Class-Divided Cities: San Francisco Edition

The 11th in our series exploring the class divides across America's largest cities and metros.

Author's Note: This is the 11th of a series of posts that explore the class divides across America's largest cities and metros. Using data from the American Community Survey, each post explores the geography of class within a large city and metro area. For a detailed description of methodology, see the first post in the series.

The map above charts the geography of class for the city of San Francisco. The creative class lives in the areas that are shaded in purple, the red areas are primarily service class, and the blue are working class. Each colored space on the map is a Census tract, a small area within a city or county that can be even smaller than a neighborhood.

Most of the city proper is purple, reflecting a large creative class concentration in some of the most sought-after neighborhoods such as Pacific Heights and Russian Hill. SoMa or South of Market, which stretches below Market Street along the eastern part of the city south of the Bay Bridge, is an area of mixed-use and warehouse buildings that are now home to the city's tech scene, including lots of start-up companies as well as big names like Twitter, Zynga, and Airbnb. SoMa bleeds south into Dogpatch, an enclave along Third Street where artists are being priced out by techies and entrepreneurs. The dark purple cluster in the center of the city runs from the Haight down to the Castro, Twin Peaks, and Noe Valley. The creative class makes up more than 60 percent of residents in the Presidio, the former military base where Lucasfilm as well as Industrial Light & Magic are located.

There is a strong relationship between creative class neighborhoods and the accessibility of public transit. San Francisco city proper is serviced by three main systems: the BART subway, MUNI bus system, and Caltrain. BART and Caltrain only run along one route each through the city, so as a result the MUNI buses and metro cars are the main points of transit around the city. The metro lines congregate under Market Street downtown and fan out in six directions. There is no MUNI metro that runs north of Golden Gate Park or Market Street, so buses are the only public transit beyond those points. Sarah Goodyear described on Cities a few months ago how the big Silicon Valley companies like Apple (in Cupertino) and Google (in Mountain View) operate shuttles to and from the city, as a considerable fraction of their workforce — both younger techies and more senior people who like to live in neighborhoods like Noe Valley, Pacific Heights, and Glen Park. Cities contributor Allison Arieff, a San Francisco resident, former editor-in-chief of Dwell and currently editor and content strategist for the urban think tank SPUR, points out that San Francisco remains a popular location for techies who work in and around Silicon Valley. "Not many people want to live in South San Francisco, Cupertino or Mountain View — the city remains an attractive option for a ton of workers at these south bay companies."

The red service class areas are in and around the city's downtown. These include Chinatown and the Tenderloin, an area between Union Square's hotels and shops and the performance halls surrounding City Hall. The large red cluster on the southern part runs from Bayview/Hunters Point, a low-income area with a large African American population, through Excelsior to the neighborhoods clustering around San Francisco State University.

While San Francisco is predominantly a creative class city — The San Francisco Chronicle describes the Tenderloin as "perhaps the last frontier in SF's ever-expanding gentrification trend" — its class does not divide along a directional axis as in say, Washington, D.C. Rather, there are often dramatic differences in class within a 10 or 15 minute walk from one another in and around the urban core. As Arieff points out:

There are dramatic class differences from block to block. Some of the most expensive real estate in Potrero Hill, for example, is two blocks from some of the most notorious public housing. And many tech companies have located within minutes of what is one of the most crime-ridden in the city: 6th Street (drug dealers, homeless, high degree of SROs). Also, the Mission remains the most highly contested neighborhood re: gentrification. As was the case during Dotcom 1.0 there is palpable tension between longtime Hispanic residents and the rapid influx of dotcom workers. The Mission has become the most desirable housing market of the tech community. 

$335 billion [PDF]. It includes both San Francisco and Oakland as well as nearby Berkeley, and extends north through Marin County and Tomales Bay, east past Mount Diablo to Antioch and Livermore, then south to the industrial area around Fremont on the East Bay.

The second map (see right, click for larger image) shows the class geography for the entire San Francisco metropolitan region. The metro is America's 11th largest, home to 4.4 million people with economic output of 

On the Peninsula, the metro stretches from the City down to Menlo Park and along the coast to Pescadero and La Honda, an area that is largely open space with a few small towns in the hills and along Highway 1, which runs along the coastline of the state.

