Today was the end of a 3 day summit that all my colleagues and I attended out in California. I got a good chance to visit a few places in the Bay Area. While I've been here many times before I never get tired of returning and can seriously see myself living here (at least for a few years) at some point in my life. Here are some quick thoughts about the various places I went to.
I spent a few nights at my Aunt's house in a town bordering Berkeley, and was able to make a few trips into town during my stay. Although I was recently in the Philippines, I did have a week back in NYC between that trip and this trip out to the Bay Area. In that week it was cold and snowed a few times - including one storm that gave us over 6 inches of snow! The first thing I noticed when I was out and about in Berkeley was how warm it was, and how great living in the 'winter' it is for people out here. Berkeley itself is a quintessential college town, albeit with part of the campus located on some pretty giant hills. What's also interesting is how Berkeley bleeds into Oakland - there doesn't really seem to be a clear delineation between the two places - all of a sudden you just realize you're in Oakland.
My Aunt and I made a brief trip to Oakland one day. I could tell that the city was struggling - a lot of homeless people, graffiti, and dilapidation. It kind of reminded me of Florida - nice weather, palm trees, and quite a lot of run down areas. Having said all that I just couldn't shake the feeling that Oakland has a ton of potential. The Bay Area is a phenomenal place to live, with a ton of great schools, smart people, amenable weather, and economic opportunity. With the insane housing prices of San Francisco and Silicon Valley - I'm surprised that Oakland hasn't seen more of an influx of people (although it is happening). Perhaps the regulations for building new houses and office space are just as bad as across the Bay, but I'd imagine the city would jump at the prospect of becoming the home of all the newcomers to the area. Why aren't there more residential towers, corporate skyscrapers, and subway lines being built here?
I got into (the much colder) San Francisco super early one morning, and wandered into a cafe to eat breakfast. The entire place was abuzz with talk of technology and investments. I've heard stories of how in Silicon Valley (which is increasingly moving into San Francisco) that tech is all anyone talks about, that you can run into famous investors while walking down the street, and that you can pay your rent by giving your landlord equity in your startup. Perhaps this was only the case during the dot com era, or perhaps this is just an exaggerated perspective I've come have, but nonetheless my brief experience in this cafe has only reinforced this notion for me. In other cities people talk about a lot of things - but here it seemed to only be technology and investing in technology.
I spent the majority of my time in downtown San Jose. What a sleepy town. It seems like any normal smallish American city - a few 10-20 story buildings, lots of low rise apartment complexes, wide streets, lots of cars. However, just walking from my hotel to my the office I was working out of I'd pass the headquarters of companies like Adobe! For some reason I never really associated San Jose with Silicon Valley - but this is really the belly of the beast. I had some good food, including one lunch consisting of 10(!) tacos - but still came away wishing I had gotten to eat better Mexican food. As with Oakland, I'm really surprised that San Jose hasn't capitalized on the housing woes of San Francisco, and done more to increase density and take in Bay Area newcomers.
Overall life seems good out here. I've really gotten jaded about Silicon Valley in recent years with the housing issues, anti-tech sentiment, ageism, and focus on building the next photo sharing app instead of solving real problems. However, after coming out here, I think it's important that I separate out these these issues from the quality of life that could be enjoyed out here. NYC, where I live, has it's own set of issues too - massive inequality, corruption, and the craziest rental market in the world - just to name a few. While these issues do have an impact in the lives of New Yorkers - it's not something that really brings me down on a day-to-day basis. The point is, I shouldn't let the long term problems that Silicon Valley has get in the way of me trying to one day spend a few years living here - it's really a great place.