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A map of which SF neighborhoods became richer since 1990

The greening of San Francisco

A photo of the SF skyline at night from Potrero Hill.
The view from Potrero Hill, which itself saw a huge infusion of cash in the past 26 years.
CAN BALCIOGLU

San Francisco is always changing. For example, in the past 25 years or so it’s become wealthy to the point in inaccessibility.

Back in 1990, when the city was a more working-class burg than today, the median household income was $33,414. Adjusted for inflation, that would be a little less than $62,000 now.

Today San Francisco’s median income is about $92,000. (While the mean income is an incredible $132,000.)

There have been booms and busts the whole way, but the current dividends are pretty generous.

Money doesn’t spread itself equally across an entire city, of course. Nick Conway, an archaeologist with the Forest Service who runs a data analysis blog on the side, parsed where the wealth went in a series of neighborhood maps.

Nick Conway
Nick Conway

For that 1990 census, wealth was fairly evenly distributed across the city. Only three neighborhoods—Sea Cliff, West of Twin Peaks, and Presidio Heights—exceeded 125 percent of the overall median income.

By 2010, the Presidio, Mission Bay, Noe Valley, the Marin, the Castro, the Haight, Pac Heights, Twin Peaks, and Glen Park all broke through the 125-percent barrier.

In fact, average wealth went up in all of Conway’s listed San Francisco neighborhoods except for six during that period.

(Although we should note that the increases in a few places like Portola and Oceanview are too small to statistically significant.)

The Presidio saw the biggest gains, jumping from 84 to 163 percent of area median income.

Of course, that’s because it switched over from being a functioning army base to a luxurious park during that period.

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The greatest increase in wealth not mandated by an act of Congress was in Potrero Hill. If you’re curious, Sea Cliff has been the richest neighborhood all along, starting at 206 percent of median income in 1990 and jumping to 224 two decades later.

On a superficial level this sounds good, but of course in practice it just confirms what we already know: That huge numbers of working class people are leaving the city and that the gap between rich and poor is growing wider.

Conway retrieved income data from the voluminous National Historical Geographic Information System. You can dive into more of his breakdown here.

Since he was working off of the 10-year census, this info is of course rather out of date now. But the city has only grow more wealthy in the meantime.

In fact, 2010 was a bit of an anomaly, with the city still feeling the effects of the 2008 banking bust. Although median income increased in that census, as it does almost every ten years, when you adjust for inflation it was less than a three percent increase over the previous decade.

Whereas now we’re up nearly 17 percent just in the last six years.

Gap

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