People warned me about San Francisco before I moved here. Said I was crazy to forego opportunities in New York, LA and London to set up shop in Northern California. When I argued on behalf of the weather, the proximity to beach, snow and wine country, and the immense opportunity in Silicon Valley, they even stressed that perhaps I’d be happier living in Palo Alto or Menlo Park (that is, the suburbs) rather than the city on the Bay.
Why? Because I’m a Ms. A member of that growing tribe of females-that-cause-waiters-to-pause because they’re too old to be “Miss” but haven’t yet procured a wedding ring. We’re the within-three-years-on-either-side-of-thirty somethings who, by choice, accident, or not-quite-sure-the-reason, are unmated and past the point of surprise at our own self-reliance. San Francisco, my friends insisted, is a terrible place to be a Ms.
I dismissed their insistences (for which they could provide no definable rationale) defensively, assuming they centered on an assumption that my primary goal was or ought to be the securing of a husband. Even if that were the case, wasn’t I much better off in San Francisco, where men outnumber women and I’m free of New York models, London fashionistas, and LA hardbodies? It seemed obvious that the high concentration of advanced degrees, outdoor enthusiasts and ambitious entrepreneurs make this an excellent pool-from-which-to-pick, or at least a fun one to swim in for a while until I plant my roots.
So it is with real humility that I admit now that San Francisco really is that bad. Here, in parts, my thesis as to why.
A Note on Methodology
Before I get into specifics of San Francisco, a quick word on how I’ve thought about evaluating a city’s character.
Each city has a “social vibe.” That vibe is driven by social norms (i.e. dress code and appropriate time for dinner reservation), which are driven by the values of the city’s primary social participants. Those primary social participants are the ones who can afford to dictate their values onto establishments that will promote them. So, to understand a city’s vibe, you need to look at who in the city controls the wealth.
Finance bankrolls New York’s social scene, breeding a fast-paced, competitive, money-talks social vibe. LA’s wealth is owned by the entertainment industry, creating a chilled-out, name-dropping, body-conscious environment. London wealth is increasingly owned by Russians and Arabs, and the social vibe is adjusting accordingly. It’s important to note that the vibe persists beyond the population that drives it: even Occupy Wall Street hipsters in Brooklyn eat dinner late and obsess over getting into the most exclusive party.
Who, then, owns the wealth in San Francisco? I give you Part I: Geeks.