The Urbanist

Selected articles from our magazine

Issue 569 February to March 2019

Bay Area Place Types

As part of its ongoing regional strategy work, SPUR has developed 14 place types to provide a tangible portrait of the region.

Member Profile: Tina Barseghian

Tina Barseghian has spent her journalism career covering a diverse array of topics from craft to education to travel. A through line to all of these seemingly disparate beats? Cities.
Issue 568 December 2018 to January 2019

Legalizing Better Land Use

California passed a huge BART housing bill, the latest legislation geared toward addressing the state’s housing shortage. This sets higher standards for local land use, but it remains to be seen if they will result in more building.

Transit Ridership on the Decline Across the U.S.

Transit ridership fell in 31 of 35 major metropolitan areas in the United States last year, including the seven cities that serve the majority of riders. In contrast to the national picture, some Bay Area transit is seeing increased ridership, but the shift away from cars will continue to be an uphill battle.

Cities Commit to Carbon Neutrality

San Francisco hosted the Global Climate Action Summit in September 2018, inspiring deeper commitments on climate change from governments and organizations around the world — including new 100 percent renewable energy and carbon-neutrality targets for California. Despite federal inaction on climate change, the United States is still all in — and is making significant progress.

Scooters Hit the Streets (and a Nerve)

Electric scooters descended on the streets of Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose in 2018. Initially they were scorned, but by the end of 2018 cities and residents across the Bay Are started warming up to scooters. Might we be ready to embrace these small, electric mobility devices as part of a broader solution to the transportation challenges cities face today?

Can We Still Be a Country of Immigrants?

At year’s end, President Trump shut down the federal government in an effort to get funding to build a border wall, the latest in an ongoing effort to limit U.S. immigration. It will fundamentally change the role of America’s cities if the United States decides to no longer be a country of immigrants.

Urban Field Notes: Manifest Density

If San Francisco is going to house families, teachers, firefighters, service workers and more, we’re gonna need some taller buildings.
Issue 567 October to November 2018

Learning From Tokyo

How do other cities solve their urban problems? Each year SPUR takes a study trip to find out.

SPUR's recent study trip to Tokyo made even the most avid urbanists on our staff and board feel like country mice. Because Tokyo is so different, it’s easy for Americans to disregard it as a source of ideas for our own urban areas. But there’s a lot that the cities of the Bay Area can learn from the most populous metropolitan region on earth.

Falling in Love With the Trains of Japan

Unmatchable in their efficiency, reliability and speed, Japanese trains represent the bleeding edge of innovative modern transport.

Japan’s extensive railway system carries nearly 30 percent of all rail passengers in the world, more than all of Europe. But unlike many European countries, Japanese rail companies are privatized. The largest of these companies carries 17 million passengers per day and its $26 billion in annual revenue includes no government subsidies. How is this possible and what can California learn from the Japanese system?

Urban Field Notes: Tokyo — Exuberant and Alive

On this city’s streets there’s almost too much to take in. 

Seen from a tall building, Tokyo’s vast scale is apparent, a largely undifferentiated metropolis to the horizon. But on the ground level, variegated towers on tight lots make for a rich and dynamic texture. Though the city hosts some magnificent architecture, many of the buildings are mundane or downright ugly. The urbanism, however, is exuberant and alive.

The Uncertainty Paradox

Why embracing multiple futures in transportation planning will help us get the future we want. 

Transportation isn’t as predictable as one might think. The profession's standard forecasts and projections are convenient fictions that oversimplify a complex system and mislead us into thinking we know what the future will bring. Luckily, some transportation agencies are now publicly admitting uncertainty about where things might be headed in the future and are embracing new ways to tackle that uncertainty in their planning.

Member Profile: Kay Flavell

Kay Flavell has been researching and writing about people, buildings and streets for decades.

Since leaving her native New Zealand at 21, Kay Flavell has led a nomadic academic life, teaching 18th-century German literature at University College London, collecting oral histories in Liverpool and serving as associate director of the UC Davis Humanities Institute. Today, Flavell is the director of New Pacific Studio, a small multi-disciplinary artist residency program based in Vallejo.