Blog: January, 2011
"A Miami Beach Event Space. Parking Space, Too"
A parking garage in Miami doubles as an unlikely but sought after event space because of its high-end architecture and stunning views of the city.
In order to address a $72 million budget deficit, D.C. Metro is considering selling the naming rights of its stations to major corporations. This means the next time you ride D.C. metro, you could potentially be boarding at Big-MacPherson Square, or Cream of Wheaton station.
An interactive infographic designed by real-estate website Trulia shows which metropolitan areas have good markets for homebuyers, and which areas are more conducive to renting.
In the heart of urban Los Angeles, an eco-village has been growing for almost 15 years. The residents of the village grow their own food, utilize alternative forms of transportation, and have set up co-ops and other neighborhood groups committed to sustainable living.
In early February, BMW plans to release four documentary films about the future of urban mobility across a wide range of transportation fields. Watch the trailer here.
It Takes a Village... to Close a Power Plant
The December 21, 2010 announcement that San Francisco's polluting Potrero Power Plant would shut down by the end of the year was as much a cause for celebration as it was a reason to recount the twists and turns that it took to finally shutter the city's last fossil fuel-burning commercial power plant. For many years, the preferred method of closing Potrero was to build three new power plants to replace it smack dab between the Bayview-Hunters Point and Potrero Hill communities where San Francisco's dirty power plants have been located for over a century. The environmental, social justice, and sustainability advocacy required to flip the switch on Potrero is certainly a lesson in the heavy lifting that any city must undertake in seeking to end its reliance on fossil fuel power plants.
The Potrero Power Plant itself was built in 1965, but its location has been a site of electricity generation since 1890. Consisting of a massive gas boiler and diesel peaking units that operated when the boiler came down for maintenance, Potrero has been blamed for environmental health disparities in Southeast San Francisco and negative impacts on the bay due to the discharge of heated water used to cool the facility. City Attorney Dennis Herrera is a neighbor of the power plant and made its closure a priority since he was first elected in 2001, while former district Supervisor Sophie Maxwell fought perhaps even longer before watching the plant shut down in the waning days of her last term in office.
Yet it is the unique coalition of organizations, activists, and elected officials that moved the City to abandon its plan to spend $270 million on new gas power plants to replace Potrero that is perhaps the most fascinating part of the recently-concluded power plant saga. Groups such as the Potrero Boosters and SF Community Power had fought for the better part of a decade to close the Potrero Plant but were told time and again that new combustion turbine power plants were required if Potrero was ever to shut down. At a July 2007 hearing of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, longtime Bayview-Hunters Point activist Espanola Jackson was the lone community voice of dissent against a vote to greenlight the construction of the first power plants to be built in the City in decades.
Within a short period of months, Ms. Jackson's empassioned plea for an end to power plants in her disproportionately polluted corner of San Francisco would attract the support of environmentalists within the Sierra Club and Green Party, community organizations such as the A. Philip Randolph Institute and Greenaction, and the newly-founded civil rights non-profit Brightline Defense Project. In late 2007, Public Utilities Commissioner David Hochschild called the question of whether or not to build new power plants "the biggest energy decision facing San Francisco since construction of the Hetch Hetchy Dam."
It was an early 2008 memorandum from San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, however, that blew the doors wide open on the power plant debate. The "SPUR memo" made the case based on hard facts that estimates of the amount of electricity required to keep the lights on in San Francisco had been wildly overstated and that Potrero could be shut down upon completion of an underwater cable from the East Bay without subjecting the lungs of Ms. Jackson and her southeast San Francisco neighbors to at least thirty more years of power plant pollution. Environmental justice and community advocates were now armed with factual analysis to galvanize support at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and that summer an unlikely dynamic duo of Michela Alioto-Pier and Ross Mirkarimi manhandled a trio of power plant hail marys that were lobbed at the Board by those who believed it impossible to close Potrero without continuing its power plant legacy.
By the fall, the anti-power plant coalition gained a powerful ally in Mayor Gavin Newsom, whose green credentials depended on his ability to successfully navigate toward a pollution-free solution to the Potrero Power Plant. In late 2008, Public Utilities Commissioner Dick Sklar, who has since passed away, made a successful motion to tear up the contract to build new power plants in order to make a continued case for closure of Potrero outright. Over the next year, Supervisor Alioto-Pier in particular was dogged in her insistence that San Francisco keep pressure on the California Independent System Operator, a state agency charged with maintaining as much electricity as possible to guard against remote instances of power failure. Growing solidarity among the San Francisco city family in 2009 was complemented by constant community delegations to Independent System Operator meetings in which advocates sometimes ended up in shouting matches with power plant regulators, and Public Utilities General Manager Ed Harrington helped shepherd the sale of the combustion turbines once slated to pollute San Franciscans in order to help the City close a massive budget deficit.
