Standing in front of City Lights Bookstore, looking down Columbus Avenue past Vesuvio’s bar (with Jack Kerouac Lane coming in on the right-hand side) to the Transamerica pyramid – a new building when I lived in SF in 1974.
I had read so much, on this blog and elsewhere, of how changed SF was due to its proximity to Silicon Valley and its off-the-charts rents and housing costs, and was expecting hardly to recognize it. Instead, it seemed much as it always has in the 40+ years I’ve known it: slightly shabby, about the same numbers of homeless, more condos in the Mission and on Russian Hill but not an overwhelming change, neighbourhoods like Richmond (“the avenues”) and North Beach essentially the same. San Francisco seemed to be evolving in a controlled way, at least compared with Vancouver. Another observation: there were way fewer luxury cars. Vancouver seems much wealthier.
The Russian Hill to Pacific Heights skyline, now dotted with luxury highrises.
A recent post on this blog about real affordability indicated how well San Francisco is actually doing. With a minimum wage of $US 13, and the strong economy, what looks like a housing-price disaster…
…is much less of a problem due to the coupling of wages with costs and the availability of good cheap transit. Second-best in the USA isn’t bad.
But, for a Canadian carrying a pocketful of loonies, it is an expensive city.
On the BART to SFO.


  1. Vancouver may appear wealthier but it is an illusion. The wealth in San Francisco is derived from local companies actually creating. In Vancouver, it is a show of wealth from offshore money that does little to contribute to building the local economy.

    1. Really, five thumbs down? Just being contrarian or truly that naive? Sorry kids, Lululemon and Hootsuite don’t account for all those Lamorghinis and Ferraris.

    2. No Bob. Naiveté has nothing to do with it. Some of us are able to spend five minutes digging for evidence.
      According to Colliers, one industry alone — tech — consumes 14% of all current office space in the Metro, and 40% of all new office space demand. Out of over 100,000 workers in 7,000 tech companies in BC, Vancouver employs 75,000, making it bigger than oil & gas, mining and forestry. Vancouver has a large pool of educated tech labour, and Canada has the ability to attract foreign talent in tech through its liberal immigration policies. Entire companies are attracted to the cheaper office space compared to San Francisco, NYC and Seattle. Vancouver’s tech industry doesn’t pay as well as San Francisco’s, but still, a junior tech worker can earn $75K a year and build up from there. Very decent.
      It’s a similar story with Vancouver’s tourism and film industries and port, all of which make our economy even more diverse, but I think the point has been made.

      1. But Vancouver’s tech industry thrives because it salaries are lower than their US counterparts and because it is a way around the visa problem in the USA. They are fare more likely to be ones biking from housing in Commercial Drive to jobs in Mt.Pleasant. They definitely are driving Maseratis. Little ol’ Vancouver isn’t one of the world’s top luxury car markets because of the jobs here, but rather because it is so easily to stealthily stash your money here.

  2. Additionally, the comparison of housing cost to income is off, because it assumes that most people make anywhere near that. Let’s get away from the stats: a studio apartment in SF is going to run well above $2000/month. That’s fine if you are a top end earner, but if you work in one of the service jobs that the city depends upon? You’re going to have to live about a commuter distance of an hour or more away in order to get to work.
    Put another way, the richer a metro area, the less averages and medians are useful as a measure.

  3. Housing in San Francisco is expensive because it hasn’t changed. So many more high paying jobs and people moving here, with only a small amount of new housing built.

  4. I remember a friend from San Francisco, who worked in IT, come up here to consider moving here amazed at how things were so cheap here.

  5. I suppose if you price out the bottom portion of the typical city’s income scale then the remaining high-income production amenity crowd might look like they have affordable housing.

  6. On another note, in April I spent 5 days in SFO and had not been there since 1999. For three of those days I was hosted by SFO staff visiting public spaces because in my role working for CoV we are looking to create more public spaces ie public plazas like Deva Plaza in Davie Village.
    I learned a lot. I particularly liked a “playground” created in a neighbourhood near the ocean…it was on a former school yard (school was now closed)….the community was stewarding the space…it had a covered tented area for children and their parents which was full of children and parents when we got there, a community garden and a little skateboard park built by the local skateboarders. The folks I spent time with there were really stoked about it. So I liked that as well as in other areas of SFO the many parking spaces and former road space that had been converted to seating and full of places for folks to hang out.
    Also, the widening of the sidewalks in the LGBTQ Castro neighbourhood were memorable.

  7. Forget the cost of living in SF. What the hell do those people have against trees? It always puzzled me how relatively barren the streets were of trees. And yet bay windows seem to be mandatory. It’s a strange place.

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