An innovative ZIP code

Whether working in home offices or bumping into friends and neighbors at local coffee shops, the Marina’s workforce has environments that are conducive to the creation of new things. Photo: jacoblund

In a 1963 New York Times article on San Francisco, Lawrence E. Davies labeled experimentalism as a hallmark of the city’s character and argued that for San Francisco, bewitching the world with new ideas came naturally. That is still true today and will likely continue tomorrow, especially in the Marina District. To understand why, let’s look at the assets this neighborhood possesses that attract people who create businesses and trends and products.

The Marina has the base ingredients for creating innovation: smart people, entrepreneurial professions, and an array of “third places.” Like kneading dough, where each fold and press makes new connections, unleashes latent potential, and primes the dough for transformation, the Marina gives its forward-thinking people the connections and resources they need to transform an idea into an innovation.

Census information on the area confirms the Marina’s stock of thinkers and tinkerers. When compared to employment statistics for San Francisco as a whole, Marina workers are disproportionately likely to work in the most inventive industries. Thirty-eight percent of Marina residents work in the information or professional, scientific, and management sectors; more than 40 percent of all patents filed in 2014 occurred in these fields. Citywide employment in the same sectors is nearly 10 percentage points lower than in the Marina.


Not only are Marina residents employed in the fields of the future, they are also more likely to tap into the creative benefits of working from home. The high number of Marina residents with home offices amplifies the disruptive potential of the district’s workforce. Like fresher ingredients, workers with flexible arrangements, freed from the commute, can find it easier to contribute more of their time to their purpose and passions. For more than 1 in 10 Marina workers, their daily commute is however many steps it takes to get to their favorite chair. San Francisco’s average rate of working from home is about half that of the Marina.

It’s true that sometimes the comforts of a home office can stifle innovation by enabling isolation. But the Marina is home to several “third places” (an economic term for where we spend our time outside of the home and office) that lure even the most misanthropic Marina residents into their communities and coax them to visit the places where ideas can be exchanged amid coffee refills and appetizers.

Think of the Coffee Roastery on Chestnut: Each day people from different companies, with different educational degrees, and from different parts of the country and world regularly bump into one another. With each encounter — each fold of the area’s innovation dough — another idea can be closer to being born. The frequency of these encounters suggests that the Marina is far from done actualizing inventive ideas.


What’s more, Marina residents tend to have deep educational foundations, which is another asset. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), 80 percent of innovators have an advanced degree. This bodes well for the Marina. Thirty percent of our residents older than 25 have a graduate or professional degree, more than 8 percentage points higher than the citywide average. Many more Marina residents — nearly 83 percent — have earned a Bachelor’s degree; the percentage for the whole city is just 54.8.

Another trend likely to give rise to creativity in this neighborhood: a growing supply of potential innovators. Academically, the total stock of degrees recently jumped. In just one year, from 2015 to 2016, 239 more people with at least a Bachelor’s degree moved into the area; boosting the total percent of residents which such a background by 1.2 percentage points.

Demographically, there has been an expansion in the diversity of people here. Since 2000, the total number of foreign-born residents has increased by more than 10 percent. Given that 35.5 percent of U.S. innovators were born abroad, per the ITIF, the influx of immigrants in the Marina is another sign of the district’s budding innovative spirit.

As with Boudin Bakery’s bread, which uses the city’s foggy air as a key element, a central ingredient to innovation is the surrounding environment. In the case of the Marina, residents are fortunate to be surrounded by people with a wealth of knowledge and to have no shortage of places to share ideas, trade theories, and birth inventions.

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Kevin Frazier, a Portland, Ore., native, previously served as Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s executive assistant and president of the College Democrats of Oregon. He now works at Google and lives with his partner, Dalton, and pup, Ty, in a studio in the Marina.