The Rumors of Our Demise are Greatly Exaggerated

A beautiful summer day for readings in Kerouac Alley as City Lights celebrates 70 years. In 2023 Vesuvio celebrated 75 years, and The Beat Museum 20 years.

by Jerry Cimino

It’s a funny thing to be living in the city of San Francisco these last few years. People who have never even visited our city seem to feel entitled to weigh in on the conditions those of us who actually live here experience every day. They presume to know exactly what’s going on because certain agenda-driven news outlets have been hawking a downright dismal outlook on our city almost daily. If you’re an East Coast transplant like me, old friends from another lifetime ago might start an email with the words, “How’s the poop in San Francisco?”

The reality in SF is very different from what observers from afar might imagine. And some of those weighing in are just being disingenuous. You’ve seen the headlines: “Downtown office buildings 30% vacant.” “Tech companies leaving San Francisco.” “Downtown retailers closing at an accelerated rate.”

Granted, there’s some accuracy to those headlines. But what they lack is any balance. They don’t reflect any of the myriad ways our city is moving along very well. Indeed, a few months ago, tourists started to return in droves. In the circles I travel in, for those who depend on tourism, that is everything! The crowds of tourists we’ve seen here in North Beach these last few weeks are rivaling the numbers we saw back in 2019. And they’re coming from all over! South America, Europe, Asia and the good ole USA—yes, even from red states!

So, are there fewer tenants in office buildings in San Francisco? Sure, just as there are in most other American cities post-pandemic. Office workers have discovered they like working from home, they don’t enjoy long commutes, and in an economy that currently boasts a 3% unemployment rate, these people have choices. 

But that’s only part of the story. When my wife and I drove The Beat Museum on Wheels across the entire USA last fall, we noticed every city in America had similar issues. We saw homeless encampments in every state, and not just in the big cities. Drug abuse was rampant across the country, even in the small towns. And retailers from shopping malls to big-box stores are closing all over America, primarily due to the huge rise in online shopping.

What you don’t hear is how much San Francisco has going in its favor. Despite the focus on downtown, many of our other neighborhoods are on the rebound, and North Beach is one of them. So is Cole Valley, Haight-Ashbury, the Marina, and other parts of town. The neighborhoods that years ago enacted moratoriums on “formula retail” (corporate chains) in favor of local, independent businesses seem downright prescient. I’m not saying it’s easy on anyone, but like us, many old standbys are still here.

Beat Generation Values Became San Francisco Values 

Where did all the negativity toward San Francisco come from?

It goes back to San Francisco’s reputation as a bastion of liberalism, established some 60 or so years ago. Let’s not kid ourselves, we’re in the middle of yet another so-called “culture war”—reminiscent of similar clashes over American identity and values throughout the 1950s and the 1960s. 

In my mind, this current culture war began with Rush Limbaugh during the Clinton Administration, and was passed to Tucker Carlson during the Obama administration. Along the way there were dozens of other Rush and Tucker wannabes, many of whom didn’t actually believe a damn thing they were spouting on the airwaves about “The Libs” here in SF. But rant they did anyway because it was all about making a fast buck. They loved to rage against “San Francisco Values.” The truth be damned. Integrity be damned. Country be damned. They were in it for the money.

The truth is, San Francisco values came from the Beat Generation. Most of us who love the Beats also believe in tolerance, compassion, and sympathy for our fellow human beings. The Beats passed these beliefs on to the hippies, and they’ve become no-brainers for the younger generations of today. At The Beat Museum, every school group we see, whether 17-year-olds in high school or 20-somethings in college, the vast majority believe in diversity, equality and inclusion. They don’t have to be taught these ideas—they live them every single day of their lives. For most young people in America in 2023, “San Francisco Values” are the norm.

And here’s the rub—the one thing all the naysayers on the wrong side of history and the culture wars can never take away from San Francisco are the many draws our fair city enjoys:

Where else in the lower 48 can a traveler take in the scenic views like they can in the Bay Area? 

Where else can perfect strangers show up out of the blue, present themselves as they truly are, and be accepted by the local populace for who they want to be?

And, especially this summer, where else can people go to spend time in a moderate climate? With much of the US baking in 100+ heat, San Francisco with our cool coastal climate is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit. And I don’t see that changing for a very long time.

In fact, our city is one of the coolest places on the planet—and in more ways than one!

San Francisco—we think we’re gonna be here a long, long time!