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Is San Francisco dead? The internet still wants to know

Pedestrians meander about Downtown San Francisco at Market and Fifth streets on July 26, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Over the past few days, SF’s lovers and haters have had plenty of content to rile them up as a viral tweet seeming to reveal a near-empty Westfield Mall made the rounds and a piece in The New York Times checked the pulse of the city’s struggling Downtown. 

While San Francisco is no stranger to being dumped on—both literally and figuratively—one local physician and apparent SF fanboi endeavored to debunk the well-worn narrative that the city is on its deathbed and make a more positive diagnosis.   

In response to the Times’ story declaring San Francisco’s downtown the “most empty” in America, UCSF Professor of Medicine Eric Widera posted a tweet thread documenting his family’s weekend holiday outing, making a point to show the city’s not-empty streets, parks and plazas. 

“My family started off the day by getting some croissants at Arsicault, eating them on a walk down the always vibrant Clement street scene,” Wider wrote in one tweet, following it up with photos of people ice skating in Union Square and strolling along Valencia Street.  

While some Twitter users pooh-poohed Widera’s boosterism—with one noting that he only had one actual photo of Downtown in his thread—others appreciated Widera standing up to the Old Gray Lady. (Here at The Standard, we know from our own reporting that the Times isn’t exactly wrong, though we can relate to finding the paper of record’s tendency to parachute into SF with a negative take kind of annoying.) 

When it comes to the tweet purportedly picturing a hollowed-out Westfield mall, we have some thoughts. As many Twitter users noted, the photo—posted by head Google X designer Nick Foster—is somewhat sus. It’s true that the image makes the shopping center look like a ghost town, but according to many commenters and some SF born-and-raised Standard staffers, it isn’t really surprising to find that part of the mall uncrowded, even at noon on the Saturday before Christmas.   

Some Twitter users thought the photo was “accurate,” while others thought the setting and angle of the photo were misleading. 

The fact is, the future of San Francisco’s downtown corridor is in peril, though good news is not impossible to find. Whatever the future holds, a few anecdotal tweets posted by SF partisans can’t answer the question of whether the city is truly doomed. But there’s no harm in enjoying a lively debate!

Christina Campodonico can be reached at