From time to time, I lament how San Francisco has become this boring playground for the rich. Some of my friends like to debate me on this (their attitude: How can more rich people be bad?). This Times Magazine profile of a Edward Glaeser sums up why I am upset at times by the upward income homogeneity around me:
Boston, San Francisco and Manhattan are obviously becoming rarefied destinations, mostly for America’s elites (Glaeser calls the cities “luxury goods”), with housing floating beyond the reach of the young and the middle class. These cities’ economies are in the process of becoming boutique*, too, accommodating only the most skilled and privileged. Their desire to limit construction and grow not in buildings and population but in prices has, in effect, begun to shape their destiny. “A healthy city is one that has a healthy mix of demographic groups,” Glaeser says. “Shutting out your 25-to-40 year-olds? That feels like a bad strategy for urban innovation.”
One of Glaeser’s theses is that housing is expensive in these cities because of the excessive constraints of zoning which limit new building, to create a sort of “zoning tax.” In pointing out that SF, Boston, and NYC are all liberal places, he is investigating the idea that liberals may be the most effective NIMBYs (hence, they too are responsible for driving up housing prices):
Still another thought: that homeowners, utilizing skills learned during the civil rights movement and political protests of the 1960′s and 1970′s, became much more adept at organizing against developers. (There appears to be a reasonable correlation between liberal enclaves, zoning regulations and high housing prices.) In any event, Glaeser says, he doesn’t know the answer yet, and it may take years to find out.
*Good evidence of SF’s increasingly “boutique” economy is the profileration of wine bars. They’ve become the new Thai restaurant. The one that most caught my eye, in its celebration of wine, is one with the audacity to be named SNOB.