Alex Payne writes online here.

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In Which I’m Not Alone

Back in October, I posted about my experience of San Francisco. Though I intended the post for a fairly narrow audience, it managed to attract more attention than I expected. For the next several weeks, I received a torrent of email, most of it from people in vehement agreement with what I had to say about the city. Those who did disagree did so politely, and generally picked out a few select points to debate. Though I’m sure people disagreed less politely with the post in other forums, none of those people cared enough (or had the balls) to email me.

Fielding the collective frustration of hundreds of people about San Francisco was emotionally exhausting. It’s clear to me now that there’s a flood of pent-up rage from current and past residents, not to mention reticence and fear from potential future residents. Reading all those stories was at once vindicating and demoralizing.

I had all but left the above behind when, today, an article in SF Weekly called The Worst-Run Big City In The US started making the rounds. Essentially, it’s a well-researched and civic-minded look at what’s wrong with San Francisco and why. The article delves into issues of city management, government scandals, non-profits non-delivering, union immobility, and all the other unfortunate circumstances that have led to a city that’s rapidly in decline.

A lot of the article is about following the money. More interesting to me, personally, is the sociological and demographic effects that this pervasive, perpetual mismanagement is having on the city. The author sums it up:

“The stage is set for San Francisco to run on inertia. The city’s poor are unable to effect a sea change; the young, nomadic population is uninterested; and the wealthy and older are unwilling.”

This was essentially the hunch I shared in my piece in October, albeit not backed up by facts and numbers as the SF Weekly article is. And while it’s nice to feel validated, I mostly feel for the people who don’t have the means or the freedom to change their situation as San Francisco becomes a more hostile place to live. Indeed, I feel guiltier for the fact that I’m able and about to change mine.

Re: Portland

Since writing my post, I’ve made firm plans to move to Portland, Oregon come May 2010. After a busy spring of travel and getting married, I will pack up in San Francisco and re-settle in the Pacific Northwest’s gem of a city. I’ll probably land in the Pearl District, which has just about the right yuppie quotient coming from SOMA. As I get to know the city better, I’ll probably end up in a more traditional neighborhood when ready to deal with a house.

I’ll continue to work for Twitter while in Portland, alongside Rael Dornfest (and maybe, hopefully, others, in time). I have mixed feelings about not being in our beautiful new San Francisco office come next summer, but Twitter has demonstrated a generous and much-appreciated flexibility about my location, and next year will be the right time for me to take advantage of that.

One question that came up repeatedly in the emails I received about my post was: “why Portland?” I complained of a lack of cultural life in San Francisco, and readers found it puzzling that I’d then turn around and consider moving to a smaller city with less going on. Indeed, that’s something that I’ve accepted about the move. We’ll probably rely on travel to other cities for activities like theater and museums. Culture is only one aspect of what I look for in a city. Portland’s friendliness, malleability, and generally sense of potential (both for my family and for the city itself) outweigh a relative lack of the arts and other issues that may not have appeared to match up with my personal criteria for a place.

The thing that concerns me most about the move to Portland is being away from the Bay Area’s deep and pervasive tech culture. I think, though, that this is an irrational fear on my part. Many of the technologists I admire live outside of the Silicon Valley bubble; it can be done, and perhaps even done better that way. Tight-knit communities can fuel creativity, but they can also be poisonous. It will be nice to be around people with a different mindset and worldview.

Ultimately, I have a deep-seated belief that people should be able to do what they love from wherever they want to be, and that it’s my responsibility to make that true for myself and others. Portland will be an experiment that tests that belief. I’m looking forward to it, and time will tell if it’s the right fit.