Blog: June, 2011
Weekly Snapshot: In Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy
More from the week in urbanism:
In San Francisco, the MTA has proposed a plan that would allow carsharing companies to rent individual parking spots on public streets.
A study suggests that the United States is facing a housing shortage thanks to an increase in housing prices throughout the past decade and a major decline in homebuilding.
In an effort to improve biking infrastructure, Minneapolis, MN has opened its first self-service bicycle repair kiosk.
Urbanition: SF and Sydney Artists Re-think Our Use of Public Space
The piece is part of the inaugural Sister City Biennial exhibition Urbanition, co-produced by the San Francisco Arts Commission and Sydney-based CarriageWorks and on view at the SFAC Gallery through this Saturday. Urbanition includes three works from San Francisco-based artists and three from Sydney-based artists, each tasked with proposing visionary solutions for a more humane, green and livable future for the two cities.
This Wednesday, June 29, SPUR hosts a lunchtime forum with the exhibition's three San Francisco-based artists: REBAR, Amy Balkin, whose piece would transform the Sutro Baths into a Sydney-style public beach, and Sergio De La Torre, whose mobile dinner-party cart creates a space for conversations about community issues.
All of the participating artists challenge ideas of urban mobility and public space, and in the case of REBAR and the Sydney-based group Makeshift, mobile space.
Where REBAR’s piece looks to harness the potential of public transit as physical civic space, Makeshift’s project, The Restless Quarter, looks to mobile spaces as a future adaptation to climate change events in an “age of unsettlement.” The project borrows from existing mobile services and structures and builds upon them, thinking about how our ways of living, sharing services, and access to infrastructure might become more dynamic and responsive.
Meet the SF artists at our lunchtime forum this Wednesday >>
Should We Plan for Sprawl?
Many in the audience called on MTC and ABAG to add an additional scenario focused on equity, jobs and the environment. There were several dozen supporters of this scenario, and they heavily outnumbered the small contingent who spoke about the evils of central planning, socialism, income distribution and the perceived illegality of the entire planning process. SPUR weighed in on the debate with a policy letter to the MTC commissioners. At the meeting, we boiled down our recommendations to two main points:
Traffic Safety in the Age of the Bicycle
It’s easy to point out what activities are dangerous and illegal in Gabriel’s video: pedestrians jaywalking, bikes travelling against traffic, cars running red lights or refusing to yield when turning. But it’s not always easy to know the correct way for cars, bicycles and pedestrians to interact. For instance, did you know that in California, when making a right turn on a street with a bike lane, a car is required to merge into the bike lane anywhere between 50 and 200 feet before the intersection? In other states, such as Oregon, the car would make its turn at the intersection, crossing the bike lane. Differences between states may be one reason that laws related to bicyclists are not as well known as other traffic laws.
The SFMTA estimates that bike ridership in San Francisco increased 58 percent between 2006 and 2010, and the organization is taking steps to make travelling around the city safer and easier for cyclists. Most recently, the SFMTA painted “bike boxes” on Market Street, adding to those already at 14th and Folsom streets and at Scott and Oak streets. Bike boxes are solid green squares on the pavement just before the crosswalk, behind which cars must stop but on which bicyclists may idle. This creates a designated space for cyclists to pause at red lights, rather than leaving them stranded between cars, and could help make drivers more aware of cyclists around them. However, it could also prevent drivers from making right-on-red turns.
The SFMTA has also approved 34 miles of new bike lanes for San Francisco. These include a lane down 17th Street from Castro Street to the Bay, a lane on Kirkham Street from 7th Avenue to the Great Highway, and an extension of the lanes on JFK Drive that would continue on Oak and Fell Streets, connecting Divisadero to Golden Gate Park and the ocean. These new lanes and improvements could make biking in the city safer and easier, and make bike movements more predictable for motorists trying to avoid them -- so long as everyone follows the rules. Whether the improvements will cut down on the aggressive driving, cycling and jaywalking featured in Gabriel’s video remains to be seen.
The Chronicle Building's Latest Transformation
Since the DeYoung Brothers first founded the The Daily Dramatic Chronicle in 1865, the home of San Francisco’s pioneering newspaper has been an incubator for ideas and innovation. Within a decade of its founding, the San Francisco Chronicle had the largest circulation of any newspaper west of the Mississippi River. The company has moved twice since then, and its headquarters buildings have always represented changing ideas about design and planning in the city.
Today that's more true than ever: the Chronicle’s current home at 901 Mission Street is part of the 5M project, a redevelopment project that fosters innovation by providing space, funding and counseling to startup companies. This Tuesday, June 21, SPUR will hold a forum on artisan manufacturing at TechShop, a member-based workshop located at 926 Howard Street and part of the 5M block.
Before we visit this latest incarnation, let's look back at the history and transformation of the Chron's many headquarters.
