Stewart Brand, who personified the link between San Francisco’s 60s flower power and the emerging technological hub of Silicon Valley, lives on a houseboat in Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge. He is watching with pleasure as the tech boom enfolds San Francisco. Now 75, Brand came to the Bay Area in 1956 and became famous for publishing the counter-cultural bible the Whole Earth Catalog which recommended the tools, technology and attitudes hippies would need to advance themselves and society as a whole.
As Brand sees it, history is being made again in the city. There is the suburban version of Bay Area cyber-business and there is a new urban version being created in San Francisco. “Market Street has been this sleepy dead street for a long time,” says Brand, referring to the thoroughfare that bounds Soma. “Well, it is lively and exciting again now, thanks to the tech guys… A creative form is a creative form.” Brand is convinced that the injection of so many young people with technical skills, money to play with and no family ties will spawn new ideas in San Francisco, a well-heeled, much needed creative renaissance.
He has little sympathy for those displaced along the way. San Francisco is a small corner of the Bay Area, he points out, and the rest still has significant economic diversity. Even if San Francisco becomes a Manhattan-like redoubt of the rich, the area as a whole will see benefits. “One side effect of this may well be that Oakland, which is pretty damn interesting, becomes even more interesting.”
Second, the notion of Oakland fascinates me. It’s so close to San Francisco, and it’s connected via public transportation, yet few people I know ever seem to go there. This has to change as San Francisco continues to change. I suspect we’ll hear a lot more of the “Oakland is our Brooklyn” talk in the coming years.