Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
The Facebook founder wants to get out and see more of America in 2017. He should think more carefully about his own back yard.
Mark Zuckerberg wants to hit the trail. For his New Year’s resolution, the Facebook founder is pledging a cross-country trek: a campaign, if you will, to glad-hand with people across all the many states he’s never visited. It’s the Zuck’s personal challenge for 2017, similar to goals he set for himself in previous years, such as learning Mandarin, building an AI for his house (Jarvis), and giving away his stake in his company.
That last item isn’t a resolution, per se, but it might be a prelude to a change in career. “After a tumultuous last year, my hope for this challenge is to get out and talk to more people about how they're living, working and thinking about the future,” he writes on Facebook. Whatever his personal ambitions may be—Facebook founder seems as good as any route to the White House—his resolution is a respectable one. All of us could use to get out more and meet people from other walks of life, especially those of us who work in media and technology. (Facebook represents both and yet neither.)
Without knowing exactly which are the 30 states that Zuckerberg has yet to visit, it’s hard to come up with a list of suggestions. Given that education and faith are important to Zuckerberg and pediatrician Priscilla Chan, his wife and co-philanthropist, one for his list might be Dearborn, Michigan, a community with a large Muslim population and one of the most socioeconomically diverse public education systems in the country. Zuckerberg wants to see college towns, for whatever reason, so why not stop by Vermillion, South Dakota, a city with the highest gown-to-town (student-to-resident) ratio in the country? There are loads of places for him to see, but he might steer clear of Newark, New Jersey, where his last foray into activism didn't go over so well.
But there’s only one place where Zuckerberg’s campaign for 2020—or whatever, his totally casual trip to meet people in all 50 states—really needs to start. And that’s San Francisco.
This might seem to be a no-brainer. After all, Zuckerberg lives in the Bay Area. He could just step outside his $10 million San Francisco home, which was until recently the most expensive house in the Mission District, and greet his neighbors with a warm hello. He could treat them all to coffee at Philz in Dolores Heights. He might also invite along neighbors of his Palo Alto residence. (He could afford to buy a latte for the population of the entire world several times over).
The thing is, Zuckerberg’s neighbors hate him. Not for especially compelling reasons, mind you. Zuckerberg’s Mission neighbors mostly hate the fact that his security squad takes up so much street parking. In Palo Alto, on the other hand, Zuckerberg bought all the properties adjacent to his home after “learning of a developer's plan to build a large house next door that would have a view of Zuckerberg's master bedroom,” according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
For a person who is looking to launch a national debate about Mark Zuckerberg, this seems like a pretty bad way to start the conversation.
Many San Francisco residents might consider Zuckerberg to be the face of the housing affordability crisis in the Bay Area. Only Google rivals Facebook as a technology space synonymous with displacement, rising rents, and soaring income inequality, factors that are transforming life in what was formerly a hippie idyll.
San Francisco’s housing crisis stems from an enormous tilt in housing demand in the Bay Area driven by a supervolcanic explosion in regional productivity, combined with a profound disinclination among residents to build housing to meet this demand. Facebook is certainly one part of that problem. Constraints on housing supply in San Francisco, San Jose, and New York alone have soaked the national economy for 10 percent of GDP. As researchers Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti explain, land-use policies in Silicon Valley, specifically the technology corridor running between San Francisco and San Jose, are remarkably low density by global standards, thanks to local land-use regulations.
Zuckerberg surely knows it, if only from the high wages he must pay his employees in order to keep up with skyrocketing housing costs. While the billionaire founder of Facebook isn’t exactly positioned to start recommending that San Francisco accept drastically more-dense construction, he could talk to his neighbors about California's Proposition 13, the Tax Revolt of 1978, and rule by ballot measure in the Bay Area. Zuckerberg might then find that people like Zuckerberg pay too little in the way of property taxes in California and receive far, far more than their share of the amenities.
Whether Zuckerberg feels inclined to do anything to fix a worsening status quo depends on which way he tilts politically—left, right, or otherwise. If he wants to change the world, he could start by thinking locally, where powerful people just like Zuckerberg, if not including Zuckerberg, have hardly lifted a finger to ameliorate the suffering caused by the housing crisis. Not suffering for a lack of ambition, have proven remarkably unmoved by the massive structural problem right in front of them, in the communities in which they live and work. Zuckerberg’s neighbors may prefer that he not bother. But he could do worse to launch a campaign than by convincing his neighbors that he deserves their votes, not just their likes.