The first Chronicle office was at the corner of Bush and Kearny Streets, shown below in 1880.
Once the newspaper gained momentum, the DeYoung Brothers commissioned legendary skyscraper architects Burnham and Root of Chicago to design the original Chronicle Building (also known as the “Old” Chronicle Building or the DeYoung Building). Completed in 1889, it was located at 690 Market Street, at the corner of Third and Kearny Streets. After the 1906 earthquake and fire, Burnham’s local architect, Willis Polk, rebuilt the building, which was restored in 2007 and is now listed as a local historic landmark. The iconic design of the original headquarters building, the first skyscraper in San Francisco and the first steel frame building in the west, represented the city's turn-of-the-century prosperity and its earnest rebuilding effort.
In 1924, as the newspaper continued to grow, the Chron's owners commissioned a new headquarters and newspaper publishing plant at 901 Mission Street, at the corner of Fifth and Mission. Designed by Charles Peter Weeks & William Peyton Day, the building was constructed in the Gothic Revival style, said to reflect the scholastic and romantic nature of the newspaper business. This building was re-clad with stucco and stripped of much of its Gothic Revival detailing in 1968. The 901 Mission Street building has served as the home base of the Chronicle for eighty-seven years and is currently undergoing a transformation of a different kind.
Today, the Chronicle’s home is part of the enterprising 5M project. The current tenants of the project include TechShop (a membership-based workshop), Intersection for the Arts (an alternative nonprofit art space), the Hub Bay Area (an international social entrepreneurs' collective), and Square (a mobile payment firm).
In addition to our forum at TechShop this week, we'll also hear the story behind the visioning and creation of this creative cluster at our Incubators and creative communities forum on August 17.
Join us for the artisan manufacturing forum in the Chronicle Building >>
How Do We Get DENSER?
Due to overwhelming demand pre-registration for this event is closed. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door.
This Tuesday night SPUR will host DENSER, a "Pecha Kucha" night on density, infill and urban development. What's Pecha Kucha? Named after the Japanese word for conversation or “chit chat,” it's a place for designers and other thinkers to showcase their work to the public. In Pecha Kucha's patented fast-and-furious format, presenters are allowed to show 20 slides -- each for just 20 seconds. That's a total of about 6.5 minutes to quickly convey one's ideas or work to the audience, allowing for a greater number of voices and more idea swapping.
Pecha Kucha originated in Tokyo in 2003. Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham Architecture came up with the events as a way for young designers in architecture and other fields to meet, mingle and share their work. It quickly grew, turning into large-scale celebrations of creativity and collaboration, with PK nights now taking place in 418 cities worldwide.
Among the impressive and thought-provoking presenters with us Tuesday night will be John Wong from SWA, Kit Hodge from SF Bicycle Coalition, Craig Scott of Iwamoto/Scott Architecture, David Baker of David Baker Architects, Grady Gillies from UCLA Superstudio, Ben Grant from SPUR, Robin Levitt, Julie Kim, Antonio Roma-Alacala of SF Urban Agriculture Alliance and Pecha Kucha’s Paul Jamtgaard.
The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 21, at the SPUR Urban Center. Pre-registration is full, but a limited number of tickets will be available at the door.
Will Bay Area Cities Survive the Next Big Disaster?
What happens the next time we have a major earthquake on the Hayward or San Andreas Fault? What should we be doing right now to make sure we are prepared? On Monday, I spoke at a forum hosted by the Association of Bay Area Governments, “Shaken Awake: Creative Ways to Strengthen Housing and Promote Resilience in Today’s Economy.”
Our session focused on the topic of long-term recovery, the months and years it will take to rebuild our city and our region after a major event. SPUR posits that there are three core functions of government during recovery:
1. Repairing public facilities and services (the assets that government owns/controls)
2. Providing resources and information for private sector actors to repair and rebuild their affected assets
3. Providing vision and leadership for the recovery and rebuilding process.
We sought to determine which of these local governments are most prepared to tackle and which are they least prepared to tackle? As panelist Charles Eadie pointed out, during the recovery phase, there is enormous pressure to rebuild quickly, so planning often happens after the fact, a process he described as “ready, fire, aim.”
The truth is that after the disaster, we will face enormous challenges exacerbated by time compression: the pressure to rebuild our cities quickly while also taking the time to make thoughtful land-use decisions. SPUR is in the process of developing recommendations to help facilitate rapid and thoughtful recovery in the post-disaster period.
The Bay Plan Amendment Closes in on Consensus
There’s something in it for everyone to hate and something for everyone to love, but after two years, we are optimistic: We may be very close to a consensus on how to amend the San Francisco Bay Plan with new information about climate change.
Over the last two years, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) has been working on a proposal to amend its guidance document, the Bay Plan, to include new findings and policies related to climate change and sea level rise. BCDC has held countless public hearings and public workshops, amended its draft staff recommendation more than three times, and received thousands of public comments. Last November, SPUR provided specific language suggestions to BCDC, which were widely read and used as the basis of other stakeholders’ comments.
