If you were anywhere on the media sphere last week, you most likely heard about Batkid, a 5 year old San Francisco boy named Miles in remission from Leukemia. Miles was granted a wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. His wish, as you may have gathered, was to be a superhero for the day.
But this wasn’t a ‘meet a celebrity in the isolation of a hospital room at the children’s ward’ wish; this was a full-fledged, 20,000-attendee spectacle of humanity throughout the City of San Francisco. In addition to the publicity of Wish execution, the support for his wish was what went viral. The Foundation reported that the total reach from all social media users who used the hashtag #Batkid or #SFBatkid was 1.7 billion people. That’s more than the population of the United States, India, and Mexico combined. Essentially, nearly one quarter of the entire population in the world learned about Batkid and saw the City of San Francisco in an unbelievably positive light. The city made Miles a pint-sized hero in a pleather cape, but Miles made a hero of his city.
The humanity as demonstrated by San Francisco was a reminder that our cities can be hubs of good, if and when we choose to work together or are united by something bigger. I don’t know the details of those who flooded public plazas and sidewalks that day. I don’t know if they skipped work. I don’t know if they answered the Make-A-Wish call for volunteers My hunch is that they weren’t there for fame or recognition, or that many of them had ever given money to the Make-A-Wish foundation before. Instead, they showed their support through presence – exercising their social capital to belong and participate, rather than sit back and write a check, maintaining anonymity and removal from the cause.
Miles’ day was assisted by entities around the city: social media, newspapers, actors, mascots, costumers, government officials, the U.S. Attorney’s office, event planners, the police department, and lest we forget, the President, who made a Vine for the little guy. All of this was undeniably moving and admirable, and it made me wonder if this same outpouring of support would have been shown in Baltimore. Or Miami. Or Detroit. Or Nashville.
What is it about San Francisco that facilitated the outpouring of support exhibited by Batkid’s 20,000 onlookers. According to a variety of rankings, San Francisco was ranked the #1 city by businessweek.com in 2012. Together with Bloomberg Rankings, the center evaluated 100 of the USA’s largest cities on attributes around leisure, education, economics, crime, and the environment. San Francisco is walkable, the citizens are highly educated, and its apparently one of the happiest cities in the world, so perhaps the fact that the majority of its citizens are far removed from the worries of crime, isolation and poor health allowed them to unite in the outpouring of Batkid-based support.
Communal resources may make a difference, but personal wealth or poverty seems not to. Comparing the volunteer capacity in San Francisco with the capacity in Baltimore, and on a greater scale, the capacity of those in rich states to those in poor states, I wasn’t able to find a correlation.The three richest states based on average household income: Maryland, New Jersey, and Alaska, have 27.6%, 22.6%, and 22.6% residents volunteering respectively. The three poorest states, Mississippi, Arkansas, and West Virginia, have 25.8%, 23.2%, and 22.7% of resident volunteers respectively. Looking specifically at cities, San Francisco has 31.8%.
Based on this quick glance at the numbers, it doesn’t seem that household income plays a defining role in volunteerism. Whatever the variable might be, Miles and Make-A-Wish were able to draw themselves together through something bigger. People came out to support not because they had more money than anyone else, but perhaps because they live in a city that facilitates joy, activity, culture, and education. We have Miles to thank for saving Gotham, but it was also the City itself that saved the day.