When I first moved into my neighbourhood in the south of San Francisco, everything was industrial. It was sunny, a rarity in San Franciso and you could show up at Farley’s the coffee hang out and there would be huge numbers of working-age people hanging out, reading the paper or playing chess. “Why is no one at work?” I wondered. Then I learned that many of them were at work. They were artists. And even when they were at home they were at work. They lived in live/work spaces.
The city of had been concerned about keeping the cost of living affordable for its artists, so it had gone to the neigbourhood they lived in–that was between the projects and the highway and the driving range and full of warehouses and a real brewery so it smelled like hops all day long–and said you can have these special places to do your working and your living and we’ll give you a tax break.
Well it became very hip to live it these places. That’s how live/work began. People began putting nice paint and artful metal coverings on these lofts and Internet connections meant you could do all kinds of different work from your live/work. You could put your paintings aside and design web pages. Then something else began to happen. Not only did people that didn’t seem to be artists move in to the live/work, but the live/work began to move out.
People working in all of the Internet companies, a lot of the start-ups began to play foosball and play with their dogs at work. There were masseuses and parties and all the beer you could want on Fridays. You would socialize amongst friends, watch movies. In Silicon Valley they began doing your dry cleaning at work. And once in a while, when you were really, really into it and the people you worked for were into it, you stayed there all night. Everyone knows that you haven’t really live/worked until you’ve slept under your desk.
The start-ups needed you to work crazy hours. It’s like pledging a fraternity. You expect there will be crazy irrational demands. They did it before you. You wanted to join the fraternity, didn’t you? The secret to this new fraternity, this new heart of extreme capitalism was that it was powered by vision and brilliance and people willing to do any job that needed to be done, any time of day or night. It could cram into 3 months what other businesses took years to achieve. It was lean, hungry, on a mission. And if you were part of the team you knew, like the fellas who went to Vimy Ridge in the Great War, that you hadn’t really lived until now. You’d never known brotherhood and connection and a sense of purpose like this until now. It was everything good the Army..that grandfather of live/work ..had to offer, but it was better. You didn’t have to die and you could get rich.
Never before, until this work had you felt so, so …alive.
And why leave work ? Everything you need is there. The friends are there. The foosball is there. So the working came to those who lived in the artfully painted and corrugated steel places and the living, what seemed to be the living, moved to work.
And San Francisco, tiny, hilly little San Francisco, began to have new buildings and traffic all over itself. The Internet changed the molecular structure of the place, and growths began popping up in bits and clumps. And they often surfaced as lofts. Live / work lofts with corrugated steel and atzec rust paint jobs. Some for sleeping and keeping your stuff together, and some for Internet start-ups. All of them live/work.