If you were to read the papers, or pick up any glossy travel mag with the Bay Area on the cover, or look at really any website, you’d think that there was no one in San Francisco over the age of 30. Indeed, you’d think the whole Bay Area was a “Millennial-Only Zone”.
Now, this certainly is a youthful town, with a feeling of constant reinvention, but that ethos comes as much from its adventurous older adults as it does from the celebrated youth. In fact, the median age in San Francisco is 38.5; in the US overall it is 37.8. Gives some lie to the idea that the town belongs to millennials.
But living here, you know that. You know it is a diverse city, with all races, genders, beliefs, and yes, ages. You are part of this city, and it is part of you. So why does it feel like everything in the city is geared toward youth? And what can you do about it?
The reasons are fairly complex (and really also kind of simple), but the way to navigate a city that seems built around the young is to remember that no matter what, you should live your life the way you want, the way that makes you happy. Even in the midst of your golden years, you never have to stop living.
Understanding San Francisco’s Changing Youth Culture
Sometimes, when talking to older Institute on Aging members about youth culture in the Bay Area, they sort of laugh at me. After all, they remind me, some of them came to the area because of the youth culture almost 50 years ago.
San Francisco and the Bay Area has always been a symbol of freedom and possibility. From Jack London to Jack Kerouac, it was a place of personal reinvention, artistic creation, and political transformation. As the old port-and-military feeling gave way to bohemian rebellion, culminating in the Summer of Love, this was firmly a city for the young.
But it feels a little different now. Youth culture might still be about the spirit of reinvention, but in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, it also revolves around actual inventions. Tech has come to dominate the city, attracting young well-educated people from around the country and the world. Art and bohemia are still hugely important and essential parts of our city’s tapestry, but tech and commerce now drive virtually every civic decision.
This has led to significant economic challenges for both newcomers and long-time residents alike. It’s not just that a one-bedroom is going to set you back $3500 a month. The total cost of living is 62% higher than the national average. So it isn’t that the city is geared toward the young; it is that it is geared toward the tech-wealthy, many of whom happen to be young. Not necessarily millionaires, but what we would call solid upper middle class. The economic and political power of this demographic means that city development and policy decisions increasingly happen with their interests in mind.
There have been huge benefits from the tech boom. But there have been drawbacks as well, including making older adults feel like they aren’t part of the city culture.
Well, they are. You are. And there are ways to live like it.
How To Grow Old In A Millennial Town
If you want to age in place and still be an active participant in our city’s culture, there are a few ways to do it.
San Francisco is an increasingly expensive place to live, leaving many older adults feeling economically pushed out of the city they love. But there may be ways for you to lessen the financial burden of San Francisco living, including:
- Think about downsizing. If you own your home, you may want to keep it, given prices in the area. But the house may be too large to maintain, it may be dangerous to live in a place with too many stairs, and it may not need your transportation needs as you age. If this is the case, consider selling or renting out your home and finding a more affordable housing option. For some, this can simply mean moving to a smaller house or apartment in their current neighborhood. But it can also be a chance to try out a new area altogether. San Francisco offers some great areas for downsizing, including Bernal Heights, Mission Bay, and Rockridge, which have vibrant nightlife for all ages, natural beauty, and are very walkable/rideable. If you want to be part of things, and to be part of things with people your age, keep an eye on those neighborhoods.
- Look for tax incentives. Downsizing doesn’t help everyone of course, and there are many neighborhoods that may be economically inaccessible to you, especially if you have been part of a historically marginalized community. If downsizing isn’t the answer for you, you may still be able to ease the financial burden of city living by connecting with programs designed to help older adults, including tax postponements for aging in place.
- Take advantage of opportunities for savings. Employ cost-cutting tips like using safe generic drugs, taking staycations, or enjoying free area activities. Indeed, San Francisco is full of free activities. You can walk along the Bay or in the parks, enjoy our museums, and even take in some birdwatching. There is both natural and manmade beauty in the area, including hidden gems that even most natives don’t know.
While there are ways to navigate living in a city increasingly geared around wealthy young people, belonging in? it isn’t just about money. In order to ensure your needs are taken into account, you have to participate. That means:
- Vote in local elections. Voting gives you a meaningful voice in what happens in our city. City council elections are probably the most important since they impact day-to-day activities. By supporting candidates dedicated to making the city livable and accessible for older residents, you can be a part of improving quality of life in San Francisco. This year’s elections are on June 5th.
- Get involved. Making your voice heard, of course, isn’t just about elections. If the city seems to be trying to cater only to the young, speak up and promote the interests of older adults. Start a group, or join one that fights for what you believe in. Not only are you making a difference, but you are making friends, getting out there, and feeling energized.
- Learn as much as you can. An annoying stereotype about older adults is that they don’t like to learn new things. Fight against that. Make an effort to understand the tech culture and the society built around it. You can be a part of it. In San Francisco, there are plentiful resources designed to support senior digital literacy and taking advantage of these programs can open up new paths to connection and belonging.
The Ferlinghetti Method of Growing Old
While there are important practical considerations for growing old in San Francisco, our sense of belonging is also about our state of mind, the way we see ourselves, and the way we approach the world around us. A few years ago, we had the pleasure of writing about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet and bookstore owner who was considered an elder statesman when Kerouac blew into town. At 98, he’s still writing and working, and walking around from his 2nd-story walkup. While he is a legend, he isn’t really any different from any other older adult and his outlook can serve as an inspiration to all of us as we age:
The fog seems colder than when he was young, and the hills steeper. He neither wallows in the good old days nor forgets them. He has embraced each stage of life with vigor and enthusiasm. He keeps old friends but never stops making new ones.
In this way, Ferlinghetti, who was once on trial for crimes against culture, has become an institution. It isn’t because of his store, though there is an element of that. It isn’t because everyone agrees with his politics (what fun would that be?). It’s because he has shown how to age well, how to enjoy life, how to view your place in the world as a living, breathing person, curious about every day. He’s created a city’s culture, but has done so quietly, modestly, and with love. He’s shown the honor in being yourself, every day of a long life.
That’s what it is all about. The city may seem young when you click on Wired.com, but it is your city. It is your home. Living your life each and every day with pride, with adventure, and knowing that you belong is how you grow old. You never have to stop exploring, and you never have to believe that it is only the young who are allowed to dream.
Even in San Francisco they don’t believe that. In fact, especially in San Francisco they don’t believe that, because you prove that idea wrong, every day.
At Institute on Aging, our programs and services help older adults, their families, and caregivers explore aging together, through good times and bad, as an adventure and a journey. Connect with us today to learn more.