A Tale of Two Cities

I have been working in San Francisco now for over two months and what was clear before is even clearer today: San Francisco is no New York. Of course, that is stating the obvious. But the difference between the two cities can be seen even in the homelessness issue, of which San Francisco is struggling. Walk anywhere in the San Francisco (recently ranked second as the country’s most walkable city, right behind New York), and you will see scores of homeless people panhandling in front of the BART/MUNI entrances, with others holding beat-up paper cups in front of restaurants or passed out in small squares and parks, closed storefronts and alleys. In all of my years in New York, I don’t remember seeing many homeless at all (not to imply that they don’t exist there). But what I do remember from the streets of New York were the performers, many of which had real talent and must have brought home good tax-free cash at the end of a full day.

During the summer in Manhattan the streets are full of dancing, showboating and skilled men and women, young and old, earning their keep on the street. While New York was not immune to homelessness, the city does a better job at serving them or sweeping them from site. San Francisco could use some lessons in this regard. With thousands of tourists on the streets of San Francisco around Union Square last Friday, not a street performer was in sight (a completely missed opportunity). Instead, only the tragically homeless and worn down were visible, pushing their shopping carts from block to block. The overall scene and energy each camp brings adds to the allure of each city, and after being here in the Bay Area for a while now, I have come to the following conclusion. People move to the Bay Area not necessarily for San Francisco, but to be in the Bay Area. Nobody I know, however, ever moved to Long Island, Connecticut, Westchester or New Jersey to be in either one of those places. They moved there because of New York. And that sums up how I feel about each city. I am in San Francisco for the job and live in the East Bay to have a good life. Our seven years in suburban New York were about the proximity to Manhattan, and that, was all that mattered.

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