Issue 566August 2018

Urban Field Notes: Kinky Streets

(or the Value of the Near Distance)

Words and images by Amit Price-Patel
Urbanist Article January 1, 2018

San Franciscans love their views to the far distance: to the ocean, the bay or the hills, to the Ferry Building or Twin Peaks. These views are a big part of why people move to and stay in the Bay Area, and the carpet of the San Francisco street grid on the rolling hills makes for lots of pretty pictures. These valuable views fuel our tourist engine, push real estate prices into the stratosphere, and keep a lot of land use attorneys busy, as anyone who follows local planning politics knows.

San Francisco’s street grid points to the surrounding hills and water. But my favorite San Francisco vistas are closer in, along the kinky, misaligned streets meeting at the Market Street backbone, where the FiDi north grid and the SOMA south grid meet in wonderfully inconvenient ways. For a pedestrian, the clashing of two different street grids makes an inadvertent jumbly collage of building textures and messy profiles against the sky. Approaching Market Street, visual dead ends define the edges of “urban rooms.”

 

Misaligned kinky streets intersect Market Street. This untidiness is beautiful. Instead of the neat horizontal strata you’d find in archaeology, the terminal views at Market Street reveal the history of architectural styles as they jostle with each other in layers of space. You might find a postmodern granite skyscraper looming over a post-1906 brick warehouse, or a glassy new tower cozying up to a midcentury masterpiece. It’s an always-changing snapshot of the organic growth of our city.

 

 

A messy and engaging urban collage along Second Street.

 

 

Layers of architectural history along First Street. As San Francisco grows vertically and continues to densify, current views to the far distance will certainly change. But there’s so much potential in focusing inward, too. The near distance is where we live day-to-day and deserves equal attention to make sure city life is livable. Let’s keep it kinky, San Francisco!

 

About the Authors: 

Amit Price-Patel is a principal of SITELAB urban studio.

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