Issue 502

Urban Field Notes: 16 Fonts on 16th Street — the City Through a Phone

Urbanist Article

When a friend bought a home computer 20 years ago I wondered why. Back then, computers couldn't talk to each other: you couldn't download tunes, buy a book or a lamp, or schedule a flight. There wasn't any Google or Wikipedia or much of anything.

Now, I don't leave home without my pocket computer/phone/camera/clock/newspaper/music.

With a smartphone in my hand I can walk down the street and see on a map where I am, when the next bus is coming, what people say about that restaurant on the corner, and whether it's going to rain. I can friend and tweet, text or skype.

Unfortunately, the phone won't alert me to what a dog left in my path, or the car or bicycle heading my way. And when I’m staring into my palm I won't see the flesh-and-blood friend across the street, or smell the coffee.

I’ve got the world at my fingertips, and I could be anywhere. Or nowhere.

But the ways in which my smartphone can change my experience on the street continue to evolve. I recently took a walk along 16th Street from Market to Mission with my phone in hand, using an app called What the Font, which tries to identify fonts. I just take a picture, apply the app to the shot, and presto, it suggests the name of the font. Sometimes these suggestions are correct — based on resemblance to an actual documented font — but most of the time they have nothing to do with the typeface I just captured. But it's free and sometimes the name are a kick.


CC Sticky Fingers Italic


Minimiala Medium Italic




Geodec Fog




Euphonia Roman


Rhodaelian Ligatures



Lithia Off Kilter

David Prowler is a principal at Prowler Curtis, a development and consulting partnership. He served on the SF Planning Commission, was the Mayor’s project manager for Mission Bay and the Ballpark, and developed the Glen Park Marketplace, which SPUR called “the perfect project.”