Heraclitus, you brilliant old sage

Heraclitus was a Greek scholar who lived and died in the years around 500 BCE. Core to his philosophy was the acknowledgement of continual change in the world. He is attributed to many wise aphorisms, several of which have become something like modern philosophic clichés such as “the only thing that is constant is change”. Personally, I prefer the slightly wordier version of this sentiment:

Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers.

And it’s true. Stand in one place and change will happen around you, flow through you. You have no choice in the matter. Cities, the thriving, massive organisms some of us inhabit, are by no means exempt from this truism. I live in one that is undergoing swift and controversial change. In the past two decades San Francisco has seen an influx of inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers and designers, and their overwhelming presence has disrupted the former stasis.

Consider the ongoing reality of gentrification. Consider the exorbitant cost of living. Consider the rapid population growth. And consider this excerpt from Strange But True San Francisco, which with several word substitutions could well have been written last Monday:

In 1849, 35,000 rowdy miners transformed a sleepy Mexican settlement into a playground for newly rich bachelors. Exponential population growth left so few places to sleep that early landlords made large fortunes renting bunks, tabletops and rocking chairs at outrageous prices.

If Heraclitus were around today, grabbing a craft beer with me in the Mission, we’d discuss the politics of a city experiencing what is perceived to be unhealthy change, undesirable change. Heraclitus would bow his head, stroke his beard, and say “it’s all just a river, man”.