These Disturbing Dioramas Capture The Fight Over Google Buses In San Francisco

The tech company shuttle buses are a symbol of the gentrification sweeping the city. These scenes, set inside a laptop, capture the tension of the recent protests.

San Francisco is in a state of flux. The cost of living is rising dramatically, a new influx of highly-paid tech workers seems to arrive every day, and beloved long-time businesses are shutting down left and right, quickly replaced by pricey restaurants. The most public symbols of these changes is the tech shuttle bus–the gleaming, tinted window vehicles that ferry employees of companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook to their jobs. These buses, which use the city’s public bus stops, have been the subject of protests in recent months as flash points of the changes sweeping the city.


All of this drama–and the larger story of Bay Area gentrification–plays out in The Streetviews of San Francisco, a series of dioramas set inside a laptop. The dioramas feature mini Google shuttle buses as they cruise through the city. Created by artists Colleen Flaherty and Matteo Bitanti, the scenes all contain the bus, backdrops captured by Google streetview, and tiny figurines.

In one scene, a protester holds up what appears to be a shovel in front of a Google bus traveling through the Mission district (a ground zero neighborhood for gentrification). In another, gun-wielding police stop protesters in front of a Google bus located outside Twitter headquarters. The Google employees inside the bus read the newspaper, insulated from the chaos.

In their project description, Flaherty and Bitanti quote a series of pieces discussing urban upheaval. One comes from a popular piece on San Francisco’s gentrification written by author Rebecca Solnit in the London Review of Books:

The Google Bus means so many things. It means that the minions of the non-petroleum company most bent on world domination can live in San Francisco but work in Silicon Valley without going through a hair-raising commute by car – I overheard someone note recently that the buses shortened her daily commute to 3.5 hours from 4.5. It means that unlike gigantic employers in other times and places, the corporations of Silicon Valley aren’t much interested in improving public transport, and in fact the many corporations providing private transport are undermining the financial basis for the commuter train. It means that San Francisco, capital of the west from the Gold Rush to some point in the 20th century when Los Angeles overshadowed it, is now a bedroom community for the tech capital of the world at the other end of the peninsula.

Whatever your views on the protests, they have prompted a much-needed dialogue (just this month, the city imposed a fee for the bus stops, where previously the companies were using them for free). And while the Google bus is a distinctly San Francisco symbol, it represents the rapid gentrification of so many cities around the world. That makes this diorama series relevant far outside the land of tech shuttles. Check out the full Streetviews series here.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.