Alon Levy has an interesting framing of some curious data on multiple people sharing bedrooms in San Francisco. He explains this in terms of people going to work in the mines or an offshore oil platform for a period of time in order to make money.
I’ve heard of Google programmers living two to three to a bedroom in Bernal Heights, not even that close to BART. I’ve also heard a story of people near the Ashby BART stop in Berkeley renting out their front porch; the person sleeping the porch was not a coder, but some of the people living inside the house were.
I have not talked to the people in these situations, only to friends in Boston who live one person (or one couple) to a bedroom, even though they too can afford more. As I understand it, they treat the Bay Area as like working in the mines. They earn a multiple of the income they would in other industries with their education and skills, and have no particular ties to the region. (Some East Coasters have taken to use the expression “drain to the Bay,” complaining that friends in tech often end up leaving Boston for San Francisco.) The plan is to save money and then retire in their 30s, or take a lower-paying job in a lower-cost city and start a family there.
People endure this overcrowding only when they absolutely need to for work. In a situation of extremely high production amenities (that is, a tech cluster that formed in Silicon Valley and is progressively taking over the entire Bay Area), comfort is not a priority. Joel Garreau’s The Nine Nations of North America describes people in San Francisco viewing the city as utopian for its progressive lifestyle, temperate climate, and pretty landscape. Today, the middle class views the city as a dystopia of long commutes, openly antisocial behavior, human feces on sidewalks, poor schools, and car break-ins.
The mines are not a stable community. They are not intended to be a community; they’re intended to extract resources from the ground, regardless of whether these resources are tangible like oil or intangible like tech. There may be some solidarity among people who’ve had that experience when it comes to specifics about the industry (which they tend to support, viewing it as the source of their income) or maybe the occasional issue of work conditions. But it’s not the same as loyalty to the city or the region.
Be sure to read the whole thing.
One piece of color I might add is that some of the people living the “mines” lifestyle may be foreign workers who came to get US experience and pile up some cash before returning home and starting their own companies or something. (When I was with Accenture, I worked with a lot of Indians who came to the US intending for it to be a sort of job rotation. Another group wanted to permanently immigrate. Not everyone comes here for the same reasons).
The idea of a the city as a mine links to something I’ve long noticed about analysis of the creative class. The creative class is generally portrayed as a hyper-fickle group of people who, if their lifestyle and policy preferences are not catered to, will leave for greener pastures.
This vision of the creative class sees the city primarily a venue for the pursuit of self-interest. Any commitment to the local place is at best contingent. In short, all creative class types are portrayed as mining the city at some level, either for production or consumption.
Expecting creative class gentrifier types to have any interest in social solidarity when the entire concept is based on the idea that they will make a long distance geographic move at the drop of a hat if they find themselves displeased or opportunity dries up seems dubious.