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Twitter’s New Digs, but will they ever leave the office?

Published August 2012 in San Francisco Magazine

A stroll through the new Mid–Market District reveals pretty much what a stroll through the old one did: grassy vacant lots, empty storefronts covered in paper and cardboard, and street people begging for change or digging through trash cans. But you’ll also hear the incessant din of jackhammers drumming and metal clanking, palpable signs of the massive reinvestment that’s sweeping this neighborhood—more development has been planned in the last year than in the previous half century.

A shopping mall is in the works; theaters and restaurants are opening or being revived; and 50 UN Plaza is getting a major renovation. But let’s face it: Twitter is the big kahuna. Twitter, plus the other tech companies that set up shop nearby after the social network announced last year that it would be moving into the massive art deco building between 9th and 10th streets. Dolby’s there now, too, along with Callsocket, One Kings Lane, and Yammer, the business-centered social network that Microsoft just picked up for $1.2 billion.

The hope is that employees at all these places—around 2,300 combined, plus an estimated 1,500 more over the next several years—will ensure the renaissance. They’ll go out for lunch or a drink after work; they’ll decide to shorten their commute and live in the hood—and commerce and nightlife will follow.

But just how much and what kind of change can we expect? It’s early, of course, but some local shop owners point out that business hasn’t exactly been booming since Twitter arrived. “It’s been hit-or-miss with them because they have their own food in the building,” says Corey Bernard, a counter clerk at Andersen Bread, across the street from Twitter. “Maybe once they get sick of it, they’ll come over here.” And with office rents rising (as much as 24 percent in the last year) and residential rents likely to follow, the chance that we’ll end up with yet another homogeneous neighborhood that’s out of reach for the middle class doesn’t seem all that remote. Supervisor David Campos voted against the tax break that brought Twitter to mid-Market precisely because he was concerned that the community wouldn’t necessarily benefit.

Still, many urban planning types are surprisingly upbeat about the possibilities. For Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association), an independent nonprofit, the main reason mid-Market has more than a fighting chance is its location. “Market Street has the greatest concentration of transit west of Chicago,” he says. “There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be thriving with all kinds of people.” But first, he adds, the city has to change what he calls its “anti-housing policy. We’re adding to demand, but not adding enough supply.”

That’s exactly what Mayor Ed Lee is trying to remedy, with a proposal that would fund affordable housing over the next 30 years. If we continue down that path, says Metcalf, “mid-Market is going to be an only–in–San Francisco type of place. We’re going to see the whole human rainbow, which is how cities should be.”

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