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    ‘Is San Francisco Okay?’

    By Joanie Juster–

    When the customer service agent I had called heard I was from San Francisco, she told me she had been raised there. “Is it okay?” she asked, sounding on the verge of tears. “Everything I see about San Francisco in the news is so awful. It sounds like everything is leaving, and there’s nothing good left.”

    It’s something I hear all the time from outsiders who only know what they see on the news. And the media has been having a field day these past few months, gleefully piling on our city as if there was nothing left worth fighting for. Remember the old newspaper adage: If it bleeds, it leads. There is no money in good news and sunny skies. So, the national press has been gleefully turning every challenge our city faces into cynical clickbait, and people fear what they have been told to fear.

    And yet San Francisco is still one of the most popular destinations in the world. Tourists are coming back in droves, eager to experience the natural beauty, the culture, the magic of our legendary town. Sometimes I work at conventions and conferences, where much of my time is spent answering questions about San Francisco: where to go and what to see when you only have a few hours, or one day. How to take public transportation. Where to eat. The hospitality I provide spills out onto the street; when I see visitors looking lost and confused, I often stop to offer help—a courtesy I appreciate when I am lost in other cities. Each of us is an ambassador for our city: we can all do our part to make visitors feel welcome, safe, comfortable.

    Ten years ago, I set out to walk every street in the city. While I haven’t completed the task yet, I learned that every street has a story. I spent years exploring neighborhoods I had never seen before, and was excited to find enchanting gardens and parks, quiet residential neighborhoods, historic monuments, stunning vistas, quirky architecture, and art in surprising places. I met friendly shopkeepers, stumbled upon vibrant community events, and sampled food from all over the world. I fell more and more in love with the city I had loved all my life.

    Recently, a man from a small town in Ohio wrote a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle. He was alarmed by all the news stories that made San Francisco sound like a hotbed of unchecked crime. He did a little digging, and found that his bucolic little town actually had a far higher crime rate than San Francisco, but it didn’t make the news because people don’t plan their vacations around his town.

    There is no question that San Francisco is facing serious challenges, from the lack of affordable housing to empty storefronts, to crime, to the legions of people on our streets grappling with drug and mental health problems. As a city, we have much soul-searching and problem-solving to do. But just because we’re facing such challenges doesn’t mean we should turn our backs and give up on our city.

    I’ve written this before, and I’ll say it again. It is up to each of us, and all of us together, to make San Francisco a city we can be proud to live in, and to share with the world. It begins with caring enough to do something. It begins with kindness. San Francisco is a stunningly beautiful city, but it’s the people who make it really shine.

    Joanie Juster is a long-time community volunteer, activist, and ally.

    Published on September 7, 2023