San Francisco and the Tech Backlash

gentrification in the mission

So I haven’t written in a while, but this story about the Google buses being blocked by protesters peaked my interest.
My Facebook news feed became full of debates amongst people wanting to voice their opinion. It seems like the typical argument about tech workers and gentrification goes like this:

Person 1:  “Tech people are ruining San Francisco and the bay area. They are jacking up rent by outbidding each other on rentals and it seems that everyone’s rent has gone up. What’s worse is they are shuttled away from San Francisco to their tech campuses in private buses that utilize MUNI bus stops.”

Person 2: “Tech people are actually helping the bay area, its sad that some people are being evicted and priced out, but that’s just economics. And it’s a good problem to have. Many American cities, like Detroit, would love to have to deal with the repercussions of a booming economy.”

Person 1: “But the rate of change is too much and it’s changing the fabric of San Francisco. Teachers, artists, non-profits workers”

Person 2: “Well cities are always changing, and the current changes are for the better.

In general initial protests of any issue capture a feeling that something isn’t right and people are affected – everything is not okay and people are going to voice their opinion. They may not be protesting the right target, i.e. the person or people that have power to make changes, but sometimes in a movement that is beside the point. They are drawing attention to something that many people feel angry about, even if they don’t have the answers.

As most reasonable people would come to conclude, the causes of these issues are more structural in nature. Gentrification happens because there is an influx of new people to an area that need places to live. First people move where its cheap, then restaurants and services move into to cater to their tastes, the area becomes more desirable to live and people with more money move to those neighborhoods. The neighborhoods end up transformed. This change is caused by simple real estate economics – when there is more demand for housing than there is supply prices go up and landlords evict tenants so they can make more money (and keep up with their rising costs).

In the case of San Francisco, its booming tech sector has meant the rapid hiring of new employees many of whom are in their 20’s and 30’s and hail from different parts of the U.S. (and world). When these people need places to live they seek out places where other people like them live. While that used to mean tech workers were split between San Francisco and The Peninsula, new corporate bus programs have enabled people to live in various part of San Francisco (and the bay area) and to be able to live minutes walking distance from their corporate shuttle stops.

Imagine for a moment your 23 years old. You have just graduated college and landed your dream job at Google. You make 80k a year (the actual starting salary for software engineers two year ago) – most of that is yours to spend since you have 3 free meals, free transportation, and fully paid health benefits. You’d love to actually work in the city that you live in, but Google’s tiny SF office is maxed out and the facilities people have sent nasty company wide emails discouraging you from working from that office. So you fold up your MacBook Air into your company provided backpack and grab a coffee at Tartine before hopping on your climate-controlled bus down to Mountain View. Even if you live at the closest stop, 24th Street and Mission, your commute still averages 1 hour 15 minutes and can take up to 2 hours when it rains. That means your spending 2.5 to 4 hours commuting everyday and you would give anything to get back a little bit sooner. So when people ask Why are all these tech workers living in the Mission? or other neighborhoods on the South/west part of the city – the answer is simply a shorter commute. Of course your competing with everyone else for apartments in these hoods and so you’ll spend as much of your salary as you can on to your rent. I mean, your 23 and you haven’t really figured how money works yet, right? And when the weekend is here and you need to get around you don’t dare take MUNI (I mean you’ve never taken it before, why start now?) so you take a private UBER or Lyft ride.

The whole city is feeling the pain these days as rent is so F-ing expensive. Even Castro icons like Cleve Jones write letters to Scott Weiner about all-time high evictions of LGBT seniors living with HIV.

So back to the Google buses. There was a recent article in the Atlantic about the San Francisco exodus to Oakland and how San Francisco has embarrassingly bad transportation due to the underfunding of public resources. Yeah, no shit. Have you taken MUNI or a rainy morning, or really any morning at rush hour? Trains are completely full and they break constantly causing massive delays. One would think that with the massive infusion of tech wealth into the city that some of this money would trickle down to everyone else helping to improve public transportation. (As a knee jerk liberal I can’t believe I just invoked trickle down theory) But as the article points getting mad at the visual signs of gentrification does little stop the root causes of it:

“Railing against Google buses, fancy restaurants or new condos—the visible signs of gentrification—will do nothing to stop San Francisco from becoming more expensive. These are not causes of the rising rents; they are symptoms. The root cause is that many people have chosen to live in San Francisco, and we are now all competing with one another to bid up the rents. As long as this remains a desirable place to live in a region that is producing a lot of jobs — while at the same time we fail to produce enough housing to accommodate the demand — then housing prices will continue to rise.”

