In truth, most of these cities have qualities other cities would reasonably desire. Denver has one of the country’s fastest-growing tech labor forces, with minorities and women relatively well represented in those jobs. Seattle and Portland have among the fastest all-around job growth. New York has some of the fastest-growing wages. San Francisco has unemployment well below the national average and household incomes among the highest in the country.
But San Francisco-ization and the other -izations don’t refer to the process of acquiring any of these good things. Rather, those terms capture the deepening suspicion of many communities that the costs of urban prosperity outweigh the benefits. The tech jobs and the high wages aren’t worth having if they come with worsening congestion, more crowded development or soaring housing costs.
Amazon’s search this year for a new second headquarters made this trade-off explicit for many cities. Despite the tens of thousands of new high-paying jobs in tech and construction on offer, protesters in Chicago and Pittsburgh — even some in the winning areas of New York and Washington — concluded that they didn’t want to be the next Seattle.
Embedded in these fears is something slippery, seemingly inevitable. Once you let tech giants in the door, you have a homeless crisis. Once you allow more density, you’re surrounded by skyscrapers. Once housing costs begin to rise, the logical conclusion is San Francisco.
“Bostonians: Do you worry more about Manhattanization? Or San Francisco-ization?” Tim Logan, a Boston Globe reporter who covers development, asked on Twitter this year. To him, the cities represent different routes to the same end of creating urban playgrounds for the rich.
Manhattan has built its way there, through the construction of luxury condos seemingly affordable only to oligarchs and venture capitalists. San Francisco has become equally expensive, but it has arrived there by not building much for decades (its present construction boom is too little too late).
There are, in other words, multiple models to creating what others see as an urban dystopia. It’s much harder to point to cities that have gotten all of this right — the growth without the congestion, the tech jobs without the homeless crisis, the affordable housing without the sprawl.