In May, SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf was invited to appear on a panel before the commission at a public workshop. Seated right between the two most vocal and oppositional groups engaged in this process — three people representing the environmental community, and three people representing the building industry — Gabriel suggested that the commission consider both protection of the Bay and good infill development around it as equally important regional benefits. And within the limited areas where it’s possible to site new transit-oriented infill development, he urged, the plan should encourage such projects on a case-by-base basis. This is no overreaching assault on the environment: The Bay Plan already presumes no development in fragile managed wetlands, and BCDC has almost no authority to site or permit new development anywhere else.
Since that meeting, the proposed Bay Plan Amendment has changed again, in ways that SPUR strongly supports. Instead of rewriting an entirely new definition of infill development — a subject of wide disagreement — the new amendment refreshingly removes the definition and replaces it with information about the FOCUS program, which identifies the Bay Area’s regional priority development areas for infill. It also recognizes that BCDC is one of several regional agencies working to align policies around sustainable communities and transit-oriented development. The document now references the California Climate Adaptation Strategy, a guidance document developed by and for state agencies on how to plan for climate change. While mildly controversial in that it has not been legally adopted, the strategy is already being followed by a number of other state agencies and was recently endorsed by the California Ocean Protection Council.
The new amendment also recognizes that we will need to invest vast resources in protecting communities and infrastructure along the shoreline and that we need a regional strategy, so that one city’s levee doesn’t worsen sea level rise for its neighbors. Finally, it is abundantly clear that the proposed amendments are not an expansion of BCDC’s jurisdiction — which is extremely limited.
In the first week of June, I testified to BCDC about our support of this new proposal and shared my optimism that we are very, very close to a final amendment. Alongside an intrepid and persevering BCDC staff, SPUR is hoping to see it adopted in October.
SPUR’s recent report “Climate Change Hits Home” explores what rising sea levels will mean for people, property, infrastructure and fragile Bay wetlands.
Exploring Ideas for the Future of Ocean Beach
The Ocean Beach master planning process took a big step forward this month. The project team, led by SPUR, presented four “test scenarios” at its second public meeting on June 4. Based on input from our first public meeting in January, the scenarios explore the outcomes of very different approaches to managing coastal erosion, infrastructure and ecology at Ocean Beach until the year 2100. None was presented as a final answer; instead these test scenarios are extreme cases, intended to inform the conversation by mapping out the widest possible range of options. Here’s what they look at:
Test Scenario A: Maximum Habitat
This scenario prioritizes ecological restoration and accommodating natural processes through “managed retreat,” or allowing the shoreline to advance inland. It is the only scenario in which the project boundary moves inland, requiring major infrastructure reconstruction and the gradual acquisition of private property to allow for a wide beach and native dune field.
Test Scenario B: Maximum Recreation
This scenario prioritizes recreational use and visitor amenities, while maintaining the existing character of the beach to the extent possible. It relies on “beach nourishment” (i.e., replacing sand) and an artificial reef for coastal protection, and features selective replanting of dunes and an active urban beachfront with attractions and amenities along the promenade north of Lincoln Way.
Test Scenario C: Maximum Green Infrastructure
This scenario prioritizes investment in storm-water management to create a more resilient and sustainable infrastructure system. Through sustained investment in permeable pavement, green streets, rain gardens, swales and creek restoration, storm water is removed from the combined sewer/storm-water system, decreasing the likelihood of combined discharges in the face of climate-related changes in rainfall. Lake Merced is restored as a centerpiece of the local hydrology, with an outlet to the ocean. The Lake Merced Wastewater Tunnel (a stormwater overflow container) is relocated and may need less storage capacity. With less emphasis on coastal management, the width of the beach is reduced.
Test Scenario D: Maximum Infrastructure
This scenario prioritizes the function and integrity of existing infrastructure services and investments. Incremental armoring on an emergency basis continues, supplemented by beach nourishment and more permanent armoring in the form of seawalls and, south of Sloat Boulevard, an offshore breakwater. The Westside Transport Box (a stormwater overflow container) is reinforced and raised as the shore recedes, and portions of the beach are replaced by a promenade atop a seawall.
After the scenarios were presented, participants then rolled up their sleeves to mix and match elements from the different test scenarios and propose what they felt was a best-case approach. A range of opinions emerged, and nearly everyone found things to object to and to be enthusiastic about. The group’s ideas will provide input to the project team as we move forward to create a draft approach, which will be presented at the third workshop in October.
View the public workshop presentation >>
The project team used animated rendering to illustrate two of the area’s daunting challenges: the coastal sediment system that shapes the beach and the vulnerable sewer infrastructure complex that protects water quality in the ocean: