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December 5, 2012 2:54 AM   Subscribe

San Francisco can become a world capital. First it needs to get over itself.
posted by MattMangels (227 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
LOL.

Breaking News: Silicon Valley native confesses all. Never wanted the fame and glory that different youths in different eras kept chucking at the streets, the hills, the cable cars and the lovely conductors who have their coffee at the Gallery Cafe across the street.
posted by infini at 2:57 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm afraid all the tech startups must build their skyscrapers in Oakland now, sorry guys.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:01 AM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, the irony.
posted by infini at 3:01 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not a terrible argument. I think it's patently obvious that the city's skyrocketing real estate prices are caused entirely by a housing shortage, which is in turn caused entirely by a reactionary and protectionist zoning regime.
posted by valkyryn at 3:01 AM on December 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


220 square feet?

Takes calculator, converts to more familiar square meters...

Over 20 square meters?! That's a fucking palace here in Paris! Yeah, San Francisco should get over itself. Lovely city, though.
posted by Skeptic at 3:02 AM on December 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


I used to pay 1350 for a 2 bedroom on Mason
posted by infini at 3:03 AM on December 5, 2012


220 square feet -- $1,300 to $1,500 a month

It's always bizarre to hear about this, as where I live 220 square feet costs me 76 cents on my mortgage. That's not square footage under a roof, but it's my space to walk around, make a garden, or just build in. I'm 12 minutes away from a major university, tech jobs, Starbucks, organic foods market, 20 minutes from a city of 1 million, and have broadband, and run my Internet business from here. Flyover country ain't SF or NYC and it's not very cultured, but reading about these shoebox apartments is just mind-boggling.
posted by crapmatic at 3:04 AM on December 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


The problem is how to fit big egos into small spaces.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:05 AM on December 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Exactly, our willingness to let people sleep wherever there is room to lay down and curl into a ball is what made New York great.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:14 AM on December 5, 2012 [17 favorites]


20 minutes from a city of 1 million

Claiming Detroit, when y'all live 20 miles away.
posted by three blind mice at 3:14 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is sort of ridiculous. San Francisco doesn't need more Twitter flats in the Haight. It needs more taxis, and buses on the N Judah. Imaginary problem solved.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:18 AM on December 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


(San Francisco - Sillycone Valley) > Sillycone Valley
posted by Goofyy at 3:21 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


He used to work for Talbot, but apparently his current job is as a real estate developer.

How else to explain that his solution is "give the developers whatever they want"?
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:23 AM on December 5, 2012 [17 favorites]


San Francisco could become the next New York, Hong Kong, or Paris

Yeah, but they want to be San Francisco. Why on earth would they want to be Hong Kong?
posted by Segundus at 3:25 AM on December 5, 2012 [42 favorites]


yeah, I think the crux of this article should be 'Does San Francisco want to become a world capital?'
posted by mannequito at 3:28 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's right. He's dead-on right. The reason housing is so insane is because there isn't enough. Build enough, and prices will be reasonable. Yeah, you're going to end up with lots of thirty-story apartment buildings, but you'll end up with tons of living space for the residents; they'll be able to have nice big apartments, probably for less than they're paying now for a postage stamp, once the supply catches up with demand. (at first, I'm sure the new, big apartments will be nosebleed expensive -- but every person in those new highrises is one less person competing for the apartment you're in!)

The alternative is a city composed largely of multi-millionaires and their domestic housekeeping staff. You aren't going to have any more bohemian art districts, because even the shittiest apartments will be too expensive for artists. They'll all move to Detroit, instead.

It seems to me that people are confusing the architecture of the city with the culture. They want it to look the same, and stay low-rise and low-density, but by preserving how it looks, they'll destroy how it feels.

It can BE pretty similar to how it has been, just with larger buildings, or it can LOOK pretty similar to how it has been, but with only the super-wealthy in residence.

Choose one.
posted by Malor at 3:30 AM on December 5, 2012 [44 favorites]


San Francisco is already far more than a mere world capital. It's the capital of the entire United Federation of Planets!
posted by Flunkie at 3:34 AM on December 5, 2012 [63 favorites]


Segundus: Yeah, but they want to be San Francisco. Why on earth would they want to be Hong Kong?

Because the alternative is to be Petrified San Francisco, frozen in time, drained of its vibrancy. You won't have the incredible mix of social classes that always used to make the place up, everything from starving artists to the working classes to the hoi polloi. All you'll have left is the high-paid finance and tech people, and they're mostly too busy to be creating much culture or generating an interesting street life.

