The Urban Mineshaft

The Mines:

As I understand it, they treat the Bay Area as like working in the mines. They earn a multiple of the income they would in other industries with their education and skills, and have no particular ties to the region. (Some East Coasters have taken to use the expression “drain to the Bay,” complaining that friends in tech often end up leaving Boston for San Francisco.) The plan is to save money and then retire in their 30s, or take a lower-paying job in a lower-cost city and start a family there. {…}

People endure this overcrowding only when they absolutely need to for work. In a situation of extremely high production amenities (that is, a tech cluster that formed in Silicon Valley and is progressively taking over the entire Bay Area), comfort is not a priority. Joel Garreau’s The Nine Nations of North America describes people in San Francisco viewing the city as utopian for its progressive lifestyle, temperate climate, and pretty landscape. Today, the middle class views the city as a dystopia of long commutes, openly antisocial behavior, human feces on sidewalks, poor schools, and car break-ins. {…}

The mines are not a stable community. They are not intended to be a community; they’re intended to extract resources from the ground, regardless of whether these resources are tangible like oil or intangible like tech. There may be some solidarity among people who’ve had that experience when it comes to specifics about the industry (which they tend to support, viewing it as the source of their income) or maybe the occasional issue of work conditions. But it’s not the same as loyalty to the city or the region.

Source: The Mines | Pedestrian Observations

That which cannot go on forever must end, and this isn’t sustainable, but I don’t know how it ends.

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10 thoughts on “The Urban Mineshaft

  1. One of the benefits, I guess you could call it, of getting married at 21, is that as a married couple, we had no tolerance for such conditions (whereas, were we single, we may have). That has influenced our career choices every step of the way.

    Although, TBH, had I not gotten married, I had a number of lucrative offers as an ‘At Large’ turbine trouble shooter. The pay was 6 figures out the gate, but it would have been something like 75% travel around the world.

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    • I’m trying to think back to Younger Me and if I’d have been up for some kind of “make a lot of money in a short time in return for considerable discomfort” thing and I suspect the answer for me would be “no.”

      I can’t deal with less than 6 hours of sleep a night (as many of those high pressure developer jobs seem to require a certain insomnia). I can’t deal with living in potentially unsafe conditions or some situation where I’d have to hotbunk with a bunch of other people.

      The older I get, the less willing I am able to deal with discomfort. There might be an opportunity to go teach in China for seven weeks some summer and while the money is good and it seems like they take care of the instructors well (housing and food), I just….I can’t imagine uprooting for seven weeks and going somewhere where I don’t speak a word of the language. (I would feel similarly discombobulated at the thought of going to Germany, and I actually speak a little German). Also with my weird health issues (weird allergies, in particular), the thought of trying to negotiate emergency health care in another country (if it became necessary) vaguely terrifies me.

      (I’m really hoping we are not *pressured* to do it, or it’s suggested we are being “uncollegial” if we prefer not to. I have many reasons – health issues, aging parents, responsibilities elsewhere in my life – for not going. Seven weeks is a very long time to be away.)

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  2. That which cannot go on forever must end, and this isn’t sustainable, but I don’t know how it ends.

    The Bay area* CSA is 8.8M people. The LA CSA is 18.8M. The NYC CSA is 28.9M. Greater Tokyo is 39M. Seems like there’s a long way to go. It’ll change to deal with problems, but that’s true of any place.

    * I’m reluctant to keep calling it “San Francisco.” San Jose is now the largest individual city. Oakland is the largest port by tonnage. SFO in San Mateo County is the largest port by value. Alameda County on the east side of the Bay has a population comparable to San Francisco plus San Mateo County.

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