HBO Documentary Review: ‘San Francisco 2.0’

San Francisco has changed immensely, and not for the best, ever since affluent members of the tech world have begun to move there in the last decade or so. Thus is the main thesis of Alexandra Pelosi’s new documentary ‘San Francisco 2.0’. While the phenomena she explores is not necessarily unique to California’s Golden City, there may be no starker of an example.

Income disparity has grown exponentially. The cost of living has reached ludicrous levels, making it one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. Older buildings have begun to be knocked down to make room for pricier newer places. Rents have likewise increased. It is becoming more and more impossible for middle and lower class individuals to make ends meet living in the city.

Pelosi herself is from San Francisco, which clearly makes this a personal project. She has spent most of the past few years living in New York, but when she returns home it just does not feel like the place she grew up. The so-called “tech bro” class, all of the newfound tech millionaires, have made San Francisco their destination of choice for settling down, and with this influx of wealth has come a necessity, at least in the eyes of the city leaders, for high rise apartments and luxury worthy of such newcomers.

The documentary fills out Pelosi’s experiences with interviews of a few of these tech millionaires along with a few California politicians, including Governor Jerry Brown and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, and most poignantly some local San Francisco residents. Perhaps the best interview she conducts is with former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who critiques the increasing divide between the small number of super wealthy and everybody else. The new face of the economy being personified in San Francisco and other US cities is becoming a type of “social Darwinism,” he chides.

Reich’s points are brought to life by Pelosi’s interviews with San Franciscans who tell heartbreaking stories about how the changes to the city have forced them out of their homes and are slowly pushing them out of the city entirely. With apartments that rent for around $10,000 a month and trendy restaurants with $56 burgers none of this comes as a surprise, but the takeaway question is an open one: what should be done?

‘San Francisco 2.0’ is not a very long documentary, running at only forty-ish minutes. Nevertheless it is well worth a watch, though those who live in San Francisco may not need to see the film to know what is going on. There is a growing divide in many cities across the US between the wealthy and the middle and lower classes. As Robert Reich says at one point in the film, how “can we maintain a sense of being one people” without economic diversity?

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