The class divide in the metro is pronounced with large purple areas in and around San Francisco's gentrified urban core, around the University of California, Berkeley, in the north around Marin, and in southeast around Livermore and southwest around Menlo Park, surrounded by a mass of red. The red service class areas on the Peninsula include parts of Redwood City on the bay side of Highway 101 as well as East Palo Alto, a low-income pocket amid the relative wealth of neighboring Palo Alto and Menlo Park. The metro is almost completely post-industrial. There are only a handful of blue specks — indicating a large working class concentration — on the map in the East Bay, around Oakland, Hayward, and Richmond.

The next map of the metro area is interactive: Click on a tract to see its percentages of each of the three major classes.

The creative class includes people who work in science and technology, business and management, arts, culture media and entertainment, law and healthcare professions. All told its ranks make up 39.4 percent of the metro's workers, substantially better than the national average of 32.6 percent and has the 16th largest share among the nation's metros. These creative class positions are high-skilled, highly-educated, and high-paying where workers average $91,361 per year in wages and salaries, almost 30 percent more than the national average of $70,890 and second only to the nearby San Jose (Silicon Valley) metro.

An indication of just how much of a creative class metro greater San Francisco has become, the creative class makes up more than half of all residents in more than 40 percent of the metro's Census tracts — second only to Washington, D.C. of the metros we have covered in this series. The creative class makes up more than more than two-thirds of residents in more than one in 10 tracts (11.2 percent), again second only to D.C.

Top 10 Creative Class Locations in the San Francisco Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Creative Class Share
Upper Rockridge, Oakland (4043) 84.6%
Berkeley Hills, Berkeley (4213) 83.3%
Marina, San Francisco (126.01) 83.0%
Berkeley Hills, Berkeley (4212) 81.9%
The Haight, San Francisco (171.01) 79.9%
Union City (4403.35) 79.5%
San Ramon/Camp Parks (3551.17) 79.4%
Menlo Park (6126) 79.4%
Fremont (4421) 78.7%
Potrero Hill, San Francisco (227.02) 78.4%
Metro Average 39.4%

 

The top 10 creative class tracts are spread across the metro, although it skews outside of the city: only three of the top 10 are in the city proper.

Six of the top tracts are in the East Bay. The two Berkeley tracts are located next to each other in the Berkeley Hills and include the shopping district on Solano Avenue. The top ranked tract is Upper Rockridge in Oakland, a city which itself has a considerable class divide and has one of the highest violent crime rates in the nation. Rockridge is served by BART and has seen considerable gentrification. The San Francisco Chronicle describes the neighborhood as having "some of the most coveted real estate in the Bay Area." Unlike the city as a whole, this Oakland tract is 77 percent white and 77 percent of all housing is owner-occupied (compared to the city-wide 35 percent white and 37 percent owner-occupied). This illustrates the two worlds of Oakland — the socioeconomic status increases as you move from the bay- and highway-side flatlands to the hills. The remaining three East Bay creative class tracts are in Union City and Fremont, and one tract falls on the border between San Ramon and the U.S. Army Reserve's Parks training area.

The Marina, the tract with the highest creative class concentration in S.F., has a reputation for being chock-full of young former fraternity members. As The San Francisco Chronicle notes, "Today the apartment buildings, shops and restaurants seem to be bursting at their seams with beautiful, young and fit 20- and 30-somethings. The singles scene is hopping on Friday and Saturday nights, with lots of fresh-faced postgrads with cocktails in one hand and cell phones in the other." Lululemon-clad residents often take over the park along the water and nearby Crissy Field for running and volleyball on Saturday afternoons.

The Haight, the famed center of 1960s hippie movement fueled by Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead's fabled hangout on neighboring Ashbury Street, today retains much of that artistic and musical influence, home to vintage clothing stores, smokeshops, and cafes along with more modern stores like American Apparel and local high-end boutique chain Ambiance.

Potrero Hill, the third-highest S.F. tract for the creative class, is largely residential, home to some local favorites such as Farley's coffeeshop and Anchor Brewing Company.

One tract is in Menlo Park, typically thought of as part of Silicon Valley. The tract is just a few blocks from Palo Alto's University Avenue, a retail and restaurant district frequented by students from the neighboring Stanford University.

The metro as a whole is home to several major universities located in or near creative class tracts, including the University of California, Berkeley and the system's medical school, UC San Francisco, as well as a host of state universities and private colleges including Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga, the University of San Francisco, and Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.

