Sunday, January 17, 2010

From the Ashes

When the survivors of the 1906 earthquake looked at San Francisco in the days after the fires finally burned out, they could clearly imagine what needed to happen to heal the city. There were different ideas about how rebuilding should proceed, but they shared a common viewpoint about the cause of the disaster and the remedy. And enough people were willing to cooperate to quickly bring the dream of restoration to reality.

It may seem hyperbole to draw a comparison with the present state of San Francisco, but I'm going to do it anyway. If anything, we now have more people here without a sense of hope for their future. More people are angry, disillusioned, sick at heart, and see no choice but to leave the city. Residents of 1906 walked down the street and saw rubble and scorched skeletons where homes and businesses used to be. Residents of 2010 see vacant storefronts, blood on the sidewalk, and homes they're either struggling to stay in or can no longer afford.

It's easy to attribute this to the winds of change and say the tough times will turn, as they always do. But the 1906 residents didn't just wait for someone else to pick up the first brick. And if we had that willingness, and maybe half the pride and craftsmanship, respect for community and future generations, and fierce intolerance of fraud and thievery that people a hundred years ago had, times would turn a lot faster.

In making, I wanted to provide a simple guide to the city, helping folks get out and enjoy the neighborhoods and parks, in their kaleidoscopic splendor. I wanted it to be positive, illuminating, and non-critical. I wanted to be neutral and leave politics and civic issues alone.

But I just can't. It's too big and too intrusive and too immediate. I want to do whatever it takes to reverse what's happening and help make this city the fantastic, amazing, overwhelming place that it can be. I want to see fellowship and tolerance and creativity, and mind-bending street art. I want to see thriving restaurants that don't exist anywhere else. I want to see skilled people able to work and live here, and innovative businesses able to survive. I want to see an end to gunshots in Potrero Hill and gangs in the Mission. I want functional, affordable public transportation.

Typing about pie in the sky wishes on a blog may just be one small step above silence and complacency, but consensus depends on communication. And we've got a problem that 1906 residents didn't have: a dizzying number of different opinions on the scope, nature, and potential remedies for the city's ills. If we can get enough people agreeing about what's wrong and what we need to do, then we can start the work of fixing it.

I want flowers to grow here again, and I'm willing to dig to get it started.


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