My fourth day of work was September 11, I was down there that morning. I heard the whiz and whir of the second plane go by our building.
The Robin Hood Foundation, the next two years, was the perfect place to be to help lift up New York City and to help, specifically, those hardest hit by those attacks—low-income New Yorkers. He applied business practices and philosophies to philanthropic investing. I liked that.
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I was next to Steve Jobs when he met his wife. And I saw that a different kind of personal enthusiasm was tangible. A different kind of expansion. And that was love. The stories were often wildly opposed in their objectives.
And yet all were pure of heart and ambitious, as if the entire city were writing its college-admission essay all the time. The tech industry has a reputation for slickness, but the polished personal narratives I heard extended far beyond corporate life. Each person sought his or her own private moment of transcendence. The industrial-age nightmare was that technology would efface the self, but it seems, if anything, to have nurtured a new style of romanticism.
If you want to strut down Broadway to a Gershwin soundtrack, it can be so. To be freed from the stranglehold of Big Media is, instead, to be deluged with a range of online commentary on matters big and small, a thousand click-bait headlines, a million points of irrelevant data presented in a hundred winsome graphic forms. So, too, with political language. Where customization is the norm, discussion—between strangers and opponents—becomes hard. Negotiation migrates underground, among close affiliates. Publicly, we volley with broad precepts we can all affirm: creativity and kindness are good; cruelty and oppression are bad.
Perhaps all this explains how, even when it comes to matters of wide civic concern, a city of progressives can see so little political progress. There are more than sixty zoning divisions, and all construction is subject to discretionary review, so projects that might get swiftly under way in other cities can struggle through bureaucracy for years. Adding homes at the high end of the market could also entice more rich suburbanites into town.
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Supply-side urbanists like Metcalf and Yarne solve the problem by zooming out on the map. How realistic is this? Marin—a residential county north of San Francisco, which has no commuter trains to the city—has twice backed off from plans for a BART extension, and most suburbs resist dense housing. For San Francisco, the problem is not new. A few years later, the Transamerica Pyramid, a now iconic skyscraper, was built, having been promoted by a pro-growth mayor.
It sat on the former site of the Montgomery Block, a citadel of local literary and artistic history.
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In light of these precedents, activists have tried to slow upmarket construction, leaning on regulation and protesting urban tech—essentially, doing all the things that supply-focussed urbanists blame for the problem. Local politicians have been caught in the middle. People in suits were hunkering down at tables. Art Agnos, the mayor from to , wandered around in a polo shirt, shaking hands. Now, with Square, Dolby, Zynga, and other companies based in the area, she has aligned herself with the fight against displacement.
I asked whether her thinking had changed. Innovation has buoyed the city and established new styles of communication. This past January, Tom Perkins, an eighty-two-year-old venture capitalist, composed a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal in which he compared Google-bus blocking and criticism of affluent San Franciscans to the massacres of Kristallnacht.
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The letter became one of the most widely and alarmedly read in the history of the Journal. We were sitting at a leather-and-chrome card table in his apartment, known as the Grand Penthouse, on the top floor of a new luxury-housing skyscraper called the Millennium Tower. From to , he was the fifth husband of the novelist Danielle Steel. He said that they still speak regularly, and it was a series of attacks on Steel in the local press that prompted Perkins, who formerly sat on the board of the News Corporation, to compose his letter.
Usually, he has a sense of humor about his superrich perspective. If interest rates rise once more, wealth will settle into other spaces. After a while, Perkins finished the espresso he was drinking, and his assistant brought him a can of lemon San Pellegrino. Perkins led me to the window, where a typewriter-like device rested. I restored it. This gadget almost cost England the war.
Perkins considers Ron Conway a friend, and admires the pro-business policies that Conway and Sf. Citi have pushed through. He also admires the country of Australia, which he believes approaches the freewheeling, entrepreneurial bliss of Northern California at the time he arrived, in It was a loose town where anything went, and I loved it.
