Little did I know that by moving to the Marina, I’d be joining a massive swell. From 2011 to 2016, a wave of millennials crashed down on Crissy Field and across the entire 94123 ZIP code, producing a significant change in the neighborhood’s demographics and, perhaps, its ethos.
The numbers are clear: even when compared to the rest of the city, Marina residents have become younger, less likely to be unemployed or out of the labor market, and more likely to have a family. Census data confirms these changes. But are the demographic shifts being felt on the streets and expressed on social media? Let’s find out by consulting the research, talking to Marina residents who have lived through previous neighborhood transformations, and checking the Marina’s online reputation.
The Marina has always been a youthful spot, a truth that has only grown more real in recent years. In 2011, the median San Franciscan was 38.4-years old, a number that held steady through 2016. Comparatively, the median age of Marina residents has become younger, falling from 35.8 years in 2011 to 34.1 in 2016. Our neighbors in Pacific Heights, for sake of comparison, recorded a median age of 36.3 in 2016, down from 37.7 in 2011. As our area has grown younger, millennials have become a larger slice of the Marina’s population. The already high share of 25- to 34-year olds in the Marina increased by nearly two percentage points in the five-year window, reaching 37.2 percent in 2016.
This millennial wave is having ripple effects on the area’s economy as well.
The economic earthquake that unleashed San Francisco’s tech industry and its manifold spillover effects surely contributed to the Marina’s economic expansion in recent years. That said, research shows that economic consumption significantly decreases among consumers over the age of 65, so it’s easy to see how the youthful changes in the Marina have, in part, spurred more businesses to open their doors. Census data shows that from 2011 to 2015 the area’s total number of establishments increased by 111, or more than 10 percent. Employment also expanded. The total number of people employed in the Marina rose from 8,800 in 2011 to 9,619 in 2015. It’s likely these businesses are hiring, in part, to meet the diverse needs of the neighborhood’s burgeoning families.
Families have increased their presence throughout the city since 2011. Their growth is particularly notable in the Marina. Whereas the number of families increased by 1.7 percent in the entirety of San Francisco, the increase in the Marina was more than two times higher — 3.8 percent. The uptick in parents living in the Marina helps explain why the share of Marina residents under 20 soared from 8.3 percent in 2011 to 12.1 percent in 2016; there were 1,197 more under-20-year olds in the Marina in 2016 than in 2011.
MARINA RESIDENTS TALK
So how has adding a high school’s worth of kids and their young parents changed our one-square-mile slice of San Francisco?
According to two longtime Marina residents, the millennial wave has noticeably shifted the community’s culture. Debbie Dalton, a Marina resident since the early 2000s, sees the most proof of the population shift on weekends. From her apartment on Beach Street, she has a bird’s-eye view of the Marina Green. It used to be that sleepy Saturdays were followed by even sleepier Sundays. Today, it could not be more different. Like the tides, families flood in and out of the soccer fields while runners donning their college sweaters lumber past the endlessly energetic youngsters. It’s not that Dalton necessarily misses the old, quieter days; for her “it’s just a new normal.”
Phoebe Maffei has helped usher in that new normal. She and her husband, Mike, recently welcomed their second child to their Marina-based family. The pair moved to the district four years ago and have since found it to be the ideal spot to raise a young family. Maffei, though, had ties to the Marina long before she became a mother. While studying at the University of San Francisco in the early 2000s, she tended bar at renowned Marina establishments such as the Marina Lounge and the Horseshoe.
Over the years, she’s seen the Marina’s culture and demographics transition. She acknowledges that on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, the Marina can feel like an old college party. “That’s increasingly just the weekend crowd.” She elaborated, “The weekend crowd has always been here. They keep the neighborhood young. That’s not who the Marina is, though.” Instead, Maffei feels the Marina is increasingly home to people just like her — “the party crew will always here, but I’ve definitely noticed a rise in 30-somethings with young families.”
The youthful wave felt by Dalton and Maffei is not uniform. One segment of the millennial population decreased as a share of the total population in the same five-year period. The percentage of Marina residents between 20 and 24 years old actually declined to 3.6 percent, a drop of more than 1 percent. Though this change might sound trivial, among the age brackets provided by the census, only Marina residents aged 60–84 saw their share decrease by more. In contrast to younger millennials and older Boomers, every other age bracket either increased its share of the population or experienced losses of less than half a percentage point. This caveat reveals something important: The Marina is getting younger, but the source of its youth is kids (lots of them) and their mid-20s to early-30s parents, rather than recent grads.
THEN, NOW AND TOMORROW
Outsiders, like some insiders, have a perception of the Marina that differs from the demographic reality. The popular stereotypes of the area seem to be grounded in who visits rather than who lives in the Marina.
An online search of the Marina quickly reveals that, at least reputationally, the Marina is filled only with young, brash, gregarious (to put it kindly) professionals. However, sites omit any mention of the Marina’s recent demographic shifts.
Airbnb’s review, for example, fails to mention the Marina’s influx of families, while going as far as calling the area “a bit intimidating.” Others likewise fail to accurately describe the Marina’s demographics. Thrillist’s review of the district perpetuates the notion that the Marina is predominantly filled with “young professionals” and “people who were in fraternities and sororities,” while only briefly mentioning the presence of young families. Blogs such as The Well-Traveled Wife and The Bold Italic also miss the mark in their portrayal of Marina residents. We’ll see if over time the new demographics can shake the community of these long-held, inaccurate stereotypes.
Such a sea change is not unprecedented in the Marina’s history. The community is well versed in reshuffling and rebuilding, which is not surprising for a neighborhood built on unstable ground. Its most well-documented transformation occurred early in the 20th century, after the 1906 earthquake and in preparation for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
The Exposition’s theme — “Then, Now and Tomorrow” — seems particularly appropriate more than a century later. Marina residents today face a challenge to remember and preserve “then” while making sure the community adjusts to welcome the people who call it home “now” and prepares for what those young families and children will need “tomorrow.”
Will millennials rise to the occasion?