Global Affairs

San Francisco and the City

San Francisco was, and still remains, a city of innovation. More recently, it has become a financial technology (fintech) and start-up hotspot: the headquarters of Robinhood, Coinbase, Credit Karma and Bolt all lie within the  San Francisco  Bay Area. In 2020, however, Credit Klarna closed their San Francisco offices. Pinterest too reduced office space in August by breaking from a lease for an unbuilt office in the city due to the Covid-19 pandemic terminating the need for additional physical capacity. Despite a recent call by Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon advocating for the return to the office, echoing the wishes of numerous other businesses, many firms have decided to adapt to flexible working conditions. Such flexibility has encouraged residential migration out of the city: over 124,000 changes of address were processed in San Francisco between March and November last year. The city has been characterised by several recent headlines as undergoing an exodus of sorts.  Accompanying this migratory pattern is the city’s $1.7 billion deficit, which is expected to mount over the next two years. It is safe to say that, despite the natural sense of uncertainty that pervades much of Covid-19 socio-economic forecasting, San Francisco is going to have plenty of issues to tackle in the foreseeable future. 

Is this the same across America, however? To what extent does the rest of the country’s major cities follow suit, as well as across the globe? New York has faced much media attention over its citizens’ rapid relocation at the height of the pandemic in 2020, as well as whether or not New York will also face long-term real-estate haemorrhaging. However, despite New York being one of the main epicentres of the US Covid-19 outbreak, TikTok leased an office in Times Square during May 2020 and Facebook leased the former post office at Penn Station in the summer. Clearly, any crisis of faith in New York’s real estate prospects is not quite so deeply and painfully entrenched as many panicked headlines may suggest. Similarly, San Francisco need not panic to the same degree. Although not home to Wall Street, the city offers much of the same financial and social promise, as well as the aforementioned historic focus towards innovatory zeal. The city has no doubt lost some of its appeal throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, yet the age-old allure of the city will most certainly remain for numerous people, and younger generations, in particular. 

The Aesop fable of the town and country mouse, despite being hundreds of years old, delineates— albeit rather quaintly— a dichotomous relationship between the rural and the urban as old as society. Much like cities have had to rebuild after diseases and warfare in the past, the cities of today will show the resolve to regain prior socio-economic strength once more. San Francisco and New York will most likely bounce back in the long-term; they are part of a substantially wider narrative setting forth an age-old need for cities. Despite Covid-19 being a period characterised by uncertainty and unpredictability, the city is here to stay. It will doubtlessly also grow in ways we can predict. This includes the case of San Francisco which, although not quite the same type of city as New York, remains one with a compelling history and a promising future.