A Story of Contrasts: Gentrification in Silicon Valley

5 mins read

As it is conventionally defined, gentrification is “the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste” (Oxford).

This definition clearly speaks to the duality of gentrification; it at once reconstructs and redefines an area. Physical changes that may seem beneficial often come at the expense of losing rich cultural or social value.

Gentrification has refreshed older neighborhoods across the country, from New York and Chicago to San Francisco. Proponents suggest that regardless of social issues, the area in question is improving, whether through decreased crime rates or improved infrastructure. Others, on the other hand, have been quick to criticize the suppression of a community’s traditional or ethnic ties.

For the past decade or so, gentrification has altered certain neighborhoods in San Francisco, most notably within the Mission district (UC Berkeley Urban Displacement). The growth of tech startups has allowed for an influx of young, high-earning individuals looking to move to the up-and-coming, culturally interesting parts of the city. What has historically been a mostly working-class, Latino neighborhood has risen to the top as one of the more sought-after housing locations.

Longtime residents have resisted this presence, criticizing gentrification as a whole, from increased housing costs to the carbon emissions of the buses that shuttle tech employees down the Peninsula. Many of these young employees defend their right to live where they choose, be it the Financial District or the Mission.

For some, San Francisco provides more cultural stimulation than the quieter suburbs of San Jose and Cupertino. Residents take pride in the richness of the community, with its Mexican cowboys, humble bars, and one-of-a-kind street art (Newsweek). ‘Runaway hippies’ gave Haight Street a grungy, laidback reputation– albeit one that later became embraced by flocks of teenage girls. It makes sense that these diverse neighborhoods provide a respite from the often soporific towns down the Peninsula. But many ask: what are these tech employees bringing to these neighborhoods besides rent increases?

Without directly supporting the very cultures they came to the neighborhoods in the first place for, some claim that these new arrivals are performing a sadly ironic cultural destruction. Unlike those in New York and Chicago, tech workers here come up to San Francisco from the Peninsula. Rather than directly contributing to the city of San Francisco, their companies are paying corporate taxes to support their immediate communities of Cupertino and San Jose (MABN).

In addition to culture, housing also forms a core of gentrification in Silicon Valley. While a significant factor in the debate over gentrification, it is not a simple issue. Evictions have increased by 115% in 2014, according to Newsweek, and the number continues to climb. Some propose simply building more apartments, but San Francisco’s unique location perched on a jutting piece of land into the Bay, does not allow for this possibility.

Real estate owners claim the right to rebuild and refurbish old buildings, and attribute the rise in housing costs to the natural laws of economics. These individuals assert that the mechanisms of supply and demand at play in San Francisco are inevitable and void of blame.

In the past half-dozen years, gentrification has also established itself in our own backyard. Facebook’s headquarters in East Menlo Park, as well as the plethora of start-ups in Palo Alto, have brought forth a veritable change in environment.

And just as gentrification in San Francisco is a multifaceted issue, so too is gentrification in Silicon Valley. The arrival of technology giants such as Facebook in Menlo Park and Google in Mountain View have likewise altered patterns in housing, and redefined elements of culture. Polished, modern buildings loom over used car dealerships and e-cigarette shops; business executives often employ the same working class citizens that share their zip code.

The affordability of land in East Menlo Park has allowed Facebook and other companies to erect large-scale office buildings. These low costs can be attributed to the area’s turbulent history. According to TechCrunch, inconsistent economic growth in the 1960s mixed with equally inconsistent immigration laws between the 1950s and 1970s contributed to an inflow of undocumented immigrants.  These mainly Hispanic individuals were then targeted by increasing government action against illegal immigrants. In the 1980s and early 1990s, East Palo Alto fell to drugs and murder, gaining notoriety as the “Murder Capital” of the country; these trends compounded the growing rate of minorities in prison. While crime rates have significantly decreased, housing prices reveal the financial reputation is still lackluster.

Nestled between Belle Haven and Bayshore, the Frank Gehry-designed headquarters contribute to the odd contrast of gentrification. And with these newly-established headquarters comes the inevitable influx of tech workers and their inclinations for Whole Foods’ and yoga studios, as many are quick to point out.


As the amount of people increases along with the arrival of such companies, patterns in commute and traffic have also shifted and evolved. Sophie Zalipsky discusses these changes in commute times as they pertain to both students and teachers at M-A.

These workers in turn bring an increasing demand in housing in Menlo Park and Palo Alto, just as it has in San Francisco. As of 2014, the median home price in Menlo was $2 million, according to TechCrunch. Traditional homes and community centers are facing this rising tide of demand with wariness. Kaley Garrett touches on the multiple factors that are at play in housing costs, namely salary and longtime residents. She contrasts the stories of two individuals whose current employment dictates their role in this tricky equation.

However, residents of the mainly Latino communities of East Menlo Park and East Palo Alto are not the ones being employed by Google, Apple, and Facebook. While the two social groups physically share space, they rarely interact as a unified community. Facebook has made steps towards a more congenial relationship, inviting students in East Menlo Park to intern at the social media company and funding a community tech center. Yet many assert that steps such as these only bandage the surface symptoms of the cultural issue, rather than remedying the underlying conflict.

In an opinion on the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, Ulises Cisneros highlights the lack of educational impetus for computer science and technology in high schools. Without the proper invitation and encouragement, students may not be exposed to elements of the technology boom currently in their own neighborhoods. These same students may find themselves at a disadvantage when applying for a job, simply because he or she was unable to afford the name-brand of a prestigious technological university. Cisneros presents StreetCode Academy in East Palo Alto as an example of a successful computer science program that inspires students to thrive in the field.

As teenagers, technology not only rules our lives in our daily interactions with the Internet and social media, but also with respect to its more abstract consequence: that of intense competition and pressure. Many of our teachers, mentors, and parents are successful contributors to the tech industry and many more have graduated from prestigious universities. This correlation between higher education and job status is not a new one, yet it manifests in a unique way within the teenage community of Silicon Valley. Kyle Dixon presents this argument from the perspective of one such student, framed on all sides by placards of success and wealth. His sentiments are often echoed by many of our peers in daily conversation. On a more serious note, some students in the immediate area have taken their lives into their own hands in the face of suffocating pressure to succeed.

Gentrification has wrought a multitude of changes in both our recent vicinity and in San Francisco, altering the social and economic landscapes of our culture.

Hi! I'm Miranda Simes, and I'm a senior at M-A. This will be my third year on staff, and I’m excited to take on the role of editor as well as continue to inform the community.

Though journalism, I am eager to generate discussion with my peers about a diversity of topics. With its ability to question authority and give voice to the silenced, I consider journalism to be a truly powerful medium of expression.

I also enjoy representing M-A on the track and soccer teams, as well as hiking, finding new music, and baking in my spare time.

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