SF Is Actually The New Palo Alto

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Lots of pretty writing in New York Magazine writer Kevin Roose’s “Is San Francisco New York” and New York Times writer Nick Bilton’s response “Why San Francisco Is Not New York,” so you should read them both.

But before you can cry “East Coast, West Coast” or, probably in this case, “West Coast is the new East Coast is the new West Coast is the new East Coast,” remember that pretty writing is pretty writing. It exists for that purpose beyond any tenuous link it may have to reality.

After visiting New York all last week and then coming back home to San Francisco, where one of the first things I encountered was, in my neighborhood, a four-block-long line for an Opera House Costume Sale, I can attest firsthand to SF not being New York.

In fact, some of the people I met on my travels in New York described SF as a sort of utopia. “Everyone has such creative ideas there!” one exalted. “Do people there think tech is a bubble?” another one asked sincerely. The fact that I could afford to live in San Francisco without a roommate was met with respect.

While the expensive purses in my Manhattan hotel’s gift shop proclaimed “I wish I could afford New York,” San Francisco currently holds the honor of having the country’s highest rents. Which, in a sentence, is the biggest difference between New York City and SF, beyond the former’s 10x population; bragging about wealth isn’t cool here. We’re not even bragging about having pioneered #normcore.

To me, what is most striking about New York is how well people dress up in order to walk down the street. What is increasingly striking about SF is how much it increasingly revolves around the tech industry, per Bilton:

“Go into any bar in San Francisco and you will hear people talking about their start-up, or a battle they recently had with a line of code. Stop by a coffee shop in some neighborhoods here and you will be surrounded by venture capitalists being pitched a new idea for a new app. All of these people rarely, if ever, interact with people outside the tech world.”

I was walking down University Avenue in Palo Alto yesterday afternoon and I passed by three young guys wearing Facebook T-shirts, giggling together about what I assume will be Facebook’s next product reveal.

What was most notable about the scene wasn’t how different it was from a street scene in New York — where I had just spent a week — but how similar it was to a street scene in the new San Francisco.

“All of these people rarely, if ever, interact with people outside the tech world,” Bilton asserted. Sounds like Palo Alto to me.

Image via Bizjournals.