Geographies of Tech Wealth: San Francisco to "Silicon Border"

Geographies of Tech Wealth: San Francisco to "Silicon Border"

As the companies, workers and wealth of Silicon Valley creep north into the city of San Francisco, the effects of an industry with a relatively small but highly paid labor force are leading to widespread social unrest. Embodied in the symbolic protests around “Google Buses,” lower-income residents are reacting to tech’s ability to produce so much wealth that is thinly distributed to a small labor force, disinvested from  local infrastructure (with private transportation), and funneled to comically useless purposes like the “Google Barges” mysteriously floating in the Bay. However, conversations about tech wealth are often limited to its distribution—with even mainstream economists (as well as The Economist) conceding that, “Facebook will never need more than a few thousand employees.” Clearly, the other side of this is production; even with its relatively small labor force, Facebook can generate billions in wealth and profits. Instagram, the hip photo sharing mobile application, famously had only 13 employees when it sold for $1 billion (that’s around $77 million per employee).

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Vestiges of San Francisco’s Unbuilt Waterfront

Vestiges of San Francisco’s Unbuilt Waterfront

San Francisco has oftenserved as a blank canvas since its rapid rise to prominence after the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s – the subject of countless visions for how the built environment should be designed. Whilesomewereoutlandish and others more grounded, the many ideas advanced over the years for guiding the City’s development have each presented a roadmap for moving forward, complete with nested values of what is most important for the future. Such is the subject ofUnbuilt San Francisco – an exhibit currently presented at five locations around the Bay Area, including at UC Berkeley (more details below). On display are plans, renderings, models, and other media depicting unrealized visions for the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of these proposals, such as a BART line running into Marin County, many wish had been built; others, like Marincello, a 30,000-person community in the now-preserved Marin Headlands, we cannot imagine advancing today. The exhibit covers a journey of great breadth, ultimately leaving the viewer with anuneasy sense of what could have been.

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Eyes on the Street: CED Alum’s Film Finds an Audience

While a graduate student at the College of Environmental Design, Darryl Jones completed the short film This Is Market Street as a companion piece to his thesis in landscape architecture. The film, shot in 2012, spurs a dialogue about the future of Market Street, San Francisco’s most central street, and preserves an experience of the corridor before its transformation. This Is Market Street is screening for free at the San Francisco Public Library at 6:00pm on Wednesday, June 26, and at SPUR at 12:30pm on July 11. A panel discussion and Q+A will follow. Presented by Walk San Francisco and the Better Market Street project. For more information, go to

Why did you make this film? Why Market Street? Why a film?

I have been a hobby filmmaker since I was kid, but the landscape has always been my inspiration. I saw this as an opportunity to merge two of my interests: landscape architecture and filmmaking. For the past few years I have been thinking about how to do it, and it dawned on me that graduate school would be a good place to start. In fact, during a conference at UC Berkeley in the early 2000s, a group of landscape architects deliberated on the idea of how film could be utilized to bring the landscape, and landscape architecture, into the cultural mainstream. Reading about their discussions inspired me to answer their call.

I chose Market Street in San Francisco because currently, there is a huge effort to study and eventually redesign the street. It intrigued me because it is a monumental design project, not the kind you see very often, and I knew it would be happening for several years, so hopefully, the film would have some traction. Also, it is my hope that my film will be an educational artifact, long after the street has changed.

How was making the film? How much time did you spend filming? How much time did you spend on Market Street?

The key to good film production is good pre-production, which I didn´t really do, I’m a little shy to admit. Like I said before, I grew up making films, but I learned how amateur I was as a result of this project. This realization has actually led me to pursue more of these projects. The historical footage is all from a website called, and if you haven´t used it, it is a great resource, even if you´re just curious about history! Some of the footage is from the Prelinger Archives, a Library of Congress collection, which is curated by Rick Prelinger, a Bay Area archivist and writer. He has compiled some amazing collections of archival footage of San Francisco and the Bay Area, including A Trip Down Market Street, which is the infamous film taken from the top of a streetcar on Market Street only days before the 1906 earthquake.

All in all, I spent 14 days shooting and usually was on Market Street an average of two-three hours each day. I complied 55 interviews, almost all of which are in the film. As is typical of documentary filmmaking, I discovered, it really comes together in the editing room. I spent probably triple the time editing than I did actually shooting on Market Street.

Why do you think will Market Street be redesigned and how will it be?

It’s still a little early in the process, and the Better Market Street team isn’t quite in the unique design phase yet. They have presented three options and are at the stage of getting feedback on those options. Part of the purpose of these screenings on June 26 and July 11 is to raise awareness about the upcoming public workshops, where everyone can go to be a part of the decision-making.

