Love and hate of San Francisco

Hurts me to say, but there's nowhere in the world like SF

When I first lived in San Francisco, I was a college intern and I fell madly in love with the city. It oozed life. In a single week, you could walk through a BDSM street festival, sail a boat, eat the best tacos of your life, and play tennis at a country club. I met brilliant people from all walks of life and tried lots of new things. It felt like the place where exceptional people from all walks of life could find likeminded people and create environments and experiences to share with the city.

The last time I lived in San Francisco, my now wife was learning to program and I was working on a startup. Almost everybody I met worked at or invested in tech companies. The streets which had felt so vibrant and inclusive to a college student now felt dull on good days and dangerous on certain walks home from work or nights out.

We hated it and moved back to Los Angeles at the first opportunity.

It’s easy to blame the city for this difference in experience. Perhaps between my first and most recent times living there, the city changed for the worse—too many techies, too much wealth inequality, not enough housing. But more likely it was me. I wanted something that SF couldn’t offer (or was not willing to build/ find for myself). (I was burned out from tech culture).

Last week, I visited SF for the first time in a while. I had a full day of meetings with mostly people I’d met on twitter. Then a business dinner where I recognized a quarter of the people at first glance and over half of people after introductions. It was fun in the same way SF was fun as a college student.

There are a lot of things to dislike about SF, but there’s one undeniable truth: it’s was and continues to be Schelling point for exceptional people.

I’m reminded of Steve Job’s desire to build only one set of bathrooms at the Pixar office, right in the middle of the building in the atrium. Forcing people to cross through a common space multiple times a day would increase the likelihood of more unplanned interactions between teammates.

San Francisco feels like Jobs’ atrium. There’s a possibility for serendipity that’s so much stronger than anywhere else I’ve been. There’s often talk about XYZ being the “next San Francisco.” Los Angeles has been coming up a lot. And while I love Los Angeles and am thrilled to see more people set up shop here, it—and any other challenger city—has a long way to go. When it comes to density of talented people, as crazy as this might sound, SF is underrated.