I’ve always viewed Redwood City as the melting pot of the Peninsula Bay Area and have been blessed to have grown up in such a great community. Rich, private school kids hanging along-side kids from the barrio, to me – at least – there was never a social or cultural ladder, really.
My family is as white as white rice comes. Actually, forget the rice. We were as white as white-washed comes. Despite being half Filipino and half Chinese, I grew up knowing neither language, and nothing of being Filipino (but that’s for another blogpost). My parents raised us in Catholic, private schools – something I stuck with all through my years of schooling (minus NYU which was private, but not Catholic…obviously).
Redwood City is truly a curious demographic mix up. Apart from its famous motto: “Climate Best by Government Test,” the city boasts great diversity in its residents. According to recent census surveys, 44% of the population is White, 38% Latino, 10% Asian, and goes on from there. Being the “token Asian” was a common occurrence, I hardly… if ever… felt like a “minority”, but that’s just me. The thing is, no one is really a “minority” in Redwood City. Or at least that’s how I remember things growing up. **DISCLAIMER: In editing, I realize it sounds like I may have just grown up insanely unaware of my surroundings. Quite possible, but I like to think I was a smart kid.**
Early last month I went home to give old RWC a visit. Granted, I had been back for the Holidays, but within 6 months the entire landscape of the city had already changed.
Redwood City is located perfectly between San Francisco proper – to the North – and Palo Alto and Silicon Valley in the South. In case you’ve been living under a rock, San Francisco / Silicon Valley has experienced a tech-boom sort of gold-rush, if I may. The result: JOBS. Which are really great things!
But let’s break it down:
Jobs equals influx of people equals great new restaurants and bars and fun things which also equals housing for all of these people and fun things to live in. The simple rule of supply and demand shows us that when there are a lot of people needing apartments/housing, supply also has to increase. And that’s where I’ve found issue.
Living in NYC, I’ve read countless New York Times articles about the gentrification of Williamsburg (done deal), the gentrification of Greenpoint, Harlem, etc. and also in San Francisco (see Mission gentrification). Summarily (again, in case you’ve been living under a rock), new money, typically, young white people are pushing out and outpricing locals out of housing in their own neighborhoods – historically black and latino. Reading these articles was always interesting to me – thanks to my Dad who’s instilled an extreme interest in NYC and SF real estate – mostly because was able to look at the situation from the outside.
Redwood City’s landscape, to date, is now littered with high rise, luxury apartments. Corporate logos are adorned on buildings that were once reserved for affordable housing. Small cafes have been edged out of business by larger chains like Philz Coffee (oh but for fuckssake, it tastes so good though). Employees at mom & pop Mexican restaurants aren’t even Mexican anymore… they’re white hipsters.
I went to this year’s 4th of July parade, where I usually run into families and kids I used to teach swim lessons to at the community pool. Maybe I’ve aged out of being the “cool lifeguard,” (confirmed. I have) but I recognized nobody. Instead of once-little-Juan and Jose and their families, I saw young white and Asian couples… yuppies galore. So not only has the physical city of Redwood City changed – the culture and the people have changed drastically as well.
It’s an exciting time to live in the Bay Area with all of the companies and start ups flourishing. However I’m not sure if I feel nostalgic, or saddened by the new developments (literally and figuratively) happening in the city I grew up in. My family lives very comfortably in RWC and we are probably the target for a lot of these new restaurants and stores and businesses popping up, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not disappointed in the direction the city has gone. In fact, my Dad served on the city’s planning commission for years, up until this year. Having grown up in the Bay Area, and in RWC for decades, he has always supported affordable housing. Speaking out against the new luxury high rises (catering to the tech and startup communities), he soon found himself off of the planning commission. This obviously leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, but even before learning about this, I was definitely shocked to drive through RWC in July for the first time since December to see the changed city scape.
I am very nostalgic about the way things were when I was growing up. In middle school, my friends from public schools told me how they weren’t able to wear red or blue shirts to school (gangs were still very prevalent in the city), and now the biggest problem the city has is figuring out how to turn old apartments into profitable high rises. Even while enjoying a Philz mint mojito iced coffee, its still hard to see the upside to all of this gentrification business, even if you are on the side that benefits ultimately.
And for all you RWC locals. Google “Depot Circle”.