So whose fault is it?

Is it the urban planners in the South Bay for building corporate office parks in remote locations? Is the public for being too NIMBY and discouraging the development of high-rise apartments to help alleviate the housing shortage? Is it the lack of a strong regional urban planning authority to say no you can’t build way out here, but you can build in this dense urban core accessible by public transit and here are some funding and tax breaks? Is it the tech companies’ fault for offering these buses or their employees for taking them?

As you can see the answer isn’t so clear. But bringing the conversation back to how to increase housing in a meaningful way would be the best start. These protesters, while misguided, seem to be sparking the conversation amongst San Franciscans.

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SF People Interviews: Christa Hill of “Hey, Cookie!”

This is part of a series of interviews of people that make up the patchwork quilt of personalities that is San Francisco.

"Hey, Cookie!" Dolores ParkI first met Christa the same way many people do while enjoying some sun in Dolores Park. I immediately fell in love with her charming personality and energy she brings to embodying “Hey, Cookie!”. If you have been living under a rock somewhere and somehow haven’t made it out to Dolores Park on a sunny afternoon, then you may not know who she is. Christa visits Dolores Park and several other locations selling her sweet little treats wearing her signature dresses and carrying her antique wicker basket. To note, her baked edibles are “non-medicinal” as in they don’t have any pot in them. This is something you actually have to clarify in San Francisco when selling cookies and brownies.

Christa has become a friend of mine recently and even made a surprise appearance at my birthday party at 500 Club where she brought me a Rice Krispy Treat with a candle and a party hat.

hey cookie kevin's bday

Christa surprised me by showing up at my birthday party at 500 Club and bringing a party hat & rice-krispy treat with a candle to blow out.

Missionhipsters: So for people who don’t know, what is “Hey, Cookie” and where can they tend to find you?

Christa Hill:  “Hey, Cookie!” is a dessert catering service. You can typically find me in Dolores park or bars in The Castro, Mission, or Lower Haight. My cookies are also sold at Claire’s Deli, H Cafe on 17th Street, DRIPD Coffee on 9th Avenue, and Cup of Joe on Sutter.

MH: What did you do before you started selling treats in the park?

CH: I’m originally from Maryland, just outside of DC, a town called Bowie (spelled just like David Bowie, but pronounced Boo-wee). I came out to San Francisco during spring break while in my Junior year of college…When I drove over the bridge into the city it was like Dorothy finding Oz. I Just loved it. I decided to come to California after college, and I served as a Vista volunteer in Monterey County. I  later worked as the Executive Director for the the Albany-Berkeley-Emeryville Chapter of Rebuilding Together and the Major Gifts Officer for the Gorilla Foundation.

Community service and community building are still very important to me.  I try to donate Hey, Cookie’s services at least once a month to different charities.  For example, in the past month, I sold cookies to raise money for Swoony for Muni, where all the profits went toward improving Bay Area transit.

MH:  How did you come up with idea for “Hey, Cookie!”?

I used to offer my help with fundraisers for friends and local organizations because of my nonprofit background. A few years ago, I held a bake sale for a rabbit rescue organization, SaveABunny, on the eve of Easter. I didn’t bake a thing—I just facilitated the event. I mobilized volunteers, coordinated efforts, and set up shop. We raised $1,200 in four hours.

The next year, I quit my job when my mom had a stroke. When Easter was coming up, I thought that I should help SaveABunny again, and then I thought, “Wait a minute—maybe I should help myself!” That’s how it got started. I truly thought it was just going to be a one-day event, but it turned out to be a really fun and rewarding position.

I continued to sell my cookies in the park and was lucky enough to sell out each the time. One day, I didn’t sell out, so I popped into Moby Dick’s in The Castro and ended up selling the rest. I sought out more bars where the bartenders or bouncers said it was okay to come in.  Eventually, I started doing birthday deliveries, and deliveries to companies like Yelp or organizations like SPUR.

hey, cookie! and truffle guy

Dolores Park icons “Hey, Cookie!” and The Truffle Guy.

