Blog: January, 2010
Eat on the Street!
Streetfood is not new. In fact, since the existence of streets and the commoditization of food, streetfood has been an integral aspect of daily life for cultures around the world. That being said, it is undeniable that there has been a growing trend in San Francisco and other American cities towards selling a creative array of food – from Korean tacos to crème brulée – prepared on the street.
Streetfood in China and the Netherlands [Images: Colleen McHugh]
Tuesday’s Young Urbanist event at SPUR--generously supported by the Koret Foundation--was a perfect example of this growing excitement surrounding streetfood. With a crowd that spread out the door of the second-floor assembly hall, this was one the most heavily attended SPUR forums in the new Urban Center (perhaps due to the delicious free tacos provided by the Kung Fu Taco truck). Panelists Larry Bain of Let’s Be Frank, Imelda Reyes of the Department of Public Health, Operations Director of La Cocina Caleb Zigas, and Supervisor of the Small Business Assistance Center Martha Yañez joined moderator Raquel Donoso of the Latino Community Foundation in a discussion on the increasing popularity of streetfood culture in San Francisco.
The downturn economy, the panelists acknowledged, has played a role in the growing number of streetfood vendors in the city. However, they were careful to move beyond this simple explanation, noting a growing desire to connect to the food we eat and the role of social media. Another compelling explanation was merely alluded to in a response from the audience – a movement of social culture to city streets.
In light of last week’s lunchtime forum on the legacy of Donald Appleyard’s Livable Streets, it is exciting to consider the popularity of streetfood as part of a wider Great Streets movement. As one audience member lamented at Tuesday night’s forum, the recent trend in streetfood has been largely “‘bourgey’ food accessible to rich foodies”. However, Caleb Zigas was quick to contend that there is “a place on the same block for $3 and $8 food that is really awesome”. And if the streetfood trend is bringing more people and more life to the streets of America (and away from cars on the freeways), that is a good thing. However, as was often mentioned on Tuesday, it is important for San Francisco to remove unnecessary barriers and allow people who want to serve simple, cheap, good food to do just that.
[Image: Colleen McHugh]
To see more photos from Tuesday’s Young Urbanist event, visit SPUR’s Flickr page.
Sustainability and Simplicity
As students rushed home for the day, SPUR members filtered in for a tour of the San Francisco Friends School. Built in 1906 after the earthquake and fire, the building housed Levi Strauss & Co. until 2002. Fundraising for the Friends School began in 2006, and classes commenced in September of 2008. Peter Pfau and Kami Kincaid of Pfau Long Architecture explained their process of renovation. With general contractor Plant Construction Company, the team designed the school to preserve the light, open feeling of the historic space, and honored the school’s mission with close attention to sustainability and simplicity.
The building is naturally ventilated with four thermal towers. Sunlight enters through the glass to charge the heating plates; sensors throughout the building tell the vents to open and shut. The white roof reflects heat to control the temperature in warm weather, and will eventually contain solar panels. Last April the school was chosen by the American Institute of Architects and Gavin Newsom as one of the Top Ten Greenest Buildings in the city.
The original factory floor remains on the second story. During the Depression, Levi Strauss & Co. kept employees on payroll by building the maple floors. The stains and scuffs of years as a working factory remain in place. “The contractors wanted to sand them down,” Pfau says, “but I said no way. This way the history is alive in the building.” One coat of sealer and wax preserved the floors, including every mark of the building’s past.
The second floor contains the meeting hall, where students of all ages can observe the Quaker tradition of silent reflection. Benches in the meeting hall were made from the beams removed from the first floor during the seismic upgrade. Nearly 50% of the materials used in renovation were previously part of the building. After adding a theater and a second floor to the library, the building will total over 80,000 square feet with a 10,000 square foot playground and garden in the front of the school. To see more photos of the tour, check out the Urbanists on flickr!
[Images: Colleen McHugh]
Woe is Parking.
As someone who has lived in this city for virtually my entire life, there is one thing I know for sure – parking is a pain. Were I to calculate the total time I’ve wasted cruising for a parking space or the total amount of money I’ve spent in parking tickets, I might go insane. However, we are not just losing our time, money, and sanity in this parking climate. We are also increasing traffic congestion and, in the process, greenhouse gas emissions. But how can we fix this conundrum?
[Image: Colleen McHugh]
Last Thursday’s lunchtime forum addressed the Parking Problem on a regional scale and proposed parking reform strategies aimed at alleviating this issue as well as at incentivizing other forms of transit. Valerie Knepper from the MTC addressed the strong need for innovative regional reform. Among the current regional parking flaws, Valerie noted a number of parking requirements for employers, developers, and businesses that in effect subsidize driving and encourage sprawl. Valerie suggested possible local reforms (expanding the parking cashout program for employees, charging market rates for parking in high demand areas, unbundling leases with separate rents for parking, removing minimums and setting maximums for parking requirements) and proposed ways the region can encourage such local reform (for example, by extending “indirect source” regulations to parking). Valerie concluded her presentation with a call-out for innovative parking reform strategies that are high impact, jurisdiction-wide, innovative yet cost-effective, and support Priority Development Areas.
As an example of success, Redwood City Downtown Development Coordinator Dan Zack explained how he incorporated parking reform into his city’s downtown plan. Some of the highlights of this reform are performance-based pricing that increases meter prices in high occupancy areas and decreases prices in low-occupancy areas with a target occupancy rate of 85% throughout the downtown area, eliminating time limits, using surplus parking revenue to improve the surrounding downtown area, and upgrading from single-space coin-operated meters to multi-space meters with more paying options. Dan reported an overall success in the program and shared the lesson that “Good pricing creates turnovers and vacancies.” Learn more about Redwood City’s parking reform by visiting their website.
Is America in Decline?
Not so fast says the Atlantic’s James Fallows in a new article on “How America Can Rise Again.” People have argued we were in decline since the earliest days of the republic. His prescription: Focus on maintaining our top universities to foster innovation and open immigration to keep people and ideas flowing into our country. From SPUR’s perspective, we would add – and invest heavily in high speed rail and other infrastructure that enables non-auto mobility.
Learning from Washington D.C.
This past fall, a group of SPUR board members and staff traveled to Washington DC to learn from the urban-planning successes of our nation's capital; today, three members of that group presented their findings at a lunchtime forum.
SPUR Deputy Director Sarah Karlinsky began the discussion with an overview of the Washington urban planning models from Pierre L'Enfant's plan of 1791 to and James McMillan's Plan of 1901 through modern-day endeavors to enliven the long-neglected Southeast waterfront area along the Anacostia. Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan expanded the geographical scope of the discussion, demonstrating with satellite photography areas in the region where forward-thinking transit-planning decisions brought about transit-oriented development along major corridors and high public transit use. Terplan focused on the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Virginia and Bethesda in Maryland, both tremendous successes in inducing dense development clustered around regional rail service.
Finally, architect and urban historian Rod Freebairn-Smith showed photographs gathered during the trip focused on how security threats affect both civic life and architecture. His photos included many examples of how buildings have been fortified through bollardization and other means, while not marring the storied city or preventing access to national monuments and icons.