Blog: May, 2011
From Port City to Today: San Francisco's Layered Waterfront History
All eyes are on San Francisco's waterfront, as the city prepares for the 34th America's Cup, to be held in San Francisco in 2013. The recent release of Port City: The History and Transformation of the Port of San Francisco, 1848-2010, provides the opportunity to look back at the long and varied evolution of the eastern edge of the city as we envision its future. This Wednesday, May 11, Port City author Michael Corbett and San Francisco Architectural Heritage’s Mike Buhler will discuss the book at a SPUR lunchtime forum, Port City: the transformation of SF’s waterfront.
The book provides an in-depth study of how the Embarcadero, Ferry Building, piers, waterfront infrastructure, and neighboring streetscapes evolved over the last 160 years. Although San Francisco is no longer a true “port city” (that title is more befitting Oakland and other major commercial ports), its deep ties to the water are still evident in the traces of historic features along the Embarcadero.
Here are three iconic SF waterfront features that still bear those traces:
1. The Embarcadero: San Francisco's transportation infrastructure through the ages
Railroad cars, Model Ts, bicycles, and streetcars are just a few of the modes of transportation that have co-existed on the Embarcadero. The Market Street Railway Mural by Mona Caron offers a great overview of how transportation has evolved in San Francisco over time. The Embarcadero offers an equally interesting snapshot of the intersection of these modes, with traces of historic railroad tracks and other evidence of outdated transportation modes still evident today.
2. The Ferry Building: the iconic terminus of Market Street
The original Ferry House stood at the foot of Market Street from 1875 to 1896 and was a long wooden shed with a central tower and a long arcade across the front. In 1892, planning began to replace the Ferry House with a new, efficiently planned building designed by A. Page Brown. The Ferry Building (as we know it today) was first occupied in 1898 and completed in 1903. The building was the first structure along the Embarcadero to display refined architectural design, as the industrial nature of the piers and support structures were carried through in their functional appearance. The Ferry Building served as the physical and symbolic hub of San Francisco’s transportation lines: marking the convergence of railroads, ferry service, street and cable car lines.
Although the Ferry Building was a celebrated focal point of the Embarcadero during its early years and has been revived as such today, this was not always the case. The Ferry Building and Embarcadero were blocked by the Embarcadero Freeway beginning in 1959, creating a dramatic physical barrier between the waterfront and the city. The freeway was damaged in the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 and removed in 1991. The pronounced vision of this obstacle lives on in the opening credits of The Streets of San Francisco TV series, which ran from 1972-1977 and provides a campy snapshot of San Francisco in the 1970s. The Ferry Building now stands as the city’s celebrated, revitalized central marketplace, but it's easy to forget the not-so-distant past, when the building was physically separated from the city by this major artery.
For a short documentary about the lessons learned from the Embarcadero Freeway, view this video by streetfilms.
3. Piers: prime real estate for innovative reuse
The industrial piers that flank the Ferry Building, extending along the entirety of the eastern waterfront, functioned as a loading and storage point for cargo coming in and out of San Francisco via ships and rail. Cargo was transported from the piers to inland warehouses and factories, and railroad lines terminated inside many of the piers for maximum ease of loading/unloading cargo.
Some of the most innovative reuse projects in the Bay Area are happening within these former industrial structures along the waterfront. The piers have been transformed into high-class restaurants and watering holes, a photographic archive, office and retail spaces; and plans are in place for a museum, a cruise terminal and other services and attractions for residents and tourists. The piers are an important component of the waterfront revitalization that seeks to bring activity and focus back to the waterfront, while preserving the character of these historic structures.
Learn more about our May 11 event:
The Weekly Snapshot: Seattle Looks to Cottages for Affordable Housing
In an effort to densify single-family neighborhoods and increase the affordable housing stock in the city, Seattle has begun a new rezoning project to allow homeowners to build stand-alone cottages in the yards behind their residences. These cottages, or "detached accessory dwelling units (DADU)," present an attractive alternative for housing Seattle's growing population without expanding further into the forests of the Pacific Northwest, or redesigning many of the city's signature neighborhoods. Since the expansion of Seattle's DADU pilot program in 2009, more than 57 backyard cottages have been permitted and built throughout the city.
Read full story at Governing
More from the week in urbanism:
Would 12,000 Convince You to Move Closer to Work?