Personally, I think San Francisco is ready for a more pedestrian Market Street. That is the key to it becoming more livable, because it’s just a ghost town in some places, and unsafe in others. Since Market Street is so integral to all the other modes of transit and the flow of adjacent streets and spaces, it is going to take some bold experimentation and inspiring proposals to actualize this project.

How do you feel about Market Street? 

That’s a tough question. I think Market Street inspires me. It feels like the center of the city, and I believe that is a really important feeling for a city to have. Feeling like you’re at the heart of it all is one of the best feelings about cities; when you say to yourself "I’m really here right now—this is where the energy is". It’s no mistake that tourists come to Market Street. Obviously, they come for the cable cars a lot of the time, but I think they really come to experience the heart of the city. There is something monumental about its size and orientation that cannot be denied, and when you revisit history, you start to really root for Market Street.

Is the redesigning process on Market Street similar to what is happening in other cities?

I’m not sure I can answer that accurately, but from my experience I have definitely seen these projects in other cities. My hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, redesigned their two main streets in recent years, to much success. However, cities are always making plans to revitalize their streets, so it’s nothing new. But the scale of what is being proposed for Market Street may be very ambitious compared to other cities.

Do you think your film will make a difference?

I certainly hope so! If anything, I just hope it will encourage people to be excited about how design affects their lives, and that they can be a part of the conversation.

Is it home? [Watch the film to understand the significance of this question!].

Haha, good question. For me, truthfully, it isn’t. I live in Oakland, so that may be why. But I certainly feel a connection with Market Street, and the more time goes by, the more it becomes familiar to me and the more I admire it.


Darryl Jones is a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his Masters of Landscape Architecture. He is an active artist, designer and filmmaker whose work focuses on the relationship between people and their environment, specifically as a human being on foot. He currently works at a small architecture practice in San Francisco, CA. Darryl can be reached at

Who takes BART out to the Ball Game?

October 9, 2012 Say what you will about the experience of riding Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), but the agency collects fantastic data.

What BART riders pay for each trip is based on distance, and the fares are all calculated electronically, so the agency has a massive record of trip behavior by origin, destination, time and date. BART also notes happenings that affected ridership, such as major concerts, festivals, and sporting events. If you need to know the "bump" in ridership the night Lady Gaga sold out the Oracle Arena, BART can tell you.

And if you're a curious student and ask nicely, sometimes they'll share.

Browsing some of these data for a class congestion management study, I kept coming back to the sporting events. AT&T Park (home of the SF Giants) is well served by transit, and the Athletics' Oakland Coliseum is literally across the street from a BART station. It seems reasonable that baseball fans, even visitors from out of town, would take BART to a baseball game. But what visiting team inspires the biggest bump in BART ridership?

BART's "bumps" are the uptick in ridership at the stations nearest the baseball stadiums that can't be explained by regular ridership trends. I divided each bump by the stadium attendance for that day's game. So if 10,000 people showed up at a ballgame, but only 3,000 extra people rode BART (0.3), that would be less impressive than a game with 5,000 attendees where 2,500 extra people rode BART (0.5).

I calculated this ratio for every Giants and A's home game of the 2010 and 2011 regular season. I averaged the ratios across visiting teams to get a transit ridership rate by team.

Certainly correlation is not causation, many other factors affect ridership, this is only two year’s worth of data, and there’s no consideration of weather, time of day, or day of week. But both teams are in the playoff, and for bragging purposes, it's worth knowing if one's favorite team does better than their opponent.

A's fans are far more likely to take BART to a Giants game than Giants fans are to an A's game. This is strange, until you consider that the A's stadium is swaddled in parking. Maybe the Giants fans take it as an opportunity to tailgate?

What’s up with these Yankees fans? If anyone should be accustomed to taking transit, you’d think it would be those who root for the Bronx Bombers. Anecdotally, a fair number of Bay Area residents lived in New York at some point. They may cheer for the visiting team, but be local enough to live in the Bay Area and own a car. The other New York team, the Mets, correlate with higher transit ridership as expected.

But both the Giants and the A’s are hosting playoff games today, so the important question is: Does transit ridership correlate with a win for the home team? If you average the ridership rate of winning games versus losing games, it's about even in Oakland. But in San Francisco, the Giants actually do a bit better with higher BART ridership. In a sport so famously obsessed with luck, maybe riding transit will become the next great superstition.

Photo of Stomper courtesy of the Oakland Athletics.