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Black Hole in the “Cool Gray City of Love”

September 23, 2014

Gary Kamiya, a cofounder of Salon and long-time resident of San Francisco, has collected his essays – love letters, really – about his adopted City (always spelled with a capital C) in “Cool Gray City of Love.”  Among the 49 views of San Francisco is this one about the Tenderloin – analogous to but not the same as our Downtown East Side (rather like all comparisons of SFO to YVR). 

Here are a few quotes:


coolIn the universe of San Francisco, the Tenderloin is the black hole, the six block-by-six-block area where the city’s urban matter is more intensely concentrated.  It is the only part of San Francisco that remains untamed, its last human wilderness …

Many cities used to have ‘bad’ neighborhoods in the heart of downtown, zones of misrule where the primal human urges – to get laid, to get high, and to get money – were allowed to bloom furtively in the night.  But most of them are gone now, victims of gentrification.  New York Times Square feels like Disneyland, Vancouver’s Gastown has been tamed, Boston’s Combat Zone was rendered hors de combat years ago.  And of those that remain, none take up[ 36 square blocks of prime real estate in the middle of one of the most expensive cities in the world.  …

So why is it still here?

Because the city wants it to be here.

For decades, the Tenderloin has been carefully protected by the city and various non-profit organizations.  It’s not that these officials, social workers, homeless advocates, and low-cost housing activists want to maintain a zone of crime and filth in the heart of San Francisco; it’s simply an inescapable consequence of their laudable commitment to defend society’s most vulnerable members.  The problem is that by saving the baby, you also save the bathwater.


A report on the Tenderloin by PBS Newshour, including an interview with Kamiya:

Coincidentally, the Tenderloin is listed as No. 1 on the list of Top 10 Most Car Independent Neighborhoods in America by the numbers (outside NYC) in City Clock Magazine.

Streetsblog USA features Vancouver bike lane design

September 23, 2014

Don’t we always pay attention when the Americans pay attention to us?


Hornby Separated Bike Lane


How Vancouver Designs Intersections With Bike Lanes to Minimize Conflicts

Vancouver is famous for its livable urban core, the ease with which its citizens can live without a car (as 26 percent of downtown residents do), and its enviable investments in bicycling and transit. Read on and tell me: Don’t you wish your city’s transportation chief talked like this?


Tanya Snyder’s interview with Jerry Dobrovolny, transportation director – self-described as “the most hated man in the city” – continues here.


In Our Dreams: Bikes and Good Business

September 23, 2014

Can you imagine something similar from, say, the Downtown Vancouver BIA or the Board of Trade:


London Business


From Ken Ohrn:

Sophisticated pro-cycling material.  All positive; hardly a negative word. And quite a roster of supporters.

Sample paragraph:   “Our employees cycle and they deserve appropriate infrastructure. The quality and availability of workplace cycling influences the career decisions of more than half of employees. (Cycling and the Modern Workplace)”.

It seems to be related to ongoing plans to build “Cycling Superhighways” in greater London.”

The Berkeley Bugle: Mapping unused parking

September 23, 2014

New Tool Maps Bay Area’s Expensive, Unused Parking.

Oakland-based non-profit TransForm wants to cut down this pricey — but often required by city code — piece of the development process. Through a new database launching today, it aims to show that, despite their central place in both zoning code and development plans, parking structures in Northern California’s urban core are actually underutilized as residents drive less.  …

The tool, called the GreenTrip Parking Database, overlays multifamily housing data on Google Maps, focusing primarily on high-growth areas like the East and South Bay.

With over 65 complexes shown, users can filter information into sub-categories (to find only buildings with a certain number of units, say, or only buildings located in a certain city). Each tailored search brings up a page with parking information: the number of spaces allotted per unit, the number of spaces actually being used and then, most significantly, the cost of that unused space.




Full article in NextCity here.

Ohrn Image: Changing seasons, changing streets

September 23, 2014

Turning Seasons on Green Streets


Green street

Light Blogging Ahead

September 22, 2014

Computer issues.

[Life lesson: If a site says "Free Download," it isn't.  You'll pay.]

West End: Impacts and Issues of Laneway Housing

September 19, 2014

The first proposals for laneway housing under the new West End plan are coming forward.  And the first objections.

From West End Neighbours:

… ask yourself, is this what you expected when the City said “laneway housing” was coming to the West End?



Here’s the site:



A low-rise rental building is being proposed for a parking lot – no demolition or evictions required – after the completion of a community planning process that took more than a year of public input.  And yet the list of complaints is longer than ever.  Such as this:

It appears these projects can be approved without a Public Hearing, as a result of adoption of the West End Community Plan.

In other words, it is not a spot rezoning that requires a public hearing.  Ironically, it was complaints about spot rezonings that led to the West End planning process in the first place. ( As planners learn very early in their careers: No matter what option you propose, it will be the wrong one.)

Nonetheless, lane infill is the most innovative and potentially the most transformative initiative in the new West End plan – something I was reminded of when I took a shortcut down a lane between Burnaby and Harwood Streets, east of Bidwell:




Here is what we might lose if these sites were replaced with housing (though under the current bylaw, not all are eligible.)








Note the shear amount of empty asphalt – because one of the biggest complaints about this kind of change will be the loss of existing parking.

If that argument prevails in the face of (a) declining car use, and other options such as car-sharing, (b) increasing demand for rental housing, (c) inability to develop elsewhere without demolition or displacement of existing tenants, then … well, what?  In that case we are not a serious people, our expectations are disconnected from reality, and our demands are petulant.


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