MH: Where did the name “Hey, Cookie” come from?

CH: People started calling me Alice and Dorothy based off my outfit. Other people called out “Hey Cookie Lady!” or “Cookie”. So, “Hey, Cookie!” seemed to be the perfect fit for this tiny, mobile cookie shop.

MH: I’m trying to think how to describe your outfit – perhaps German Milkmaid Realness?

CH: I wanted something goofy and unique. My first outfit was actually a square dancing dress. I now have over 25 dresses, including dirndls, the female version of lederhosen. Having an outfit allows me to become “Hey, Cookie!”, it’s like having armor when I might be feeling too shy to sell.

MH:  What’s it like to be recognized as a part of the Dolores Park experience?  Why is it important to stand out from the crowd?

CH: I suppose it is basic marketing. It’s important to be visible and recognizable. I have become my very own walking logo, and it is so exciting to know that it is working!

What better compliment than to hear that people have dressed up as “Hey, Cookie!” for Halloween?  It just makes me beam!

During the past two Bay to Breakers, my close buddies were kind enough to don tights, dresses and wigs, and become “Hey, Cookie!” for the race.  It was my friend Tessa Greenwood’s brilliant idea to underscore the brand, and I think it really worked.

"Hey, Cookie!"

“Hey, Cookie!” and friends at Bay to Breakers.

MH: What types of cookies do you sell?

CH: There are many variety of cookies, and the list keeps growing! The current offerings, include: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, butterscotch oatmeal, vegan mexican wedding cookies, gluten-free peanut butter with peanut butter cups, bourbon cranberry and white chocolate, chocolate and mint, toffee, triple chocolate cherry, paleo coconut cups, gluten-free rich chocolate morsels, snickerdoodles; as well as some other treats: brownies, Rice Krispie treats, raspberry shortbread bars, spicy pumpkin bites, and caramel chocolate coconut delights.

"Hey, Cookie!" cookie assortmentMH:  Can we find you on Twitter and Facebook?

CH: Yes, I’m on twitter as: @HeyCookieSF and you can ‘like’ my Facebook page to get my updates as well. And of course all my treats are listed on my website:  http://www.heycookiesf.com/

"Hey, Cookie!" tasty treats

A close up of the tasty treats

MH: What do you enjoy about what you do? Anything ever get on your nerves?

CH:  What I really enjoy about what I do is that I can visibly see that I am brightening people’s days. People recognize me when I’m out and they smile. I can feel their warmth and support.  They make me so happy and keep me going, even when I am tired, or feeling discouraged about “pushing” cookies in a goofy dress.

I am a people person, so people don’t tend to get on my nerves, however, I often hear, “You do know you’d make a lot more money if you put pot in these cookies?”. It can be a little taxing to hear it over, and over, and over again.  Some people are even put off to be offered non-medicinal treat, but that’s just not my thing.

MH: What do you like about living in your neighborhood?

CH: I live in the Castro, and have lived in my sleepy little Victorian for 18 years.  I absolutely love my neighbors, local businesses and my community.  It genuinely feels like my extended family.

Maddie, the rabbit

Maddie the rabbit

One example of this sense of community occurred when I lost my pet rabbit named Maddie. Maddie used to hop around in the small garden in front of my house semi-supervised, and was a delight to all that passed by. One day, Maddie was bunny-napped from the front of the house. Somehow, she made her way down to civic center where she was found and brought to the SPCA. This little lost rabbit made quite a splash in our neighborhood.  I received cards, phone calls, flowers from neighbors expressing their support/concern that she was missing and their joy when she returned.  It is that sense of community and care for each other that truly makes the Castro my home.

"Hey, Cookie!" and Author

Christa of “Hey, Cookie!” and me in Dolores Park.

MISTER App Re-launches with Enhanced Technology, Commits to Improving Gay Life

MISTER App Re-launches with Enhanced Technology, Commits to Improving Gay Life

Company Introduces “I Am MISTER” Movement Along with Redesigned App Focused on Getting Users to Spend Less Energy Online and More Time Meeting People

mister cover photo for FB

NEW YORK – July 16, 2013 – MISTER, the mobile app and online community for gay and bisexual men, today announced the re-launch of its mobile app designed to totally change the way gay men interact with each other on their smartphones. MISTER, which originally launched in December 2011 and now has more than 1 million users, has added new features, including one called MR. Right, that will help men find the right connections more quickly and efficiently so that they can spend less time searching through profiles and more time actually meeting one another and enjoying their lives. In tandem with the app launch, the company kicked off the community-focused “I Am MISTER” movement (#iamMISTER), which encourages men to be themselves, use their app with pride, and work to build stronger, better and more respectful relationships.