Those young geeks are often working 16+ hours a day.... not exactly the social backbone of a culture.
posted by Malor at 3:42 AM on December 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


Artists should not stay in San Francisco anyways, that moment passed long long ago. Ditto Paris, New York, etc. Berlin was great for artists over the past two decades, but Berlin's moment has now passed too. Detroit sounds promising. Oakland might work if you're already a successful artist.

San Francisco cannot retain its glory days because $1000 per month is just as much wage slave rent as $2000 per month. Gentrification killed SF long long ago.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:46 AM on December 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


During my last stay in San Francisco (2010 to 2011) when I needed a place fast, relatively cheaply and that would take dogs, I rented at Fox Plaza. I got a studio for $1575 plus $50 more for my dog, so all in $1625. Fox Plaza is a high rise with the first 12 floors being office space and next 15 being small apartments with amazing views. Excellent public transportation, right next to the Tenderloin, Hayes Valley and SOMA and technically considered the Civic Center neighborhood.

Rents are now over $2000. It's across the street from the new Twitter headquarters in the Upper Market neighborhood. The neighborhood desperately needed something like Twitter to help revitalize a rather lackluster area of the city.

I'm probably headed back to SF and will again need housing quickly in a place that takes dogs. I don't want to pay 2 grand for a studio.

SF does suffer from a lot of NIMBYism, no one wants changes in their neighborhoods that don't benefit them even if it benefits others. We were here first! When I lived in Duboce Triangle, the neighborhood next to the Castro, I attended our neighborhood meetings. People were militant and vocal about EVERYTHING. They don't want tall buildings near them that will put their homes in near constant shadow or new businesses that will increase traffic or make scarce parking even more scarce. I went to the meeting for a new Trader Joe's that was just awful. Any new development, and there could be more in many neighborhoods, should be considered but neighborhood charm and livability also matter.

But yeah, SF has to build up since there's no more land and the best place to do that is in SOMA. However, SOMA has pretty crappy public transportation when trying to get to other parts of the city.
posted by shoesietart at 3:55 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I miss the old San Francisco. We used to hang out in Golden Gate Park, smoking weed, talking poetry. Later that night we went to the Haight, where a crazy man told us about his hummingbirds. We slept that night under the bridge, but got up the next morning and had breakfast at a vegan restaurant that served "eggs" made from the krishna lotus from a recipe in a book that they bartered from City Lights. Afterwards, I said to her, as we rode the trolley up the hill, that Kerouac and I were soul brothers, and Ginsberg was my soul sister. And we made love under the stars, while the Dead played China Cat.

But I digress.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:56 AM on December 5, 2012 [19 favorites]


My artist friend lives in Oakland, and I get the sense she doesn't come to SF much. My guess is that SF will turn into a large-scale Portland, where a small wealthy technological elite patronizes what artisanal culture is allowed to make a living downtown, while the surrounding neighborhoods make their own culture at the fringe.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:59 AM on December 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


He's right. He's dead-on right. The reason housing is so insane is because there isn't enough. Build enough, and prices will be reasonable. Yeah, you're going to end up with lots of thirty-story apartment buildings, but you'll end up with tons of living space for the residents; they'll be able to have nice big apartments, probably for less than they're paying now for a postage stamp, once the supply catches up with demand.

He's totally wrong. I mean, are you really going to use Manhattan as an example of how to get affordable housing?

Because housing is a utility, requires large capital investment, and has a high social cost (i.e. building the wrong building in the wrong place costs the people surrounding it) , the market for housing will never resemble anything approaching "free." The only way you get affordable housing through "free markets" is by irrational exuberance i.e. essentially Detroit. The market for housing is slow, you can think of the build-up of Detroit during the post-war boom as a bubble which has now thoroughly deflated due to this misjudged demand. If you want supply and demand to equalize you are going to have to wait a long time... actually forever.

Also, there is no such thing as "affordable" housing. The major investment costs of making a building are the foundation (and structure), utilities, and the cost of capital, which are essentially the same no matter what you charge for the units/houses.

And on and on... the point is that, again, housing is a utility, just like health care is a utility. The markets for utilities are different than the markets for corn or pork bellies or rolled steel. Saying "increase production and prices will fall" either makes you naive or means you have a bridge you are trying to sell (or 100 up-market condo units in an up and coming neighborhood...)

I think the people who believe, really believe in capitalism, have no idea how it actually works.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:12 AM on December 5, 2012 [39 favorites]


My guess is that SF will turn into a large-scale Portland

There's no way you could get that many bicycles up those hills.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:12 AM on December 5, 2012 [8 favorites]



I think the real problem isn't San Francisco's reluctance to change. It's a world class city with a world class infrastructure that includes public transportation, universities, parks, and museums which all contribute to making it a highly desirable place to live and work.