A new pilot program in Washington, D.C. would offer cash incentives for residents to move from the suburbs into cities, where they would be closer to their jobs and public transit systems.
Read full story at Fast Company
Re-evaluating S.F. Historic Preservation Framework
The Chronicle's John King looks at the ways in which historic preservation has helped San Francisco successfully preserve its past, as well as the few times when the process has gone too far.
Read full story at SF Gate
New York Tops 'Cities of Opportunity' List
A 2011 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers ranks the top "cities of opportunity," with San Francisco making it into the top 5.
Read full story at the Infrastructurist
Why We Need to Start Planning for Climate Change — Now
On May 4 SPUR released a major report, "Climate Change Hits Home," that lays out what the Bay Area must do to start preparing for the coming effects of climate change. This project, a multi-year effort by a team of top climate scientists and government leaders, represents a turning point for SPUR. We have long worked to stop climate change, but now we are also addressing the reality that some climate change is inevitable, despite our best efforts. Even if we stopped producing greenhouse gases tomorrow, emissions already in the air would continue to warm the atmosphere.
By 2050, we'll have nearly eight times as many dangerously hot days as we did in the 20th century. Sea levels are expected to rise 55 inches by 2100. And we need to start readying our railroads, highways, water supply, public health infrastructure and energy grid for the changes to come. Ours is the first report to map out specific actions that Bay Area governments need to take to protect our systems.
News of the report has appeared on KQED radio, KGO and KRON TV and in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Bay Citizen and the San Francisco Examiner. We hope local government agencies will give our recommendations the same degree of attention.
The Joys of Density: a Blogging Bird Reminds Us Why We Love Cities
The back window of our office here at SPUR looks out on a building with an entertaining tenant, a green Pacific Parrotlet who has free range of his studio apartment and an impressive collection of plastic toys. After observing his activities, we became curious about our feathered neighbor and Tweeted him the old-fashioned way. We taped a note up in the window:
Hi green bird!
We think you’re awesome.
What’s your name?
He responded quickly with his own sign:
I am Rico, a 7-month-old male Pacific Parrolet
(they call me Parrolito)
We replied with a new note:
Rock on, Rico!
We like your style.
- Your fans @ SPUR
Rico’s next note informed us that he had a blog, where he had posted about our fandom.
The conversation ended just as quickly as it had begun, like so many of the brief yet intense interactions we have in the city: celebrating the Giants’ World Series win with strangers in a bar, or joking with the other riders on Muni. But — as with those random human encounters — the story of our exchange with Rico lived on, earning laughs at parties and likes on Facebook.
Why do small moments like this move us? Because they remind us that life is more than daily stresses and frustrations. Wordlessly, Rico continues to entertain us with his voyages up and down his rainbow-colored Slinky, making us laugh even when we’re working on difficult issues like the future of redevelopment or the coming of sea level rise.
As urbanists, we can’t help but see our friendship with Rico as a solid argument for the joys of density. In the suburbs, a note in the window would creep out the neighbors: Communication that direct invades the privacy cultivated by fences and hedges. In urban centers, however, we show respect by acknowledging, rather than ignoring, one another. It is only in densely developed areas that we get close enough — up in each other’s windows enough — to regularly share our humanity with strangers. Even when they’re birds.
Weekly Snapshot: How Adaptive Reuse Can Catalyze Communities
Adaptive reuse has long been praised for being a sustainable form of development that reduces waste, uses less energy, and scales down on the consumption of building materials. However, beyond these environmental benefits, reuse projects may also have the ability to foster a greater sense of community and provide a springboard for the economic growth of a neighborhood. Alan Pullman from architectural firm Studio One Eleven talks about his recent project in Long Beach, CA, where the conversion of an abandoned warehouse into a green office space was able to "catalyze change and engage the community for results that exceeded their hopes and expectations."
Read full story at Buildipedia
Where to Live to Avoid a Natural Disaster
An interactive map by the New York Times shows which U.S. cities are most at risk for natural disasters.
Read full story at the New York Times
Jane's Walk steps off for first time in Scranton
A tour kicks off in Jane Jacob's hometown of Scranton, PA to honor the mother of urbanism and to get residents "walking, observing and commenting" on their neighborhood, much in the fashion of Jane.
Read full story at the Times-Tribune
In most urban areas, little has been done to accommodate an aging population, however, some cities are stepping up to make themselves more senior-friendly.
Read full story at Associated Press