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A new book from Richard A. Walker, a professor emeritus of geography at the University of California, Berkeley, called Pictures of a Gone City, explores "the basic crisis and contradiction of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is an example of capitalism at its most innovative and dynamic, and simultaneously the site of severe inequality and failing public policies and infrastructure."

Here, CityLab's Richard Florida talked with Walker about the city:

The Bay Area has always been a much desired and relatively expensive place to live. What’s different now?
In the 1950s postwar era, when the Beats were going strong, and right through the 1960s, San Francisco was remarkably cheap, actually, because it wasn’t as in demand as New York. So people could find places to rent in North Beach, which now is regarded as very luxurious. What [happened] is, around 1970, there’s an inflection point where prices in California in general take off and start to outrun most of the rest the country. And then there’s another inflection point around the 1990s. California created enormous numbers of jobs for a very long time, and then it’s generated massive wealth, particularly here in the Bay Area. That means that the upper 20 percent of the population have an enormous amount of disposable income they can spend on rent, [so] they’ve bid the rents up for the desirable parts of the city.

What is it about the area that allowed it to create such an advantage in high-tech industries?
It’s always had a very high component of skilled labor. It always had tons of capital—it really was the number-two financial center in the country since World War II. And that had always supported new industries. There’s a certain social culture of openness and opportunity. It really goes back to the Gold Rush. This is something that runs very deep in the Bay Area, and California as a whole.

So what are the things that have gone badly wrong in the Bay Area?
The housing crisis is really grotesque here. Hundreds of thousands of people are being priced out of the city and having to move either far out into the Central Valley, where you’re 100 miles away from the center, or they give up and go to Las Vegas or Reno or Oregon, or wherever the possibilities seem better for ordinary working folks. Urban sprawl—that has not been solved at all. You look at the revival of San Francisco and many of the centers, like Oakland. But at the same time, urban sprawl goes on forever, with all the negatives of that, which I discuss in a whole chapter on environmental impacts, because that is still eating land like crazy and eating resources and water, and we’re dealing with its air pollution.

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