A Trip Across the Bay

telegraph hill

Doing a photo walk of San Francisco’s North Beach area has me contemplating that age-old Oakland vs. San Francisco rivalry. I’ve been through so many versions of this conversation — the one where someone says anything great about the city they live in and then those living on the other side of the bridge have to come back with a reason for why their city is better. Back and forth.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone — I’ll defend Oakland’s awesomeness to the end. (Seriously though, it’s 10 degrees warmer here — is there really still a question?) But under the friendly rivalry about Oakland being better than San Francisco there are some complicated truths, some realities that make it hard to see this banter as just a game, especially from the Oakland perspective.

Truth One: San Francisco is an undeniably pretty city.

San Francisco Financial Districtdoorplantcoit towerfog hill marketstairs

The water. The bridges. The hills. The architecture. The greenery. From an aesthetic point of view there’s a lot to love about the city. There’s a mystery and quaintness to all those little alleys and 45 degree streets.

But all that beauty is tainted by the reality of how hard it is to afford to live there, especially the parts that make the front of postcards.

Which brings us to Truth Two, one most Oaklanders have understood for quite a while: San Francisco is an exclusive city.

When I see a building like this, with a balcony overlooking the Bay Bridge, I wonder who lives there. Probably either someone with a lot of money or someone who is in rent-controlled unit and has been there for a very long time. You could even put your money on both.

San Francisco view

And when I see a rare empty lot in the area I have suspicions about who owns the land and how much money they will make in selling it or putting up some real estate.

empty lot

What I struggle with in being in San Francisco is a feeling of alienation, that I am not meant for any of the city’s residential space. Instead I am relegated only the occasional entertainment or shopping. Or perhaps I am only meant to pass through. It is not a city I find easy to be comfortable in.

It’s not that San Francisco has zero affordable housing or that Oakland isn’t struggling with the same challenges of rising costs. Most of Oakland is quickly skyrocketing in price toward comparable levels, and we’re rapidly losing our diversity. I think all of us in Oakland realize how much of a cautionary tale our sister city represents across the Bay.

But for now there is still some integrated diversity in Oakland, even as it declines and we struggle to hold onto what’s left. Oakland still very much feels different from its completely gentrified counterpart. Things are changing, but there’s a hope that not everything will change if we plan our cities smart enough and quickly enough, if we protect the people who are most vulnerable to being pushed out.

So maybe there is a little bite to those conversations about which city is better. On the Oakland side maybe there’s a defensiveness and a fight to protect the diversity and the affordability that Oakland has known in its past.

And I can’t speak firsthand, but perhaps on the San Francisco side it hurts to acknowledge what one might be losing by living there. Even as you relish the charm and beauty of your neighborhood, I wonder if you might feel the absence the kinds of people you don’t meet because they can’t afford to be your neighbor.

golden gate

So Oakland vs. San Francisco? Let the debate rage on. But be gentle to us over here in Oaktown. We’ve got a lot to lose.

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