My beloved city has a brand problem

“When San Franciscans look back on 2015, we may decide that this was the year the city stopped having fun,” San Francisco Chronicle Columnist Caille Millner wrote.

I’m not sure about that. I think the roaring ’20s-like atmosphere in the beloved city of San Francisco isn’t quite ready for 1929 yet, but an ominous note has finally reached the level of consciousness.

The reality is many San Franciscans aren’t having much fun at all, but they haven’t been for a long time. Walking through the Powell Bart stop on a chilly winter night, sleeping bodies lined the corridors like a scene out of the depression.

Ours is a city of great disparity and that growing divide between those “having fun” and those desperately struggling to survive threatens the city like a fault line.

San Francisco has a serious brand problem. Folks come here and see the desperate homelessness, the trash and the potholed streets and wonder what all the love is about. In too many places, this great city does look like a dump.

Add to that the uber wealth that shoves the middle class and arts communities right out of the city. That’s the real issue. We’ve become a city for the silly rich and down and out and not much else. Far too many who work normal, well-paying jobs here, live in other communities and make the long commute because they can’t afford to live here. Yes, the $4,000 a month rent is awful and the million-dollar price tag for a fixer upper make home ownership a mirage for most of us.

All of this is cited by Millner and impossible to argue against. But arguing isn’t going to help. Wringing hands can’t solve the real problems the city faces. Solutions?

Maybe. Some are very committed to it, including the wealthy, many of whom are passionate defenders of liveability, as evidenced by a generosity theme sponsored by the philanthropic arm of The Battery, an elite social club in the city’s financial district.

The focus centered on solutions for a city of 1 million that works for all its residents.

The sheer size of the problem discourages creative solutions. Can an entire city collectively fight for its liveability? Can incentives for people of each class improve help keep balance? Is economic balance necessary or even American?

God, I hope so. Diversity is one of the most important reasons I love urban life. San Francisco is at its core, diverse. Economic diversity is part of it. Genuine solutions for those on the margins can be sought, and the margins include those sleeping in BART and those middle-class families moving out or away altogether.

What’s laudable about The Battery’s philanthropic effort is that it doesn’t accept limited ideas that the city’s stubborn problems of gentrification, ridiculous housing costs and oppressive homeless can’t be solved.

This little seed of belief within me and others who love this city, a belief that San Francisco can work for ALL, has grown to become among the most important issues and causes I support. I don’t know the solutions. I just know they exist.

San Francisco has a brand problem. But if any city can truly create a city that works for all, it’s this one. We may not have as much fun, but we will have a city that lives up to its highest calling.

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