homo bay areaus

What is it about the Bay Area? I lived there for eight years and I’ve continued to maintain ties for another fifteen. Yet, it wasn’t until last Thursday, when I was visiting with my former student Rashawn Ray, that I was bluntly asked “what’s the deal with Bay Area people?” It’s not just an urban place, it’s not just a diverse place, and it’s not just a liberal place. There’s something more to it than that.

Let’s start with the Bay Area’s unique geography. It’s a ring shaped community that stretches from Silicon Valley, up through Richmond, around Marin, into San Francisco and then down into the peninsula. Each area represents a different type of community. In Silicon Valley, you are at the commanding heights of the world economy, while in Richmond you have the remnants of the Black working class. In Berkeley and Stanford, you have intellect and high culture. San Francisco is a petri dish of grungy subcultures. There’s also the Bay Area’s place in the global economy. It’s a compact metropolitan area perched between the American West and the Pacific.

This helps us flesh out the Bay Area ethos. It’s intellectual, multicultural, and highly liberal. It’s ambitious and extremely competitive, while being precious and a bit snooty. It’s also grungy and alternative. Appearing effete from the outside, but up close, it’s a culture based on hard work. As my spouse likes to say, Danville is where you live if you’ve earned your money. You’ll see a lot of Asian engineers and managers in Danville.

There’s one aspect of the Bay Area ethos that deserves mention – its heterogeneous pragmatism. People will bring together all kinds of different skills and life experiences in their work. For example, I recently met a man who was in the army, studies circus art, like juggling, and now does traditional healing like shiatsu. This man exposed his son to many of these skills, which helped the son excel in high school athletics and earn a scholarship at a leading university.

It’s this ability to successfully bring together seemingly unrelated skills is very Bay Area. Perhaps the most remarkable example is Steve Jobs, who brought a love of calligraphy and design to the staid hobby of home computing. It’s not surprising that Jobs grew up in the Bay Area. In contrast, most of the other Silicon Valley moguls built their fortunes by exploiting a single idea (e.g., DOS or social networking), often hatched in other places.

The Bay Area ethos is a rare conglomerate of things that don’t normally go together. It should be enjoyed.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 8, 2012 at 12:01 am

Posted in culture, fabio

11 Responses

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  1. someone once told me that the bay area is like the good looking person who knows how good looking they are: They’d even better if they weren’t so pretentious.



    May 8, 2012 at 2:41 am

  2. I didn’t mean that to say “Hey Fabio, you’re pretentious!” I just thought it was funny and wanted to see what people thought.



    May 8, 2012 at 3:10 am

  3. Is Fabio shilling for Richard Florida’s Bohemian index?

    It certainly is a diverse community, but so are most major coastal metropolitan areas like NYC, LA, DC, etc. My experience there always reminded me of a second city complex. San Francisco knows it’s not New York and hates New York for it. So it makes up for it by being “pacifist aggressive”–everybody is equal and deserving of respect until they use a plastic bag.



    May 8, 2012 at 5:38 am

  4. @current: No offense taken. The Bay Area definitely has a huge Portlandia complex, it may have invented Portlandia. On a more serious note, what I find interesting about the Bay Area is that it ultimately rises above Portlandia. It may be precious, but it is also serious.

    @cwalken: Well, you are entitled to your impression. In the Bay Area, yes, there is a distinction in life style. It’s self consciously mellow rather than hurried. And very hippie of course. That’s not affected. It’s really there. But what I also find interesting is the combination of hippie culture with the global economy. Focus too much on plastic bags and you just aren’t getting the Bay Area vibe.



    May 8, 2012 at 6:09 am

  5. Having grown up in the Bay Area (yo, San Bruno!), I do feel different when I’m there. I think it is indeed the pace, people are sort of purposeful but not in a rush. It’s a match for me, so it feels like home.



    May 8, 2012 at 11:00 am

  6. My in-laws are from the Bay Area and I definitely know this vibe you’re referring to. But the Bay Area has a lot of ideological and demographic diversity. The suburbs (places like Walnut Creek, Concord, and Pleasonton) were a hot bed for Tea Party activism and lean Republican. Oakland is quite different from San Francisco – more blue collar and certainly more racially diverse. The area is home to a huge Pacific Islander population, not all of whom are liberal in a political sense.

    So I’m concurring with you that the Bay Area is multicultural and heterogeneous, but I think the perception that the Bay Area is a hipster paradise is somewhat the product of a selection effect. You can find that for sure in leaps and bounds, but we tend to notice it more because the places academics visit tend to be centers of activity for intellectual types and hipsters.


    brayden king

    May 8, 2012 at 2:11 pm

  7. The seven years I spent in the Bay Area were amusing, but I was beaten down by the Big-M Materialistic culture there over time. It mattered how many toys (sailboard, skis, espresso machine, car, jewelry) one had. It mattered where you lived. Your weekend getaway (Tahoe, Soquel, Mendocino) had to be more costly than your co-workers and it codified your status among “friends”.

    It wasn’t all counterculture and Zen.



    May 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm

  8. The historical parallel to Venice is interesting to me. Geography similarly creates denser population, also at an international crossroad. Like Venice to Rome, the Bay Area has to prove itself to NY and DC without the benefit of an establishment. Like Venice, the Bay Area was built by pirates and engenders a loyalty among its inhabitants.


    Michael F. Martin

    May 8, 2012 at 3:15 pm

  9. @ Randy: As opposed to … [insert major metropolitan area here]



    May 9, 2012 at 12:28 am

  10. Montréal, Pittsburgh, Madison, Vancouver,…



    May 9, 2012 at 2:36 am

  11. I think the “homo” part of homo bay areaus has to count for something.


    D'uble N. Tendre

    May 9, 2012 at 9:49 pm

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