The real problem is that we aren't creating more cities like San Francisco. There are probably dozens of nearby cities that could cultivate cultures and neighborhoods every bit as sophisticated and desirable as those found in San Francisco but are stunted by our unwillingness to make the kind of investments that would provide them with their own public transportation networks, universities, parks, and museums.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:21 AM on December 5, 2012 [60 favorites]


My artist friend lives in Oakland, and I get the sense she doesn't come to SF much.

Between co-workers, in-laws and old college friends, I must know close to a hundred people who live in the Bay Area and off the top of my head, I can't think a single one that actually lives in SF itself.
posted by octothorpe at 4:23 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm really not sure why Goog and other high tech companies don't just put up dorms on their campuses. Sure, some would say that it may be unwise to tie your housing to your employment with one company, but get a contract that gives you x$ towards relocation if you get let go and it would be ok.

Infrastructure costs a lot now because we have laws that prevent us from killing workers to build a bridge.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:25 AM on December 5, 2012


It can BE pretty similar to how it has been, just with larger buildings, or it can LOOK pretty similar to how it has been, but with only the super-wealthy in residence.

Choose one.


Eh. That sounds like the type of threat developers make all the time. The way to keep San Francisco is not to build skyscrapers and turn it into another city. That makes no sense. I'm for the anti-developer solution. Increase tenant rights. Give landlords more breaks. Keep/expand the low income housing. Keep zoning strict. Keep strict traffic laws.

Protect Historic Buldings, like they are doing in the Tenderloin. Put them on the National Register of Historic Places and make it impossible to do anything with them - other than keep them as is.

How will that help? Developers, if they feel they can't touch San Francisco will go build their condo complexes in the valley or in Oakland. And that's probably the best solution, to be honest.
posted by vacapinta at 4:25 AM on December 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


How dense do you really want a city to be in an active earthquake zone?
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:40 AM on December 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Once again old Bill got there before everybody else: just close down the bridge and convert it to housing for all the alternative/hipster types, and rebuild the rest from the ground up using nanotechnology.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:40 AM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


The major investment costs of making a building are the foundation (and structure), utilities, and the cost of capital, which are essentially the same no matter what you charge for the units/houses.

Except that that isn't true in places like San Francisco. The major cost is being in San Francisco, and that's only expensive because of insane zoning regulations. I'm currently paying about $0.70/sq. ft./month for my townhouse, which is over 1000 sq. ft., and these pads are going for closer to $7.00/sq. ft./month.

There is no way of explaining that differential based on the cost of infrastructure, utilities, and capital alone. Building materials do not magically quadruple in cost just because you live in California. Neither does capital. Energy costs are higher, but not that much higher. And even accounting for a wage and tax differential, we can maybe get to twice the cost. Not ten freaking times.

The only way you get affordable housing through "free markets" is by irrational exuberance i.e. essentially Detroit.

Wrong. Dead wrong. Have you heard of a place called "the Midwest"? There are plenty of healthy cities with entirely reasonable real estate prices. They are almost uniformly less regulated, even in their downtown districts.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not actually opposed to zoning regulation. One should not be able to build anything one likes anywhere one chooses, and municipalities and communities do and ought to have a say in that. But you don't get to pick your zoning regime of choice and then whine about the consequences of that choice, i.e., the fact that housing costs are wildly distorted by a restrictive, reactionary, oppressive layer of regulation.
posted by valkyryn at 4:42 AM on December 5, 2012 [14 favorites]



Wrong. Dead wrong. Have you heard of a place called "the Midwest"?

It's been some while since I was born in Illinois, but my best memory is that it's generally not constrained by an ocean and a bay.
posted by ambient2 at 5:16 AM on December 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


Tall buildings built by private investors in big cities – I am not very familiar with real estate, but is this not one of the most expensive housing schemes available?
posted by romanb at 5:22 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm curious : Why doesn't Michigan simply move the state capital to Detroit? It'd send an unambiguous messages to artists, entrepreneurs, developers, etc., ala "We promise you consumers for whatever you produce."
posted by jeffburdges at 5:23 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think moving a state capital is SUPER expensive. I know AK was looking at this a while back and as far as I know it was just too damn expensive.
posted by Blake at 5:36 AM on December 5, 2012


Singapore has built housing development board apartments. San Francisco should not become a high rise jungle off the coast of Asia.
posted by infini at 5:37 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Earthquake much, San Francisco?
Why yes, yes I do.