The year 2010 began with the anticipation that the pending completion of the 400 megawatt Trans Bay Cable would at last trigger the demise of the Potrero Power Plant. Expectations dipped, however, when most of 2010 was spent fixing a series of faulty computer chips at the Trans Bay Cable sub-station in San Francisco. The months leading up to December left many advocates who had fought to close Potrero with a feeling of both powerlessness, based on the fact that fate now rested in the hands of electrical engineers scrambling to replace malfunctioning motherboards, and a sense of reflection, based on the long road that preceded the path to a power plant-free city. That time of uneasiness allowed San Francisco's power plant battle to be placed into context, however, with a determination that the closure of Potrero would not require the construction of new power plants elsewhere and a realization that the main challenge facing cities aiming to phase out fossil fuel generation is that dirty electricity is simply too safe and predictable in the technocratic eyes of regulators.
Few sustainability experts will dispute that we as a society must wean ourselves off of reliance on fossil fuel power, especially in cases such as that of San Francisco, where the hard work of so many was required to responsibly and dispositively demonstrate that the Potrero Power Plant was obsolete not only in terms of powering San Francisco but in guarding against unforeseen contingencies. The Potrero Power Plant is no longer, but California currently operates over 900 power plants that collectively produce much more electricity that the state needs even on the year's hottest summer days. Maybe now is the time for San Francisco to use its lessons learned to help shut down some of those old dinosaurs.
Joshua Arce is the Executive Director of the Brightline Defense Project.
Our new Governor is proposing to eliminate redevelopment in California. (See Governor's proposal called "Tax Relief and Local Government," here. Yesterday, SPUR's executive director, weighed in on the debate with an opinion piece in the Chronicle, arguing that we should reform, rather than eliminate, redevelopment.
For contrasting opinions, see the LA Times series from last fall that un-earthed many examples of problems with redevelopment, and an opinion piece in the Contra Costa Times defending the Governor's proposal.
There are clearly many examples of bad uses of redevelopment funding across the state and here in San Francisco. But overall, there is simply no way for us to bring areas like Mission Bay, Treasure Island, and the Hunters Point Shipyard back into productive use without the financing tools of redevelopment. Our hope at SPUR is that the Governor's proposal leads to a serious effort at reforming parts of redevelopment, perhaps leading the state to be more careful about where redevelopment areas can be created and about what redevelopment funds are spent on. At a time of such unprecedented budget cuts, it makes sense that redevelopment should be looked at for cost savings. But redevelopment done right is a solution to our budget problems because it is the way we bring areas that are polluted or lack basic infrastructure back onto the tax rolls.
January 15th Public Open House material
In case you missed our January 15th workshop, or want a closer look at the content, here are the materials that were presented for public feedback. It's a large file (~25M) showing all the boards. We will be posting the individual boards shortly.
The project team is working hard to transcribe all the feedback and ideas we received check back soon to review it and add your thoughts!
SF Muni Buses Become Canvases for Mobile Public Art
[Photo Credit: flickr user Todd Gilens]
After the interminable wait for a San Francisco Muni bus, its eventual arrival is a cause for celebration and relief. And for the next three months, it could also prove to be a rare treat if your route happens to feature one of the four city buses serving as vehicles for a public art project from local artist Todd Gilens.
Starting this month, four Muni buses will go under the disguise of Gilens’ “wraps” displaying images of four local endangered species– the Coho Salmon, the Mission Blue Butterfly, the Brown Pelican and the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse. Like the rare animals they exhibit, the buses in the aptly dubbed Endangered Species project will make guest appearances to all neighborhoods as they circulate throughout the city, dispatched to different routes every day.
A far cry from the assault of gaudy advertising that we see on our buses every day, these eye-pleasing graphics will be a welcome sight. In spite of the small size of the Endangered fleet, calming images of a flock of pelicans skimming over a cerulean sea or a pearlescent butterfly fluttering as the bus jostles about the city’s pockmarked streets are sure to strike a chord with harried citizens. The project aims to reintroduce these species to our minds, while emphasizing the necessity of preserving their habitats through urban growth that is compact and transit-focused.
