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Allison Arieff: Urbanism and Bay Area Housing

Allison Arieff: Urbanism and Bay Area Housing

Wednesday, March 01, 2017 | | Other Voices

“Instead of stopping new housing, we should be focusing on better neighborhood planning, better integration of housing near jobs and transit and better programs for creating economic opportunity… A city shouldn’t bend over backwards to let a company come in and add thousands of new jobs without both parties working to figure out how to house those thousands.”


Allison Arieff, Editorial Director at SPUR, and a contributing columnist to the New York Times, will be a panelist at the upcoming AIASF Housing Forum, sponsored by the AIA in San Francisco, to be held March 24, 2017 at the AIA-SF offices in downtown San Francisco.

Do you think there’s a Bay Area housing crisis?

I absolutely think there is a Bay Area housing crisis. If the median home price nationally is around $190,000 – which is about the same as the average down payment on a house here – that’s a problem.

Is gentrification a good thing? Bad thing?

Gentrification is rare and experienced by very few cities… but that sure isn’t the case in the Bay Area. I do think, though, that the focus on gentrification can work to obscure more serious and deep-seated problems: the increasing isolation of poor, minority neighborhoods (often in suburbs) and the startling spread of extreme poverty.

Instead of stopping new housing, we should be focusing on better neighborhood planning, better integration of housing near jobs and transit, and better programs for creating economic opportunity. I hope that other cities and regions can learn lessons from San Francisco, New York, and similar cities, and take steps to help mitigate the impacts of gentrification before they happen.

What does “home” mean to you?

Home is where my family is (and where my books are). I’m very lucky to live in a walkable neighborhood that is super close to transit, parks and even a bookstore. I hardly ever need to get in the car. I know my neighbors and the local merchants and run into friends who live nearby. We carpool to school with a neighbor and my kid can walk the dog on her own. We need to be planning our neighborhoods to allow for this sort of activity, these amenities, this feeling of community.

What role do you envision for tech companies regarding Bay Area housing, both responsibilities and opportunities?

I understand the impulse to ask these companies to essentially pay for everything. We’ve not historically asked that of other industries, and it doesn’t make sense to do so now. However, as a new policy report I’ve been working on that SPUR is releasing this spring (Rethinking the Corporate Campus) argues, Silicon Valley has not been creating great places and there’s a lot it can do, in its decisions about where to locate and what to build, to help mitigate some of the stresses that have been placed on the region.

Companies should be locating on or very near transit; one of the challenges, however, is that local land-use restrictions make this impossible and in fact, illegal, in many instances. Right now we see many companies that are just far enough away from transit that employees can’t get where they need to go.

The public and private sectors need to work together to figure out how to grow more efficiently and sustainably. A city shouldn’t bend over backwards to let a company come in and add thousands of new jobs without both parties working to figure out how to house those thousands. Since that hasn’t been happening, there is a terrible jobs/housing imbalance in many cities in the region. I do think that had there been greater transparency on the part of tech companies back when say, the shuttle program was launched, it would have alleviated a lot of anxiety. The Bay Area is changing rapidly – the more people can be informed about what’s going on, the less anxious they are about the changes happening around them.

Links for Further Study

What East Oakland Can Teach Us About Housing Displacement”, by Robert Ogilvie, The Urbanist, January 11, 2017

What is Oakland Doing About Its Housing Crisis?”, by Sarah Kaplinsky, SPUR news site, June 10, 2016

How to Make San Francisco Affordable Again”, excerpt from SPUR policy article in The Urbanist, February 11, 2014

Rethinking the Corporate Campus”, by Allison Arieff and Jennifer Warburg, The Urbanist, September 21, 2016

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About the author
 Rebecca Firestone has been working in the Bay Area since 1998 as a technical writer, business content developer, architectural filing lady, marketing director, and sorcerer’s apprentice.


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