San Francisco was that way. It was artistic, outrageous. The gays had a lot to do with that. North Beach. The Beats. The jazz. I asked Perkins whether he saw a way to preserve communities of writers and artists in town. He sighed and thought for several long moments. It targeted real-estate speculators who have repeatedly evicted senior tenants—an act, she argued, that was tantamount to elder abuse, and thus prosecutable by the District Attorney. Tiny stood with a bullhorn before a cluster of reporters.
Luis J. When the program ended, Benito Santiago stopped drumming on his dumbeck so that the protesters could begin a prayer song. The woman, a chief assistant named Sharon Woo, looked at Tiny, and then at the crowd, with the expression of somebody whose dinner guests have arrived twenty-five minutes early. After a while, Erin McElroy worked her way to the front. She opened her laptop, and she and Tiny copied data onto filing forms. The crowd grew restless. Finally, Woo returned. Then they could set up a meeting to go over their concerns in a week or so.
He has run a series of politically oriented startups, most recently NationBuilder, which created just-add-water Web sites for technologically challenged politicians and organizations. Since , he has led an advocacy group, FWD. The organization was founded under the aegis of Mark Zuckerberg and represents a range of tech power; its founding partners include John Doerr, Bill Gates, and Sean Parker, as well as Ron Conway.
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Green is friendly and fast-talking, with a mop of curly brown hair. He made a little grimace after each sip of coffee, as if still trying to acclimate to the taste. The FWD. At a city council showdown in , livability prevailed, paving the way for the block area we now call the R Street Corridor. It would be almost another two decades before much of anything stirred at the Ice Blocks. But when the time came to pull the trigger, Friedman found himself committed to another catalytic undertaking, the Golden 1 Center.
He turned to Heller, a good friend with whom he had previously collaborated on various urban projects, and together they decided that Heller would take the lead on the R Street endeavor, with Friedman staying on as an investor Sacramento Republic FC chairman and CEO Kevin Nagle is also an investor. It was a passionate time of my life.
Strategic demolition to clear the path for reconstruction had barely begun in late when Heller got a call at 5 a. Within hours, the Crystal Ice block had burned beyond repair. Investigators never found the exact cause of the fire, but there is no indication that it was anything other than a gut-wrenching mishap. So he rallied the troops. So, one week to feel sh-tty. The following January, the developer flew his design team up to Portland for inspiration.
There was no metal or concrete. This was the new rage in the structural [engineering] world. In the meantime, architect Vrilakas remembers, the total loss of the Crystal Ice warehouse block and the historic atmosphere it lent the development inspired Heller to double down on rescuing the charmingly distressed but structurally unstable Orchard Supply Co.
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The economic forces were saying it was too expensive. The original idea was spectacular, but what he selected has many of the same aesthetic elements that were so appealing about the original—the warm wooden ceilings, the honest, muscular construction style. A soaring wall of glass faces north, toward R Street, the better for pedestrians to appreciate the view inside to the exposed structure, where expanses of rough, knotty Douglas fir, laminated into beams, girders and columns, support wide-open spaces with an indoor-outdoor feel. At a smaller scale, the structure would be reminiscent of a cozy yet progressive modernist vacation home you might see in the pages of Sunset or Dwell , but at this massive scale, the soft wood and expansive interior take on a startling grandeur.
A lot of the timber in the building is industrial grade, and we actually thought it looked more interesting with the knots and gaps. Of course, Heller says. So on R Street, we want views from the street looking up into the wood and cool lighting. Heller is somewhat of a Steve Jobs-ian control freak when it comes to design.
But when we worked with Mike, he was trying to pull us to a higher level.
It was an interesting turning of the tables for us. Heller has a long history of holding his tenants to ideals that can be challenging. With the Ice Blocks, Heller has the opportunity to indulge his inner city planner and create the most complete manifestation of his urban ideal—a living, breathing diorama of the kind of Sacramento that he personally wants to experience.