The metro is also a hub for biotechnology. UCSF's main campus is located in the Inner Sunset near Golden Gate Park, in a tract where 74 percent of the residents are members of the creative class. Further down the Peninsula in South San Francisco is the corporate headquarters of Genentech.

The metro's creative class tracts also play host to a variety of research labs, including the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, home of the longest particle accelerator, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The creative class has even colonized Emeryville, a small city just off the Bay Bridge that was once an industrial center. Today, Pixar Animation Studios calls the city home, and in the city's top Census tract, more than half of residents are creative class.

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The service class entails low-wage, low-skill workers who work in routine service jobs such as food service and preparation, retail sales, and clerical and administrative positions. This is the largest class of workers in San Francisco, making up 44.1 percent of the region's workers, slightly less than the national average of 46.6 percent. Service workers in the metro average $36,426 in wages, better than the national average of $30,597 but just 40 percent of what the region's creative class workers earn. The service class makes up more than half of all residents in roughly one in five (22.8 percent) of the metro's Census tracts.

Top 10 Service Class Locations in San Francisco Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Service Class Share
Chinatown, San Francisco (118) 83.6%
Lakeshore, San Francisco (332.01) 76.4%
Tenderloin, San Francisco (124.01) 76.4%
Tenderloin, San Francisco (125.01) 76.1%
Tenderloin/Union Square, San Francisco (123.01) 75.7%
Chinatown, San Francisco (113) 74.7%
Hunters Point, San Francisco (231.03) 74.7%
Visitacion Valley, San Francisco (264.04) 70.8%
Chinatown, Oakland (4030) 70.4%
Menlo Park (6117) 69.5%
Metro Average 44.1%

 

Eight of the top 10 tracts are located in San Francisco. Six of the top 10 are located within about a 1.5-mile circle downtown, encompassing Chinatown and the Tenderloin. In the Hunters Point tract, 57 percent of residents are African American and 90 percent live in rented housing. The tract in Visitacion Valley, a largely residential neighborhood on the border of San Francisco and Daly City, abuts the Cow Palace, a large performance space that has hosted people ranging from John F. Kennedy to the Grateful Dead, and became the home of the San Francisco Bulls, the city's new hockey team, last October.

The remaining two tracts are located in Oakland and Menlo Park. The Oakland tract is in Chinatown near Downtown Oakland and only a few blocks from the legendary Fox Theater and the city's burgeoning nightlife district. The Menlo Park tract is northeast of Highway 101 and is largely waterfront and parkland, with a small section of residential areas.

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Members of the working class are employed in factory jobs as well as transportation and construction. The working class comprises 16.5 percent of the region's workers, substantially less than the national average of 20.5 percent. These blue-collar workers average $46,540 per year in wages and salaries, substantially better than the national average of $34,015 but just half of what the metro's creative class workers make. The working class makes up half of all residents in less than one percent (0.21 percent) of the metro's Census tracts, the second lowest figure next to greater Washington, D.C. Conversely, the working class makes up less than 10 percent of residents in nearly 40 percent (38.6 percent) of the metro's tracts.

Top 10 Working Class Locations in the San Francisco Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Working Class Share
Fremont, Oakland (4074) 57.2%
San Pablo (3680.02) 52.3%
Oakland Airport, Oakland (4090) 48.8%
Coliseum/Lockwood Tevis, Oakland (4088) 48.3%
Hayward (4377.02) 46.2%
Hayward (4367) 44.6%
Hayward (4374) 44.0%
Fitchburg, Oakland (4089) 43.8%
Eastmont, Oakland (4084) 43.7%
Sobrante Park (4092) 43.7%
Metro Average 16.5%

 

Half of the top working class tracts are in Oakland, and three are located near the Coliseum and Oakland Airport. The top tract is in the Fremont neighborhood, a tract with nearly 4,000 residents, and over half are working class.

While San Francisco is largely a creative class metro, especially in the city proper, there are still pockets of residents that are living a different reality. Residents in San Francisco's Hunters Point and the Oakland flatlands, while they may be paid more than the national averages, still are living in one of the most expensive metros in the country.

My next and final post in this series will look at Detroit.

Prior posts in this series:

All maps by MPI's Zara Matheson.

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