The Best View of “What’s San Francisco Like Right Now?” Is Understanding This Simple Framework
I love talking to folks with expertise in areas where I’m more basic. Years ago when Philz Coffee started expanding from a single shop into a multi-storefront, multi-city business I found myself in a chat with their CEO Jacob Jaber. Fortunately he was game to answer a bunch of my questions about the coffee biz (I’m a bit of a fan) with depth and patience. One of them really stuck with me as a framework to understand urban development.
Philz was opening a handful of new stores in quick succession around SF and I asked Jacob a version of the following: I know site selection is a science unto itself but explain it to me in a simple way. His answer was super interesting, and I’ll paraphrase it here. Neighborhoods have three use cases — Live, Play, Work — and so long as two of them exist, it can support a Philz. So for example, if it’s just a Live neighborhood (maybe a suburban town without a big commercial district and residents commute out of the town to work), isn’t an A+ option. Same thing if it’s *just* work — no Live or Play — probably great during early morning commute but can that location support afternoons/evenings/weekends? We then ran through a bunch of Philz locations and he shared his POV on their Live, Play, Work characteristics. Made perfect sense!
Fast-forward to San Francisco 2023, which is basically 25 years in the Bay for me and almost 30 for my wife. A lot has changed in our little city, especially over the last few years. And I’m very supportive of groups like GrowSF working hard to evolve us in a positive direction. But the easiest way for me to describe us right now is harkening back to Jacob’s framework. And it goes something like this:
“During the pandemic a lot changed with regards to how people use spaces, and for a variety of reasons, it’s not snapping back in SF to the way it was before, nor should we expect it do so fully. Neighborhoods that anchored around Work and Live or Work and Play (FiDi, SoMa in particular) are really feeling abandoned because of changes in office space usage. So we need to think really aggressively about how to get those back to at least two of the three attributes in some level of density. On the other hand, neighborhoods that were primarily Live or Live and Play actually have gotten even more interesting as a result of WFH/remote/hybrid. Fillmore/Divis/PacHeights, Hayes Valley, Noe Valley, West Portal, Union Street, Presidio are all as active as they’ve been since I moved here.”
Obviously there are longer discussions to be had about quality of life issues, rise of YIMBY and so on (like I said, GrowSF), but Live Work Play is the lens through which I understand my city.
Originally published at https://hunterwalk.com on August 26, 2023.