Here is the second part of a letter Elizabeth and I wrote to Mayor Lee about how to make San Francisco a better city.
4. Solve the homeless problem.
End the homeless problem by giving the homeless a place to live until they can lead productive lives. Create a combination of the Peace Corps, Project Homeless Connect (PHC), the Raphael House homeless shelter, Habitat for Humanity, and the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. Use donated land, labor, and resources to build a green Victory Village outside of San Francisco (although there are empty buildings in the Presidio, and unused military bases elsewhere). Ask for donations to fund the village, and gradually shift money used for the present system to the village.
Build self-governing houses for fifty people and a live-in volunteer coordinator, where residents can either stay to help or learn to make a living and return to the city. Keeping housing low-scale will help prevent the village from feeling institutional and impersonal. Name buildings for large contributors to their construction. Enable those who can live and work independently to leave with a job, a place to live, the goods they need, and a support network. This will give a role to the city’s homeless-industrial complex.
Have a cafeteria, a nonprofit store, a library with computers, a website and a one-page daily newspaper that residents help run, a
bank for saving income they don’t need, and buses for transportation. Those who can’t function independently can still help keep the village going and will be out of the environment that enables dependency and generates crime. Make families that Raphael House can’t help a priority and figure out how to provide schooling.
Enlist volunteers, from high-school kids to seniors to help run the village, and provide education, healthcare, and treatment. Ask
businesses and nonprofits to donate goods and services and give jobs to residents when they’re ready to leave and reward them for their help.
Have a vegetable garden and use technology to create businesses with the goal of making the village self-sufficient and earn income
for residents. This idea creates practical and ethical challenges. But if, like Raphael House, you make compassion and community, not power, the governing principle, and if you ask the homeless to help plan and carry out the how it’s built and run, you will meet those challenges. The first ally to make is the Coalition for the Homeless.
Winston Churchill believed that Americans always act wisely once they’ve exhausted the alternatives. It’s time. This solution will reduce crime and panhandling and accelerate the transformation of Market Street and the Tenderloin.
5. Create a San Francisco currency.
Have a contest to design a four-color San Francisco currency for one, five, and ten-dollar bills, capturing the city’s beauty, institutions, most memorable people and places, and landmarks. Make them so beautiful that, attractively packaged, visitors and collectors buy them as gifts and souvenirs. As with other local currencies around the country, they will be usable only in the city. Ask banks and other businesses to underwrite the printing in exchange for including their names on the bills.
There’s also money in the merchandise. Partner with local businesses to create gifts such as cups, note cards, and hoodies with the art. Do a new set of images every year.
6. Paint San Francisco.
Enlist homeowners, house painters, color consultants, preservation organizations, paint companies, art schools and students, and
volunteers to transform the greatest collection of redwood Victorians in the world into an irresistibly beautiful collection of buildings as only San Franciscans can do it.
These Painted Ladies will be as unique and as much of an attraction as the cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge. They will attract
millions of visitors from around the world. Painted Ladies are worth more to owners, the city, and the tax assessor than colorless old buildings. Have an annual contests for owners and professionals for the most beautiful homes and businesses with an awards ceremony on Alamo Square with Postcard Row in the background. Help fund the restoration of Victorians that have been victims of
While you’re at it, there are a lot of blank walls that, with a creative makeover, will help transform San Francisco into the most
beautiful city in the world. The city’s sunshine, radiant blue sky, and the clarity of the light call for color that reflects and enhances their brilliance.
If the only value these ideas have is to spark your creativity about how to use one of the world’s greatest resources—the people of
San Francisco—to transform it into the best city it can be, it will have served its purpose, and you will earn a place in the pantheon of the city’s greatest mayors.
The growing San Francisco Writers Conference, which we’re co-directors of, brings in almost 500 speakers, volunteers, and writers from around California, an average of thirty states, and several foreign countries. Like us, they love being in this beautiful center of culture and the country’s second largest publishing community, and we encourage them to explore the city.
Former President Bill Clinton has observed that national change can come from the bottom up. Programs like the prize-nominated Healthy San Francisco may be the beginning of the only healthcare solution that works.
So let’s make San Francisco “The City That Knows How” again. Call it Project City Connect. Cities around the country will use these ideas as they adopted Project Homeless Connect. As it did with the Painted Ladies, San Francisco’s example will once again help transform the country. But only one city can be the best in the world. Let’s keep it San Francisco.
Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada, literary agents and co-authors of six books about the Painted Ladies
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The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / firstname.lastname@example.org / https://sfwriters.org/blog / @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference
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