Wednesday, November 5, 2014

San Franciscans Crash Capri

When you go from the Mediterranean climate of San Francisco to the Mediterranean itself, you step into a deep history.  Capri, one of the destinations on the honeymoon trip I took with my wife, is no different: in fact, it's been a resort town since the times of the Roman Republic.  You can still visit the ruins of the Villa Jovis, the retirement palace built by Emperor Tiberius.  And singers, artists, and writers have been finding their muse on the island for a long time.

Like San Francisco, parts of Capri feel like they're not entirely there for the residents: you might see as many tourists at the Grotto Azzurra as you would crowding around the cable car stop on Powell Street.  But this isn't necessarily a bad thing.  An infusion of international visitors can shape the surface character of a city without chipping away at its authentic core.

Similar to San Francisco's painted ladies, you can see Capri's heritage shining through in its architecture.  One thing I was interested to see were the brick retaining walls on the hillsides – something you won't see on any of San Francisco's hills.  San Francisco may be a little earthquake-shy about that kind of detail, but in Capri, these walls are laid in by hand, and they have the residents' trust.

But there is one thing about Capri: it's expensive.  When you're on an island, with nowhere to expand to, real estate tends to be at a premium.  That's why, for example, Tokyo is one of the most expensive places in the world to live.

San Francisco has an inkling of this, being bounded on three sides by water.  But in San Francisco's case, its connection to surrounding communities takes some of the pressure off.  While some people may want the full city experience, others are content to live in Daly City, across the bay in Berkeley or Oakland, or even further out.  Commuting into Capri isn't that easy.

And San Francisco has also embraced, in some neighborhoods, the demand for housing and grown up – up, as in skyscrapers.  Take the Millennium Tower in SoMa: 58 stories, mostly condominiums.  Capri hasn't embraced that sort of high-rise, high-density housing, for understandable reasons: it takes an aesthetic leap of faith to break from tradition in an area like this.

San Francisco is a city that has to walk a balance between preserving its history and character and growing into the future; between existing within its bounds and making itself inviting for homeowners who fall in love here.  And that's part of why I love it.  For Capri, being a resort island may be preferable, and that's fine: I'll be happy to visit it again, revisiting some lovely honeymoon memories, and still set my roots in the City by the Bay.