In the few months I had before moving to the west coast, images of hippies, burning bras and vagabonds piling into Volkswagen vans filled my mind. I could not wait to be apart of a city that has been so pivotal in shaping a nation. What would be the next movement? What I found upon arrival, however, is that many had flocked to the Fog City hoping to get in on the action, and in turn have caused a phenomena not too unfamiliar to the rest of the nation’s cities, known as gentrification.
Arriving in San Francisco for the first time is intoxicating. You enter another world where strangers treat you like neighbors, the music scene is booming and everything is tinted tie-dye. However, aside from the delightful little quirks the city has to offer—such as daily afternoon protests in Golden Gate or naked men riding their bikes in the Castro—it appears as though this gem of the bay area is quickly morphing into the likes of every metropolitan city in the U.S with a Starbucks on every street corner or an “indie” coffee shop filled with Macbooks, gluten free bakeries and the widespread of luxury living to boot.
How is it possible that there are more juice bars than medical marijuana conservatories? Who thought it was a good idea to replace that authentic Mexican taqueria with a Chipotle? In the recent struggles to find off-campus housing, I questioned how it was possible that rent could be so expensive, and I find my answer whenever I see more young mothers with Vera Bradley baby bags than hippies on Haight Street. I used to undoubtedly think that San Francisco was a place for people to escape their troubles and join the creative hub to make a difference. After hearing the rants of countless locals, I can surely say that it was once.
For the locals who have been around long enough, the hippie movement did not begin as a movement, but rather an outlet for individuals to freely express themselves similarly to the kale movement beginning with one or two people trying to eat healthier. Eventually though, these things become too cool to pass up and turn into a trend. In San Francisco where every weird idea has miraculously become cool, it’s no surprise that there’s been a great influx of residents trying to be apart of it.
Of course I can’t be too upset seeing that I am one of many who has traveled outside their hometown to see what the California buzz was all about. However, and maybe this has something to do with all the philosophy classes I’m taking, I can’t help but feel that every step I take into The Fog is unauthentic. Every time I take a sip of artisan drip coffee all the while jotting down thoughts in a black moleskin journal, there’s this ominous voice whispering in my ear, telling me that someone has done this before, enough times in fact for entrepreneurs to make businesses out of it, which have thus replaced the many mom and pop storefronts that made San Francisco so unique. I can’t help but feel bad. The thought that with every spoonful of vegan ice-cream I consume, I slowly begin to morph into THE MAN—or at least a cog that’s helping the machine bring down the once natural beauty of the city—disturbs me and my newfound sense of social justice to the core.
If only I had been born earlier, so I could have traveled to San Francisco and indulge in the sweet release that everything I was doing was uncharted territory being experienced for the first time. Alas, this cannot be. But living in the now, I’d be damned if I go on like the lousy entitled hipster that made up my persona for the first semester of college.
Gentrification is on a rampage, but before we unknowingly get swooped up in its force, we should aim to preserve the unique essence of our nation’s cities. So for all of you going to town on that gluten free banana-nut kale-infused muffin, just know that you’re doing so simply because someone with celiac disease wanted a muffin really badly one day. Get off your high horse; roll up the sleeves of your American Apparel cardigans, and save the parks, the schools and the libraries that are in danger or being replaced by a Whole Foods.