Notes From the Epicenter: Left Behind No More
The splash screen on the news before Al Gore's concession speech last week read "Election 2000: The Final Chapter." Besides sounding like one more bad sequel in a played-out horror movie franchise, the blurb is an eerily accurate and timely assessment of the state of the San Francisco political scene.
Meet the New Boss
Our fair city returned in this election to the practice of electing its board of supervisors (the 11-member equivalent of a city council) by district. The result, after run-off elections in nine districts that were finally carried out last week, has been nothing short of a revolution in our city's government. The candidates endorsed by Mayor Willie Brown -- a centrist, pro-development, new-economy democrat -- were soundly defeated by a slate of left-wing, pro-tenants-rights, neighborhood-conservationist, working-class, pro-alternative-transportation, anti-rampant-development progressives. Looks like the times, they are a-changing. Changing back, that is.
In the 1970's San Francisco was known as one of the West Coast's most affordable places to live. It was home to a host of low-income artists, writers, and social activists for whom a full-time office job just wasn't in the cards. But as everyone now knows, the Web has changed the picture. (Upon learning I was from San Francisco, the proprietress of a thrift store in working-class Baltimore asked, "I heard artists are being forced out by something called the dot-coms. Is that true?") The transformation of bohemian San Francisco to dot-S.F. has been chronicled extensively, most recently and insightfully by Rebecca Solnit in the book Hollow City, so I need not regale you with tales of artist evictions and anti-yuppie hate crimes.
Same as the Old Boss
With the election of the latest crop of supervisors, San Francisco may be headed back to its roots. One of the first orders of business on the new supervisors' agenda will likely be to reclassify dot-coms as regular businesses and not as computer service providers, something which has so far exempted them from San Francisco's office building caps. (Proposition L, the slow-growth initiative that would target dot-coms, was narrowly defeated in the recent election, contrary to what I reported earlier. Turns out the presidential race wasn't the only one too close to call.) Already San Francisco Republicans (yes, there are a few) have begun lamenting that the new supervisors will drive business out of San Francisco. If they are right, and the dot-coms (or what's left of them) do leave town for greener pastures, how will that change the Web?
Squids and Snails and Craig's List Tales
Well, I'm thinking that the Web, like San Francisco politics, will be getting back to basics. And in Web World that means arts and community. Some of you may have heard of Craig's List, which is the end-all of community information sites. I recently had the pleasure to chat with Craig (yes, he's a real guy) at a fancy holiday party for which I was woefully underdressed. Craig told me he's been maintaining this Web-based list of community events, apartment and job listings, personals, and, well, you name it, for upwards of five years now, the first two or three all by his lonesome. The list has been incredibly successful and Craig, who hired an actual staff a few years back, recently relocated his headquarters to an actual office (it had been his dining room). The most noticeable difference between Craig's List and a dot-com is that Craig doesn't accept advertising. Nope, he makes all his money on the $45 or so he charges landlords to list apartments and companies to list jobs (most everything else is free). Kind of warms the heart that folks can survive on the Web outside of the new-economy guidelines, doesn't it?
Another San Francisco Web community is Laughing Squid, an online listing of underground and arts events in the Bay Area. The folks who run Laughing Squid make their money by selling Web-hosting services to artists, nonprofits, and small businesses. In true old-school San Francisco style, I found out about Laughing Squid from the woman who makes dresses for me out of fabric I pick up at flea markets. Turns out she also helps outfit people for Burning Man and lesser-known San Francisco art-fests. Laughing Squid has become so popular that it will be holding its fifth anniversary party at the sizeable Great American Music Hall.
With the focus in San Francisco decidedly back on the left side of the political spectrum, sites like these are likely to flourish. And maybe the artists and bohemians and writers will stay put. In its infancy, the Web was a place where young, creative, visionary people could explore a new avenue of expression. Some of them ended up making a lot of money from that expression, which I think is great. But I want the Web to continue to be about the expression and the creativity and the community, and not just about the money. And I'm hoping the new slate of progressive politicians in San Francisco can help us keep the Web as new, as interesting, as exciting, and as creative, as it has always been.
Read more by Andrea Dudrow.