Dystopia and utopia in the Bay Area

15 March 2018
4 min read

The Bay Area is a weird place. I’ve written a little bit about my very first impressions of California but I’ve been thinking about what makes this place the way it is. Here’s (more than) a couple observations:

Non-place place for transplants

Much of the Bay Area is home to people from all over the world. Working in the tech industry, people have come to live in a place known for its mild weather. They are (potentially) at the peak of their careers because the jobs are here. With that said, they know they may not stay here forever due to a number of reasons. This makes for weird investment in social interactions. 

The cost of being alive living

While many tech workers are paid a high salary, the cost of living is high. With greater housing demand than supply can manage and the added influx of transplants, rent reaches new heights during peak season (especially in the summer due to interns). Renter’s resumes, heck renter’s packets, are necessary to score the desired apartment. Those making minimum wage can’t stand a chance to live nearby, creating a sizable class of supercommuters. The discrepancy between the have's and the have-not's just continues to grow. 

Too many young people making too much money

With the influx of young transplants straight out of college, many of them computer science majors coming from serious academic backgrounds, there is a deep urge to spend the money being deposited in the bank account. I have a running joke that a new hipster restaurant pops up in San Francisco for every X tech workers that need to find a place to spend their money.

Too many Type A people in one place

There is a lot of ambition in the Bay Area. And that’s an understatement. With 17 year olds founding start-ups that are getting acquired by Google, everyone is comparing themselves to their neighbor. There is a frenetic energy amongst techies to have the latest gadget, try the hardest experience (marathons are a must), and get there the fastest. If you’ve ever driven in the traffic here, you know the aggression with which people drive makes you question what they are really driving towards. Workaholism is not always rewarded but is prevalent. And with a lack of patience, the average employee retention rate is under 2 years.

Technology solves all our problems. 

With so many millennials, everyone’s goal is to make an impact … through technology. Similar to living in DC, everyone wants to make a difference … through public policy.‎ However, constantly diving into technology causes you to create an image of yourself that you have to maintain. The maintenance of that lifestyle (on Instagram for example) feels necessary all the while there is constant second guessing on the journey of contentment.

The NEW American Dream

While the old American dream was to buy a house with a white picket fence, the NEW American dream is to found a startup and sell it to the highest bidder. I’ve spoken about Hitler theory before, and it runs rampant in the hearts (and pockets) of many. America was once characterized as an "immigrant's land" where hard work would pay off. I no longer believe that is true for California. With the increasing cost of living, it is extremely difficult to stay afloat with no domestic assets.

Urban / sub-urban living

Urbanization is traditionally characterized by density of spaces. The Bay Area’s density of spaces varies quite widely with the most dense being San Francisco. The dense areas surrounding San Francisco are “smaller cities” (Palo Alto, Mountain View, etc) that have their own downtown and lifestyle. While agglomeration economies are at play here, dense living creates a fight for resources. What’s funny is that while you may be paying exorbitant rent for your apartment, you will probably not be there on the weekends. With Lake Tahoe and LA nearby, many people take weekend trips to “get out of the city” that they pay so much to inhabit.

These statements are purely my observations (and are loaded with quite some bias). It is hard to distinguish what are influences from millennial culture vs. the natural evolution of the Bay Area changing as a metropolitan area, etc.


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I acknowledge and pay respect to the Traditional Custodians on whose land I live, play, and work. I pay my deepest respects to all Indigenous Elders past, present and emerging.

© Jun 2024 Vinita Israni
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