Gay men are some of the most active smartphone users, spending as much as 1.5 hours a day on gay “meet-up” apps. Unfortunately, a lot of that logged-in time is wasted time because only a small fraction of interactions turn into real meetings and even fewer into future connections. With today’s launch, MISTER is looking to change that.

“MISTER is a truly different experience for anyone who is sick of perusing endless photos of faceless bare chests or judgmental profiles,” said Carl Sandler, founder and CEO of MISTER. “With the new MISTER, we’re encouraging users to show their faces, and we’re also providing them with new features to help facilitate real conversations. We want to make finding what you’re looking for a lot easier so that you can actually meet new people.”

One fresh feature on the new MISTER that promises to deliver better connections to users is the technologically advanced MR. Right, which provides users new introductions daily based on the types of men they normally interact with. If a user, for instance, often talks to tall men in their early 30s, MR. Right will show that user other men nearby with similar traits. MR. Right works in the background as a personal wingman, always on the lookout for new, compatible men.

MISTER aims to do more than just get men together for fun and dating. The “I Am MISTER” movement asks users to behave differently in their interactions both on the app and offline and to be proud to be MISTER men. They’re encouraged to show their faces, be authentic, and opt in to the MISTER Code, an agreement urging users to treat one another with respect and honesty.

“Gay relationships have evolved, yet gay men are often still ashamed of using gay dating or hookup apps,” said Serge Gojkovich, marketing specialist for MISTER. “Some apps bill themselves as being better or catering to a certain niche within the gay market, but MISTER wants to move beyond that. MISTER encourages users to follow the MISTER Code, to be themselves, and to not be embarrassed about using an app to meet other gay men.”

i5_browse

MISTER is available for iOS and Android and on the Web. To download MISTER or to learn more, please visit misterapp.com.

MISTER will be celebrating its re-launch with parties allowing users to meet other users in the following cities:

  • Washington, D.C.: JR’s 7/18
  • West Hollywood: Revolver 7/19
  • New York: Boxers (Chelsea) 7/19
  • New York: Boxers (Hell’s Kitchen) 7/20
  • Boston: Guilt 7/26
  • Dallas: Victory Park 7/26
  • San Francisco: Hi Tops 7/27
  • Fort Lauderdale: Village Pub 7/28
  • Atlanta: Heretic 8/2
  • Chicago: Sofo Tap 8/3

About MISTER

MISTER is a leader in gay app technology. It’s a location-based app that helps gay men who are grown up connect with one another in an easier, more efficient, and more meaningful way. Unlike many other similar apps, MISTER offers access to users not only on mobile platforms like iPhone and Android but also on the Web at misterapp.com. MISTER is designed for diverse men who value integrity, safety, truth, experience, and respect. Members are encouraged to follow the MISTER Code, a shared set of values designed to make the MISTER community feel welcome, healthy, and safe. To download MISTER or to learn more, visit misterapp.com, follow us @theMISTERapp or #iamMISTER.

#Instafit: body building culture comes to Instragram

instagram logo Over the last few months that I’ve been slowly falling in love with the social photo sharing site Instagram.  It’s a simple little mobile application that allows you to take, edit, and share photos with your friends and the larger Instagram community.  Interestingly there are actually several applications that allow you to take photos and apply filters to make your pictures look pretty, but only Instagram has gotten the social aspect right.  (Examples of other applications include: Hipstamatic, PhotoShop Express, and Camera by SmugMug.)

Never mind that Instagram doesn’t necessarily have the best filters to be applied to doctor up their photos, it’s the social element that has made it a big success.  Instagram intrigues people with the process of discovering new photos and users, as well as the excitement and validation from receiving multiple likes on your photos.  From art to nature photos, from travel to food porn, and from pictures of couples and friends – Instagram has it all. Of all these areas to discover, one trend has certainly caught my eye: the body building community.

