Almost everyone who visits San Francisco falls in love with it. People love the character of the city. To me, that spirit isn’t contained in the way the buildings look or even the beauty of the Bay. The city’s greatness comes from its diversity and its attitude. It’s the combination of the collection of people here and the space provided to be weird, to be different, and to be experimental.
When I talk to my friends and acquaintances throughout the community, though, people feel like something is off these days. My recent blog post on housing policy seemed to hit a nerve for many. I was surprised about the people who reached out to me who didn’t care much about the specifics of the housing policies. They were more interested in chatting about the first few sections, where I talk about the type of city I want: multicultural and economically diverse. I believe in Cities for Everyone and fighting for the policies that make that possible.
We all want a fair and functioning city. We don’t have one now. Between housing costs, school quality, and underperforming public services, it is starting to feel like the city is slipping away.
What I have the hardest trouble understanding, though, is the folks in San Francisco who seems more interested in dividing people into factions. Some people want to make it tech vs. the rest. Others want to divide us into the business community vs. the incompetent who don’t get it. We have a chattering political class that talks about problems and points fingers, rather than bringing us together to solve very real problems. They seem to confuse activity with accomplishment.
I believe the tech founder and the teacher, the doorman and the designer, and most every San Franciscan believe in the same things: an affordable city, a diverse set of jobs and an education system that makes it possible to attain them, and the wise use of public funds.
I know what’s it’s like for many in the City, my single Dad and I struggled to make ends meet when I was growing up, even with the help of things like free school lunch and other programs. He was on-and-off unemployment until recently. I got lucky, I tested into a great public high school, and went on to a great university. But you shouldn’t have to get lucky. I’ve spent my career trying to address the problems I’ve seen: human trafficking in Rhode Island, improving public services in New York City and Newark, NJ, and taking on the financial system at Standard Treasury.
I’ve always been the squeaky wheel, the argumentative one, the one whose elementary school teachers told me I should be a lawyer, even when no one in my neighborhood knew any. And I have found some measure of success built on my personal mission to combine a passion for the serving the public and that fight in myself.
I built and sold a company targeting the rot I saw in the financial system, and I hope to continue to focus (at least my writing and my free time) on targeting the problems I see in San Francisco, building community, togetherness, and a shared focus on fixing problems and not just talking about them.
Got a problem? Come tell me. Maybe we can figure out how to make the city fix it. I am the first to admit that I have a lot to learn. If you’re reading this post, and care about what I’m talking about, I’d love to meet with you to chat. Coffee or tea is on me. Shoot me an email by taking the first letter of my first name (z) adding it to my last name (townsend) at Gmail.