What You Can Do to Make San Francisco Great / by Kiran Umapathy

I remember attending Treasure Island Music Festival shortly after moving to San Francisco in 2011 and catching a performance by The Coup. The sunny October skies and first brew of the afternoon had me blissing (and buzzing), but I can’t shake the memory of Boots Riley telling the crowd that the single most important difference that they’ll ever make is to participate in life and their community.

It’s nearly four years later and hating on San Francisco has become perhaps the easiest and cheapest sentiment out there. It’s this defeatist attitude that San Francisco is OVER from people who have most likely lived here a short time. Are there some serious issues at the moment? Of course! But what disturbs me the most is how few people are actually offering solutions.

I find these attitudes, even in my own friend circles, frustrating because the people doing the most complaining are often people who aren’t contributing in the least to what they’d like San Francisco to be. It’s all about what San Francisco can do for you and that seems selfish. I find myself wondering, whether in spite of this city’s astounding history, people are really going to just lie down and give up on it. To me, that’s embarrassing. That’s lacking the resolve of every single person that came before us to make this place great.

Great cities aren’t sustainable when its residents’ participation merely consists of fancy brunches and expensive cocktails (or for you homebodies, watching Netflix). Sure, by all means, enjoy those things. I do sometimes, too! But living here comes with more responsibility than your job and existing within that bubble. It requires participation in the communityDon’t opt out of the experience of being a San Franciscan. Otherwise, what’s the point of living here?

So if you’re down for the cause, here are 11 things you can do to earn your karmic keep:

Shop Local

San Francisco is admittedly pretty good at this, but you’d be surprised how much of our money is being shelled out to large corporations or others that, if we’re being honest, only make life marginally more convenient and solve first-world problems. While not the cheapest, supporting local businesses and co-ops is a great way to support the community and help our friends and neighbors cover basic needs from housing to health insurance.

Talk to Your Neighbors

It surprises me how few people know their neighbors because that’s the backbone of community. I think that regular conversation and dialogue with your neighbors, particularly when you’re new, can help you understand and co-exist with people that are different than you. It also shows you give a damn and aren’t just looking to colonize their neighborhood. If your neighbors aren’t up for schmoozing, there are always local business owners to chat up. Become a regular at your local café or bar. These small efforts can help you feel better connected to your city and neighborhood. We live in the 2nd most dense city in the country. Take advantage of it and if you don’t feel like interacting with people, go live in a more suburban or rural area.

Use Public Transit

Yeah, I know. You planned poorly and ridesharing is the only way to get there on time. That has its time and place, but public transit is part of the magic of living in a city. I’m not the biggest fan of New York, but I love that nearly everyone there rides the subway. It’s the great equalizer. We don’t need any more class separation than we already have.

Explore Different Neighborhoods

San Francisco is SO MUCH more than The Mission, NOPA or SOMA. Explore all the different neighborhoods because they all have something to offer from authentic international cuisine to iconic history. You might shock yourself to the diversity that still exists here even when every internet article paints SF as all tech. If you can, walk, because it’s healthy and gives you a sense of how all the neighborhoods are interconnected without being so dependent on your phone. I don’t think everyone realizes the privilege we have of things being so walkable. Yes, there are hills, but they’re gorgeous and they build character, goddamnit. Take pride in them and thank them for being the reason your ass looks so great.


Time is the most precious resource we have and there’s nothing more selfless than sharing a bit of yours with your community. Is it too much to ask to spend an hour a week, not thinking about yourself? I don’t think so. Plant trees, mentor a child, clean up the streets or offer your personal area of expertise to another cause or individual. Those are some pretty basic ideas, but this is San Francisco and you could probably find a way to help LGBTQI youth learn acroyoga if that’s what you’re into. It feels damn good and many of these activities are an opportunity to rally your friends and do it together.

Practice Everyday Kindness

Look for everyday opportunities to practice kindness and make people smile. You never know how that can turn someone’s day around and how contagious it can become. Small actions matter and help us create the kind of place our hearts know is possible.

Show Up

Despite the exodus of artists, musicians and creatives leaving the city, many of us still have friends doing some really rad things. When they have events, stop being so non-committal and get your ass over there. Support them, especially if you’re one of those people pining for when San Francisco was rampant with culture. When you’re there for someone, it’ll mean the world to them and it’s often the boost of confidence they need to keep going when doubt creeps in.

Throw Your Own Events

Creating your own events is an awesome way to participate in community. If you’re feeling a void, someone else probably is too, but don’t wait for someone else to do it. Throw a neighborhood block party, host a craft night or create a regular event around a mutual interest (I love having vinyl record listening parties). Try to keep at least some events free and welcoming to all types of folks, but if it does involve dropping some skrilla it’s pretty easy to make sure at least part of it benefits a good cause.

Become A History Buff

Immersing yourself in the rich history of San Francisco is an excellent way to feel more invested about living here. Visit the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society or borrow one of the many excellent reads on our city from your local library branch. Try Season of the Witch by David Talbot, Cool Gray City of Love by Gary Kamiya or Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas by Rebecca Solnit for starters.

Get Involved in Local Issues

If there are issues you care about (affordable housing, evictions, homelessness), go to city council hearings and talk to your local representatives or community organizations to let your voice be heard. Posting on social media is fine and all for awareness, but it doesn’t get anything done by itself and often isn’t where the most meaningful conversation happens.


I know much of today’s generation is disenfranchised with the political process, but if you can vote and you don’t, it’s pretty hypocritical to complain when you’re not even exercising your rights. Seriously though, registering doesn’t take very long. Just fucking do it.

Boots Riley was right. San Francisco (or any city for that matter) just doesn’t live up to its potential unless we participate and make it a place that welcomes all types of people. We need a mentality not of “me first,” but leaving this place better than we found it. Ask not what San Francisco can do for you, ask what you can do for San Francisco. When you make that the focus, it will be every bit the amazing city you want it to be.

p.s. Thanks to all my friends and acquaintances who helped contribute ideas to this story. If you have ideas yourself, don’t hesitate to join in on the discussion.

This post was first shared on Medium.