A recent poll of Bay Area residents found that 34 percent were thinking of leaving the region, with many citing traffic congestion and the cost of living as their reasons.
Despite the polling result, I seriously doubt we’re on the verge of an abrupt depopulation. I suspect that no more than five percent of the Bay Area population is truly thinking of moving away and that many of those are because of job transfers or retirements. Plus, there are certainly more than enough folks ready to fill any vacancies.
But that still leaves the question of why so many folks are willing to express the thought of leaving. My guess is that, although family or professional ties will keep them in the Bay Area, most of the 34 percent are truly unhappy with the commute and the cost of living. Loud but insincere threats to leave are their way of ensuring that others take note of their dissatisfaction, much like an otherwise well-adjusted youngster threatening to run away from home over a bedtime dispute.
Whether or not they’re being petulant, I prefer not to share my region with people who are unhappy, so I’d like to address their concerns.
The problem is that many of the dissatisfied were weaned on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, “Leave It to Beaver”, “Happy Days” or “Growing Pains” and wonder why they can’t afford single-family homes with expanses of grass and roads that always flow freely, which generally means sprawl. As noted in the article, “the majority of residents in that poll thought more housing and a better transportation system should be built outside the Bay Area.” (Of course, we’ve known for years that those solutions don’t work. Indeed, the flawed reliance of earlier generations on those solutions is a primary cause of our current malaise.)
And even those of a more recent vintage wonder why their urban apartments can’t be as big and well-appointed as the one rented by Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe.
So the challenge for those of us who actively work toward creating better, more functional cities is how to create places that may not measure up to the ideals of television but are sufficient to make people content with their Bay Area lifestyle.
Luckily, I think that’s an achievable task. But we need to quit putting bandages on drivable suburbia, find a way to treat it as a sunk cost, and move onward to solutions based on walkable urbanism.
The Bay Area Council, the business-sponsored public policy advocacy group who conducted the poll, sees much the same solution. It’s good that walkable urbanism is finding adherents from across the political spectrum.
Those who read the article to the bottom should have also seen the comments of the low income housing advocate who endorsed rent control, fewer evictions, and affordable housing over luxury housing. I understand her perspective and share much of it. But I also think that the evils she sees are the symptoms of and exacerbated by the drivable suburban paradigm. Her concerns won’t be easy to solve, but the more we focus on symptoms in place of underlying problems, the slower we are to implement the right long-term solutions.
When people threaten to leave the Bay Area, they may not really mean it. But they’re still telling us something and we should be listening.
Although it’s been only a couple of weeks since I last wrote on the subject, updates came quickly to water conservation standards after the more “normal” winter of rainfall. I’m not fully satisfied with the resolution, but at least it’s not a full-blown “the drought is over” celebration. I’ll write more in my next post.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (firstname.lastname@example.org)