It’s natural to be unsettled by change, but residents of San Francisco take resistance to change to absurd levels. In 1958, Gavin Elster—the shipping magnate played by Tom Helmore in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo—expressed San Francisco’s deeply engrained ambivalence to change well: “The things that spell San Francisco to me are disappearing fast.” A recent letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle shared the typical modern lament: “Has San Francisco’s economic growth truly made it a more interesting place to live? Or just a place with more shiny but soulless places to spend money?” San Francisco: The Status Quo City
This article is adapted from an illustrated talk given by Jim Chappell at the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s June 4, 2015 “Context Vol. 2: What’s the Big Idea?” Forum on the Upper East Village, aka I.D.E.A. District and Makers Quarter.
The world is filled with good ideas. San Diego has a lot of great architects and urban thinkers. For several years, a group of these dedicated urbanists have been developing and enriching a plan for the Upper East Village. I.D.E.A. = Innovation Design Education Arts. As the next step in the process to implement the District, the Foundation held “What’s the Big Idea?” to explore next steps. Setting the I.D.E.A. District Apart
Spoiler Alert. Despite being one of the worst tales of NIMBYism I have been involved in, it all turned out as it should. The project proponent, the official project opponent, and the Planning Commission all ended up doing the right thing. 420 desperately needed housing units are being built according to the City General Plan, the Neighborhood Plan, and the existing zoning, at one of the most underutilized transit accessible locations west of Chicago. SPOILER ALERT: 420 Housing Units Under Construction
A great street has many variables, and occasionally planners and designers are given a chance to have an effect on those variables – when we do, we need to use every available tool to get it right. It is a rare opportunity to tie together the urban environment in a way that can make it irresistible and successful. High performance streets: The new cutting edge of urban design
The common wisdom is that all the new development, or at least all the interesting development in San Francisco, is South of Market. This of course makes news because it represents a sea change from the prior 100+ years when “south of the slot” was the industrial, working class (or worse) sector of the city. Where grows San Francisco?
[co-authored by Lilly Jacobson]
Streets are not just conduits for moving cars and people; they have a profound impact on the neighborhoods they traverse and connect. Streets often change how people perceive their environment: they can make people feel safe or deter them from walking in a certain area; they can encourage social interaction or create deserted sidewalks; they can spur economic activity or stall neighborhood growth. Street design is not merely about aesthetics and modes of mobility—streets have the potential to affect the health and life outcomes of everyone who uses them. Streets as Conduits of Social Justice
You can tell a lot about a place by its layout. How the streets are arranged tells the history of a city. Stories of slow growth of cramped medieval forts to booming modern cities. Or from farmland or prairie to grid.
There are the medieval European cities with their high walls and twisty narrow streets. You can tell they just grew organically, the buildings huddled together, defended by the ramparts. They were designed by fear.
The study “Nonprofits at Risk: The Space and Occupancy Crisis Facing San Francisco’s Nonprofit Community,” by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services found that 58% of sites rented by nonprofits are at risk of displacement within the next 15 months. 65% of nonprofits that don’t provide direct services are thinking of leaving the City. From the study, this quote: “This lack of price sensitivity on the part of internet entrepreneurs has had a predictable result. Commercial rents in San Francisco have reached staggering heights.”
Real walkable neighborhoods[i] are in such demand today that they are creating a real estate frenzy[ii] in older walkable cities like San Francisco, Boston and New York. The reason for the frenzy is simple economics of supply and demand. The demand for Walkable Urbanism[iii] is increasingly outstripping the supply and this situation seems to be getting worse. Desirable Walkable Neighborhoods: How we lost them, why we don’t create new ones, and what we need to do to start.
As architects and urban designers, we all devote considerable thought and effort into designing public and semi-public spaces that will be a joy to use, by client and public alike. Going back to William Holly Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces in 1980, Managing our Public Spaces