This has been in the news a lot. You may find yourself irritated by the debates. If so, I apologize.

I base most of my criticism on my own four year experience in the Bay Area. San Francisco is one of the hottest, most sought after locations to move. But I don't think that these kinds of cities, if you are so inclined to lump them together — New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Austin — are good places to live due to popularity, as some people claim. Their longstanding citizens understand that popularity can be an undermining factor.

I believe that cities thrive through community and continuity. Businesses and neighborhoods do well because people invest time and energy. What cities require is a vested interest and institutional memory. If you live in a neighborhood where people come and go at random, you find that the businesses come and go. The landscape may become shoddy and poorly maintained. There is little civic pride and more of an attempt to take advantage of amenities without giving anything of yourself.

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If I were going to boil it down to a few things I'd point to space, time, and connections.

  • The public needs places to congregate (that are not strictly about commerce.)
  • They need the time to give to others and to group projects.
  • And they need relationships: families, reliable clusters of friends, community projects.

And our country has an enthusiastic and mobile population. We want to experience the new frontier or enjoy a new way of life. But those cities that are the most frequently cited as destinations became that way probably because they had an invested citizenry. That's definitely the case for Austin. I know some social mavens and political movers myself, and I know for a fact that if it wasn't for them, Austin would not enjoy the success it does now.

I suspect that San Francisco was once like that as well: quirky communities both gay and straight, a dizzying swirl of diversity, and lots of money to keep the arts going. I don't know that it is going to remain the case in 20 years. Mostly, it's going to be the playground for the wealthy tech community who doesn't have the time or inclination to attend town hall meetings or get to know their neighbors.

It's probably shortsighted to dissuade newcomers. They'll come whether or not we like it. But it may be good to ask them to invest. Sure, come to Austin. Take advantage of our cheap beer and plentiful bars. But know that the good here exists because people care. Being perceived as a "cool city" is in and of itself a dangerous pitfall. We don't want people that are only interested in being cool. We want neighbors.

[Image found via Creative Commons license from GayBiGayGay 2007.]