The project has been in the planning stages for years, with SPUR and other organizations such as Nature in the City and the Greenbelt Alliance providing various forms of support for implementation. The idea was born in 2006 when Gilens learned the SFMTA’s “Transit Effectiveness Project," or TEP, was measuring maintenance, driving efficiencies and ridership statistics.
“But no one was discussing how attractive transit could become, or what wider impacts it has,” writes Gilens, whose artwork focuses on under-noticed connections and underserved communities. “It seemed to me that an assessment of effectiveness should include these criteria too.”
Thus, the question arose over how we as city residents value our environment. Like San Francisco’s plethora of parks, curbside cafes and ubiquitous street vendors, public transit vehicles are part of our daily landscape and urban experience.
Since the temporary mobile art installment uses buses and their environments as a medium, Gilens and all the many others involved hope the project serves as an investigation between city and region, social and environmental values and our dedication to maintaining a fifth endangered species: public transit itself. Transit benefits to ecological systems include reduced sprawl, traffic noise and air pollution while providing a social framework and collective investment for the good of everyone.
As Gilens put it, “Public transit is about pooling and sharing resources; [the project was] a natural fit once I started thinking about it that way.”
As we would like to see the beautiful and essential creatures flourish amid urban growth, we should also have the foresight to not let our public transit deteriorate. SPUR’s promotion of urban growth as the antidote to suburban sprawl can only be accommodated if transit-oriented development takes precedence.
San Francisco’s heavily used but notoriously troubled transit system needs to expand if it is expected to meet the needs of a growing city. The 700,000-strong daily ridership of Muni buses and trains is stretching the current system, and per-capita transit use is second only to that of New York. However, since most commuters rely on buses rather than trains – unlike most major US metro systems – Muni is the slowest and most overcrowded system in the country. This is the first time the SFMTA has donated full-wrap advertising space, clearly underscoring the need for civic engagement on funding, maintaining and extending the reach of our transportation infrastructure.
For those whose curiosity is piqued by the endangered buses and their decorative fauna images, a web link on the rear of the bus (www.endangerbus.org) provides information about the habitats of the featured species, the role public transit plays in conservation, and several non-profit organizations’ work on urban design, conservation and social values.
[Photo Credit: flickr user Todd Gilens]
Join us for a public workshop and open house
Saturday, Jan 15th, 2011
9am-2pm (open house -- you may come for any portion)
The Great Hall, SF Zoo Education Center, 1 Zoo Road (at Sloat Blvd) (Map)
SPUR (San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association), along with the National Park Service, California State Coastal Conservancy, and SF Public Utilities Commission, is leading a new long-range planning effort for Ocean Beach.
Please join us and contribute your ideas and feedback!
The workshop will be held as an "Open House." You are welcome to attend at any time between 9am and 2pm, and stay for as long as you wish. The design team will be available to provide project background information and collect your input and ideas for the future of Ocean Beach throughout the day.
This workshop will give the public a chance to weigh in on a host of issues, including:
- Improvements to Public Access and Amenities
- Protection of Ecological, Aesthetic, and Historical Resources
- Coastal Management in light of erosion, sea-level rise, and climate change
- Infrastructure Planning
- Interagency Management
We are working with many stakeholders, including residents, beach users, activists, elected officials, and the many relevant public agencies. The project team will be present to record your comments and ideas, answer questions, and discuss the project.
A Master Plan on Wheels
What if cities’ basic elements weren’t stationary? “Switching City,” a proposed master plan for a small city in Norway, utilizes existing railways to move public functions within and outside of the city, making them more widely accessible, as well as weather adaptable.
The “Most Advanced High School” in the United States to be Demolished
A crumbling exterior and overwhelming dropout rates has contributed to the decision to demolish Chicago’s South Shore High School. However, plans to build a selective new campus in its place has raised racial and socioeconomic tensions, as well as questions about what will become of South Shore’s current students.
The Mayor Wants You to Lose Some Weight
Fed up with the high costs of health care, communities around the country are pushing for new methods to improve the health of their citizens. Mayors in states such as California, New York and Utah are partnering with the Center for Disease Control to implement public health measures such as monitoring cities’ health trends and air quality, as well as providing more bike paths.
7 Billion, National Geographic Magazine
National Geographic has released a compelling video modeling what a world population of 7 billion by the end of 2011 would look like, and what the implications for the planet’s resources would be.
Conflict Over Squatter’ Camp Tests Argentina’s Kirchner
Due to a lack of adequate public housing in Buenos Aires and rising immigration rates, hundred of families are being forced to move into the city’s public spaces. The squatter’s actions have brought to light many of the political and social problems behind the country’s urban slums.