Over the last year, San Francisco seems to be undergoing a real knock-out, drag-down fight over that city’s rising cost of living, which to a considerable extent, is driven by housing prices. What I don’t understand is the intense anger towards the ‘techies’, the tech workforce. The reason it puzzles me is that there are similar affordability problems in Boston. During the mayoral race, every debate, even those that had nothing to do with housing, touched on the cost of housing. Like San Francisco, there’s a well-educated specialist workforce (actually, several different kinds) that has contributed to a high cost of housing comparable to San Francisco. There isn’t much in the way of open space in Boston either, and, unlike San Francisco, Boston is a state capitol and regional hub, meaning huge swathes of the city are unavailable for housing (only about fifty percent of the city is even eligible for property taxes–and some of that, of course, is devoted to businesses). Building out isn’t really an option either. Yet, unlike San Francisco, the city isn’t divided on this issue–the closest it comes is the gentrification of the North End (which, incidentally, is mostly ‘white-on-white’ gentrification). I’m not saying Boston is harmonious, but there isn’t a group that’s demonized as San Francisco tech workers are.
One reason might be that Boston’s tech force, which is focused as much on biomedical science as it is computer science, simply isn’t as rich. It’s hard to demonize a PhD who makes $80,000 per year. That’s a decent salary in the grand scheme of things, but it’s hardly conspicuous consumption territory. Related to that, the success stories in biotech, even on the private side, aren’t quite as ridiculous as those in Silicon Valley. Also, Boston is a fairly conservative city–politically, it’s liberal, but in terms of flash and style, it’s pretty staid. The rich don’t rub the rest of the city’s noses in it (as much). There’s also a legitimate trickle-down effect (to use a phrase). Federal funding of biotech (and other academic tech-related areas) provides a lot more middle class jobs than some wealthy people cashing in on an IPO does.
The bonfire of the vanities, from a distance, seems higher in San Francisco than in Boston.