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San Francisco Waterslide | city ​​newspaper

Last spring, activity in downtown San Francisco was just 31% of its 2019 level, measured by comparing visits to points of interest such as restaurants, retail stores and grocery stores. between the two years. No other North American city of the 62 examined in an analysis by the University of California, Berkeley has fallen so far. Is the “City”, as its inhabitants like to call it, destined to widen and become synonymous with urban decay? Or can it reverse its decline?

The closures have turned urban cores into ghost towns, but not all city centers are suffering yet. Berkeley’s analysis shows activity in downtown Salt Lake City was at 155% of its pre-pandemic level. Downtown Columbus, Ohio is also busy again, up 112%. Two California city centers, Bakersfield (117%) and Fresno (108%), have seen a strong recovery. When entire cities, not just their downtowns, are taken into account, San Francisco does better, but not by much. It’s second from the bottom, with a salvage value of 61%. Two California cities, again Bakersfield and Fresno, ranked first and second, with values ​​of 139% and 132%, respectively. Sacramento (108%) was fifth and San Diego (100%) eighth.

Remote work for the city’s elite white-collar workers makes life easier for some, but not all. TechCrunch, headquartered in San Francisco, says the city’s small businesses “are increasingly desperate for the economic activity that office workers would bring back.” Yet vacancies remain high and could increase.

A full recovery is unlikely unless the outflow of residents is reversed. Between April 2020 and July 2021, the city’s population fell by 6.7%, with the biggest drop in the country dating from the early days of the pandemic in the summer of last year. Nearly 55,000 residents had fled by July 2021, bringing the population down to its lowest level since 2010. San Francisco ranked first and Los Angeles second in the nation for outbound movements.

San Francisco is business-unfriendly, family-unfriendly, has a homelessness problem like no other American city, and has some of the most unaffordable housing on the planet. The danger for the city is that it falls into what economist Thomas Sowell has called “the Detroit model,” a nasty mix of “tax hikes, corporate harassment and union appeasement.” While “it got mayors re-elected,” Sowell says, “in the long run, it reduced Detroit from a thriving city to an economic disaster zone, whose population was cut in half as its most productive citizens fled”. San Francisco faces different challenges than the deindustrialization of Detroit in the 20th century. But the feedback loop from emigration to deteriorating public services remains a danger.

Motor City’s escape was largely a response to crime. As Sowell wrote, the 1967 riot, which left 43 dead, nearly 1,200 injured, and damaged more than 2,000 buildings, “marked the beginning of Detroit’s decline.” The effects persist. Detroit’s downtown recovery ranked 59th out of 62, with 42% activity, in the University of California study.

As Charles Fain Lehman has observed, San Francisco’s crime problem is less the brutal violence that plagues Detroit than the pervasive disorder that city officials tolerate. What the world sees on video – mass shoplifting in broad daylight, attacks on Asians, a torrent of car robberies – locals are seeing up close. The robbery forced Walgreens to close more than a dozen of its San Francisco stores because it could not afford the shoplifters’ losses. Target reduced hours at several locations across the city due to a “significant and alarming increase in thefts and security incidents”.

City data shows overall crime is up 7.4% this year compared to the same period in 2021. A few crimes, including burglary, are down. But other crimes that also affect quality of life, such as robbery, assault, robbery, car theft and rape, are on the rise. Last year, criminal activity, driven by a sharp increase in robberies, assaults and homicides, was up 13.5% over 2020. Combine all that with the District Attorney’s announcement just being reminded in 2019 that he would not prosecute what he considered trivial offenses, such as public camping, public urination and blocking sidewalks, and the results are thousands of votes with their feet.

Convincing them to come back and create a new image that will attract newcomers and visitors will be a difficult task for any city, even San Francisco.

Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images