priced 1920s style buildings Victorians too . with no insulation and the fact that its getting more and more dangerous to live in one of these slums , the other week a neighbor of mine was shot with a small calibur pistol right here in the quite Richmond , right here on 29th ave ,,, and the slum lords want to drive up the rents these greedy Realestate people wanting more and more commissions for these dumps that have been remodleded several times in the past 40yrs ,,should of seen S.F. in the early 1970s --- funky just like China town ! whens the next good earthquake,Iam waiting ,,, 29 th ave keep your head down ,,,,better live in the East bay, its about half the cost, they want Manhatten here , THERE IS NO LOVE IN SAN FRANCISCO ANY MORE !!!!NOT EVEN ON HAIGHT STREET

Posted by Guest veterans on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

I get it. I'm a priced-out person myself. But the solution, if there is one, can't be simply ensuring that everyone gets to lock down the rent they had at age 25. That can't work. It also actually isn't really fair. Are there greedy speculators in this universe? Sure. What do you say, though, to a 70-year-old who wants to sell, retire, and move into a condo? That he should not be able to do that because he's got to sell low, to safeguard the housing of a tenant paying 1985 rents? What about a middle-aged person who inherits property from a parent? Is she really "greedy" to want to sell and use the money for kids' college, or retirement savings? And as another commenter mentioned, this has the effect of favoring older people who did not save even with decades of below market rent over young people just starting out in entry-level jobs.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 08, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

Having people that have "lived there longer" able to set all the rules makes cities less dynamic and more provincial, it keeps new ideas and new ways of thinking out, it makes a place stagnant. It stops new blood from coming in that might have lived somewhere else and have better ideas for the city.

Posted by jpie on Nov. 25, 2013 @ 9:49 am

Without a diverse population, the big one will hit, the sleepers will fall into the sea, and no one will care.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

Most people do not like people who are not like themselves, and that includes SF progressives.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

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