Becoming a Hyper-Local by Seeing Our Faults
Alli Lowe (United States)
Soon after Mexico gained its independence from Spain in the 19th century, dozens of Americans went west to settle in the territory of Alta California. As this group of settlers grew, they revolted against the Mexican government and declared themselves the California Republic. After a brief stint of independence, California was annexed by the United States. In 1846, U.S. Navy captain James B. Montgomery raised the American flag in Yerba Buena’s city plaza. This city of Yerba Buena, which was fashionably renamed San Francisco during the Gold Rush, has now grown into a bustling city of nearly 900,000 people. The San Francisco Bay Area, as a whole, has become a cultural, economic, and political hub. With a thriving tech industry to the south, a gleaming bay to the west, and large cities to the east, the Bay Area is, by all accounts, flourishing. However, beneath this prosperity, there is an undeniable disparity that locals need to actively acknowledge and combat.
International educator and author Homa Tavangar says that becoming a global citizen means “developing a hyper-local muscle,” or an awareness of both the merits and the faults of your home. Once we acknowledge the failings of our own communities, we are able to better see these failings in others. This way of thinking allows us to view places and issues around the world in a logical, unbiased way, thus making us better global citizens. In this vein, as much as I love the Bay Area, it would be ignorant for me to not acknowledge its underbelly. The Bay Area has the highest level of income inequality in California, with the top ten percent of earners making approximately twelve times that of the bottom ten percent. As the overall economy of the Bay Area booms, the cost of living increases as well, forcing thousands of residents to either live in poverty or move out. Green hillsides where residents live in white-columned mansions and drive Teslas overlook streets filled with makeshift homes of tents and cardboard. Some children put on uniforms as they attend top-rated private schools while their peers go to increasingly underfunded public schools. As extreme as it is now, these levels of inequality are set to keep growing.
The scariest aspect of the Bay Area’s disparity is just how little acknowledgement it receives. In fact, cities have actively taken measures to keep their poorest citizens away from the view of the rich by using techniques such as building anti-homeless architecture. San Francisco has placed bars on public benches and spikes in planter boxes, thus limiting the already sparse places for homeless individuals to sleep. Even in my suburban hometown, I have seen several online posts and petitions demanding that the city government keep the homeless out of our streets, with zero mention of combating the issue by helping our less fortunate neighbors.
By keeping its inequality out of sight, the Bay Area has ensured that it stays out of mind, as well, as it has been ranked incredibly low in rates of charitable giving. In a 2012 study on the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, San Francisco and San Jose were ranked 45th and 48th in terms of percentage of income given to charity. It has become all too acceptable for many Bay Areans to simply look the other way when they see a homeless family on the street, or to politely decline charities asking for donations outside of shops. Instead of coming together to create a culture of generosity in the face of extreme inequality, many in the Bay Area have chosen to close their eyes to the problem.
To be a hyper-local, one must see issues such as these and work against them. While the Bay Area is often seen as a center of progressive global citizenship, locals need to live up to this reputation by acknowledging our own faults. We need to accept the fact that, by ignoring it, we have become complicit in our home’s vast inequality. The only way to combat this inequality is to open our eyes, roll up our sleeves, and help our neighbors. Hopefully, by actively understanding and working to resolve our mistakes, we will lead by example and inspire people from all around the world to acknowledge their communities' faults as well. As more people are inspired to become self-aware hyper-locals, the ugly problems that plague our world, such as income inequality, discrimination, and violence, will be seen authentically. In order to fight these issues, we must all first acknowledge their presence and impact inside our communities.
Once we are able to see and fight the problems in our cities, countries, and planet, we will be on our way to becoming better global citizens.
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Hellerstein, Erica. “It's Official: Bay Area Has Highest Income Inequality in California.” KQED, 31 Jan. 2020, https://www.kqed.org/news/11799308/bay-area-has-highest-income-inequality-in-california.
History.com Editors. “San Francisco.” HISTORY, 21 Aug. 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/us-states/san-francisco.
Pender, Kathleen. “Bay Area Ranks Near Bottom in Charitable Giving, Report Says.” SFGATE, San Francisco Chronicle, 7 Oct. 2014, https://www.sfgate.com/business/networth/article/Bay-Area-ranks-near-bottom-in-charitable-giving-5805194.php.