I was outraged when I read this book... but not in the way you would think.
Published in 2002, this book is already quite dated. Now that it is 2006 and the dotcom boom has become the dotcom bust, this author's hysteria over gentrification and urban renewal in San Francisco-- all blamed on the dotcom phenomenon, mind you-- has been proven to be unfounded. In fact, in relative terms rents are more affordable now than they were back in 2002.
Where to start? This book is simply a long list of gripes and sour grapes about how San Francisco has gotten too expensive for spoiled "bohemians" to live in because they don't want to work. Perhaps most galling is how Solnit puts urban "artists" at the top of her self-righteous hierarchy of those who "deserve" to live in the City. Urban professionals are likened to "dirty old men" who follow around the innocent "schoolgirls" who supposedly are the artists.
The crux of the problem is that in her myopic, NIMBY-istic viewpoint, Solnit fails to acknowledge the fact that space in San Francisco has ALWAYS been severely limited. The city itself is only about 49 square miles and it has ALWAYS been expensive... it has always gone through change, sometimes rapid. Manhattan is the center of a worldclass, GREAT city. How does she think all of those tall skyscrapers got there? When Solnit mourns the loss of an unused, empty lot to development, I have to laugh.
You will find that the author considers herself a "radical" and associates with the originator of "Critical Mass", a regular, planned, and deliberate snarling of local traffic by disgruntled people on bikes. She also is in league with a local carmudgeon in the Mission who, over perceived "gentrification" in the neighborhood, put up fliers encouraging others to vandalize expensive cars on the street.
With an attitude like this, it's not hard to dislike such people as these who arrogantly call themselves "radicals" and "bohemians". All the while they are complaining about the high cost of living in SF (join the club!), they petulantly claim that to get a REAL job would compromise their ideals.
Give me a break.
The author also makes the extremely simplistic assumption that all "true" artists are by nature poor or "downwardly mobile".
I have news for the author-- San Francisco is-- and always has been-- made up mainly of hardworking people. This city was built upon that industriousness, ingenuity, and enterprise. Art has its place, but none of it would be possible without those taxpayers who HAVE JOBS. As a property tax paying citizen of the city I love, I resent her and her ilk assuming that it is their right to inexpensive or free rent in one of the most desirable places to live IN THE WORLD.
The thing that amazes me is the fact she can't see that it has ALWAYS been that way... for decades and decades. I had to laugh at the idea that this book actually mentioned a parody of how, in the height of anti-gentrification hysteria, the last Mexican would soon move out of the Mission.
Guess that was a wrong guess, eh?
Finally, as if it were a suprise, the author in her closing acknowledgments thanks, among a number of other parties, both Critical Mass and "the bar at Place Pigalle" where some of the work for the book apparently took place. I wonder if it ever felt vaguely hypocritical to the author to be condemning urban development and trumpeting the plight of the poor over $8 glasses of Belgian ale?
Extremists on either side are self-absorbed, self-righteous, and unrealistic in the extreme. I strongly disagree with everything George Bush stands for, but at least he doesn't have the gall and arrogance to assume such an air of superiority over the rest of us, especially those of us who actually work for a living. I only agree with the author over one point: idiots who drive big SUVs in the narrow streets of San Francisco are idiots. Other than that, I plan to continue enjoying San Francisco as a San Franciscan who does their fair share to keep this city vibrant, alive, and relevant. Let others stew in their own sour grapes.