Being a native San Franciscan, I’ve seen the cityscape change drastically over the years. From the addition of the UCSF campus at China Basin to the 3rd Street Rail Line project, I’ve always been quite curious of the urban planning involved in such large-scale projects. Although fanciful and whimsical ideas of making one’s commute more comfortable and accommodating (i.e., a sauna and gym conveniently located in a neighboring train car) are left up to dreamy planners and imaginative artists and designers, these innovative ideas were discussed during the Urban Visions panel discussion held at the California College of the Arts (CCA) on Monday, February 4, 2008.
Talented and humorously prophetic artists, Packard Jennings and Steve Lambert, collaborated with a multi-faceted group of panelists from transportation to urban development consulting and architecture. The dialogue was specifically geared towards the city’s current concerns involving urban planning and transportation. Based on existing conversations and research, Jennings and Lambert, created posters depicting a San Francisco urban plan where the possibilities were not bound by bureaucracy, public opinion, pecuniary hindrances, and physics. The amusing takes on the San Francisco urban landscape were shown via Jennings and Lambert’s Market Street posters. The surreal yet inventive depictions of human convenience aim to entertain the onlooker but present citizens with ideas for endless travel possibilities as potential reality.
The overall panel discussion was lively and rife with discussion that crossed over a broad range of issues within any cosmopolitan place. Transportation consultant, Seleta Reynolds with Fehr & Peers Associates presented current projects that gave the audience a glimpse into what is entailed in her day-to-day job. Basically, Fehr & Peers Associates look at a large number of transportation solutions that are both feasible and not so feasible (i.e., aerial tram way that would transport travelers from Alameda to Oakland). Granted, much of what goes on the drawing and planning board may be deemed as virtually impossible, yet it is a way for people to engage in discourse of what is actually possible prior to disregarding rather realistic ideas that may other wise not make it to an urban planning meeting.
Peter Albert, Deputy Director of Planning with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) provided an overview of how creative thinking is implemented into practical solutions to improve and address the overall transportation issues and concerns. Oddly enough, driving alongside the J line, I’ve always wondered why the train lets the passengers exit right out into open traffic and learned that the SFMTA addresses where these issues are occurring and how they can be remedied. I also learned of ongoing projects for “Traffic Calming”. Calming the streets of bustling and densely populated city incorporates tools that include but not limited to road narrowing, speed bumps, raised intersections, concrete islands, closures, and, yes, trees.
Principal, founder, and chair of Public Architecture, John Peterson of Peterson Architects, presented two polar opposite ends of the spectrum in regard to urban living. Peterson showed the layout for a recently purchased home in one of the more affluent San Francisco neighborhoods that was once rented for $20,000 a month until escrow closed for an undisclosed amount to a wealthy dot com co-founder. Well, undisclosed at the panel discussion. The other example addressed the utilization of public space for a more egalitarian benefit – a day laborer station. This station included multi-level benches for convenient seating and a kitchen to stimulate that particular community and bring in a shared revenue.
As mentioned by Tom Radulovich, Executive Director for Livable City and member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Board of Directors, there are three primary factors that play an integral part in understanding and creating a livable space – the 3 Ms – Movement, Marketplace, and Meeting. Radulovich drew comparisons of cities to San Francisco, which included Brussels, Granada, and London. Although similar in density, there is still a disparity in the advancements and overall innovations in urban design. Unfortunately, San Francisco falling a bit behind but catching up with the emergence of many sustainable living efforts. He also emphasized the desire many people have for a walk-able urban environment integrated with natural elements (i.e., foliage, more trees, and all things natural).
Although I left the lecture with a tremendous amount of information and resources, it reminded me of how I define my space and what exactly comprises it. There were tons of questions and comments after the discussion which dealt with the frustrations and the need to expand the conversation beyond a college theater. Considering much of what San Franciscans see is already in the construction phase, the discussion reminded me of the importance around discourse and how community arts lends itself extremely well to communicating what citizens can do to create space as opposed to just living in it.
Originally Posted: February 5, 2008