IMG_6053The body building community has been around for a long time (at least since the 1970’s in the U.S.), but the rise of social networks and body-building forums have allowed this dispersed community of bodybuilders to come together virtually. They trade advice on workout routines and nutritional supplements in body building forums, as well as complement and comment on each other’s progress on weightlifting goals by posting pictures in common sites. With the advent of Instagram its become that much easier for these folks to find, comment, and follow each other.  These bodybuilders comment on each other’s pictures with encouragement like: “great pic! Keep posting!”, “sick abs, great job man”,  “what’s your workout routine like, have any IMG_6054tips?” and some that become a little more directly sexual like “U are gorgeous”, “I think U so sexy”, and “take off the pants & underwearrr”.  The funny thing about this is that many of these body builders, who are purportedly heterosexual, receive just as many of these comments from girls as they do from guys. They write in their personal bios: “just me tryna get big”, “shrugs not drugs”, “fitness and music keep me young”, “forever young”, “follow me on twitter”, “add me on kik”.

There are also a few super users making a name for themselves by re-sharing other bodybuilders’ photos and then encouraging their followers to like and follow the featured body builder of the day. Examples of these include “RuIMG_6055ffRoad”, “CuteBoys” and “HotGuysWorld”. (They may be walking a fine line of ethical & legal rules because it seems some of them get taken down from time to time.) Many users use hashtags (#) in the descriptions of their photos to tag their photo as discoverable for a certain theme. Bodybuilders are not the humble sort, but rather into self promotion using tags like: “#model, #sexy, #sixpack, #hottie, #muscle, #picoftheday, #stunning, #adorable, #instaboys, and #instafit.

Most of this is all fine and good. However there are certainly some troublesome things brewing in here. First of all there is the very likely possibility that many of the pictures being shared and re-shared are of underage youth (below 18 years old) and their pictures are being consumed and sexualized by adults. Second, many young adults and teenagers are now becoming part of this hyper-sexualized and steroid enhancing world – which is putting them at risk. The kid in this last photo here definitely looks barely 18. The NY Times had a nice article on this a while back: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/19/health/teenage-boys-worried-about-body-image-take-risks.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

And since this website starting as a hipster-bashing blog I feel that I should mention my college friend’s site: http://definitionhipster.com/ and Instagram handle: DEFINITIONHIPSTER.  His weinstagram photo missionbsite allows people to submit pictures of people and then vote on on a scale of 1 to 10 on how hipster they look in the photo.

You can also follow my Instagram: MISSIONHIPSTERS. I apologize in advance if you got to my profile hoping to find shirtless pictures of dudes, sorry you won’t find any there.

Coffee Shop Review- The Financial District’s “Coffee Bar”

IMG_5696It seems this hipster coffee trend is continuing to grow with the opening of Coffee Bar on Montgomery Street in the Financial District of San Francisco. This place has all the makings of a hipster coffee shop. The store has a crisp, clean design with a simple menu and serves up mainly traditional espresso drinks, small cups of coffee, and a simple selection of pastries delivered daily from a local bakery. All the employees wear black shirts, indigo jeans, and occasionally grey vests or other accoutrements. Their is a certain air of condescension coming from behind the counter, but much more understated than their Valencia Street counter parts. Oh, and did I mention the coffee is really f-ing good?

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My main critique of the store is that instead of trying to do something new, it basically copied and synthesized various trends in cafes and threw it in haphazardly to the financial district. Probably the most blaring difference between walking into say Fourbarrel at 4 in the afternoon on the weekend, and Coffee Bar at 8 am is that you are simply going to get a different crowd. IMG_5693This isn’t your get coffee and linger to soak up the ambiance type of coffee shop. Instead it is in and out, and on your way back to the office.  Another difference is all the fun homeless people of downtown SF spicing up the urban ambiance.

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Being that this place is right next to my office I go there from time to time with my coworkers. One of them observed recently, ” Is there some sort of requirement to work at these hipster coffee shops that you have to have an ambiguous sexual orientation.” Haha, so true.

Another interesting attempt at fitting this hipster aesthetic is this faux-Instagram photo blown up and posted above the door inside.

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It shows an older white man in business clothes sitting on a financial district rooftop looking out over the bay.  I find it a little strange to take this virtual world aesthetic of Instagram and place it in your store as “artwork”. (As a side note, I love Instagram and you can follow me here under the name missionhipsters.)