Let's not build too closely or too tall, mkay?
posted by entropos at 5:39 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Except that that isn't true in places like San Francisco. The major cost is being in San Francisco, and that's only expensive because of insane zoning regulations. I'm currently paying about $0.70/sq. ft./month for my townhouse, which is over 1000 sq. ft., and these pads are going for closer to $7.00/sq. ft./month.

For real? The reason why land in SF is so much more valuable than land in Dayton has almost nothing to do with zoning regulations. Although, to be fair, it does cost more to build in SF than Dayton because the differential likelihood of earthquakes but that would only serve to actually make the land less valuable then it otherwise would be.

The price of a unit of housing within a given market is somewhat divorced from the cost to actually manufacture that physical unit of housing. The value of the land is roughly determined by the price a person is willing to pay to live in the unit of housing on that land so that ends up being sort of circular.

Again, Manhattan is not a model for affordable housing. Building more units in SF would just mean more people living in SF at high rent i.e. higher profit expectations for developers for a given project.

Spend 30 minutes in SF and it's clear that it needs more SROs i.e "flophouses." The combination of eager young white people talking about the next round of financing and people shitting in the streets is just shocking and then you get used to it. But, there is no market for "affordable" housing in SF.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:40 AM on December 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


No fair posting this so early in the morning before anyone in SF is awake. It will be interesting to see what this thread starts to look like at noon EST.
posted by Aizkolari at 5:51 AM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Infrastructure costs a lot now because we have laws that prevent us from killing workers to build a bridge.

For a moment I thought you were suggesting that we could lower housing costs by burying prisoners in the foundations so their spirits could guard the buildings. I do not think that is a safe or appropriate earthquake hazard plan.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:00 AM on December 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Not that some developers haven't thought of this, I imagine.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:01 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Asking San Francisco to get over itself is asking it to stop being San Francisco.
posted by Longtime Listener at 6:04 AM on December 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


No fair posting this so early in the morning before anyone in SF is awake. It will be interesting to see what this thread starts to look like at noon EST.

That's a good point, so until then I'm just going to be making stuff up here, sitting here in the San Francisco of Europe (there's even a Golden Gate Bridge here), and with my access to Wikipedia and Google Maps, I think I can solve all of these housing problems.

It seems San Francisco is already a world capital. That's kind of obvious, if you look at the region with all your startups and old trolleys and such. And with a population of something around 7 million, there's enough people. The problem is that you call yourselves all different things, like Oakland, San Jose, Fremont, Cupertino. Since you all live around the San Francisco Bay, you could just call the whole thing San Francisco, run a few more trolleys around the bay, and suddenly you have a nice big world capital brand with all kinds of nice neighbourhoods where people could build new buildings to live in. Also, I've (obviously) never stepped foot in California.
posted by romanb at 6:05 AM on December 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Let's not build too closely or too tall, mkay?

As the article points out, if Japan can do it, we can do it.
posted by valkyryn at 6:12 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


The value of the land is roughly determined by the price a person is willing to pay to live in the unit of housing on that land so that ends up being sort of circular.

True. But for this...

The reason why land in SF is so much more valuable than land in Dayton has almost nothing to do with zoning regulations.

...to be true, zoning must have almost nothing to do with land use or property value.

Which, as a proposition, isn't even wrong.
posted by valkyryn at 6:13 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think the "feel" issue is a big one. Sure you could build a bunch of high rises and more people could live in the city and rents might go down a bit in some places. But the wealthy would continue to push everyone else out of the desirable neighborhoods, and these neighborhoods would become more generic and crowded. Soon the place would feel like midtown Manhattan or NYC's SoHo, which some of us think have lost their soul.

Having said that I do think its important to try to develop affordable housing to accommodate new residents in great cities. I just don't think the free market is always the best mechanism for doing it.
posted by nowhere man at 6:19 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


No fair posting this so early in the morning before anyone in SF is awake.

I'm up! Only have one cup of coffee in me, though.

I've lived here long enough now that my sense of what's normal for real estate and rental housing is really skewed - and I moved here from DC, not from someplace where you can rent a house for $600.

Does zoning have an effect on housing prices? Well, yeah, though they're not the whole story. What regulations exactly would you recommend changing or eliminating?
posted by rtha at 6:20 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, San Francisco should obviously eliminate all zoning and build high-rises exclusively, so that artists can afford to live there. That is the only way it will ever catch up with the famous artists' mecca of Houston.
posted by enn at 6:33 AM on December 5, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'm really not sure why Goog and other high tech companies don't just put up dorms on their campuses.

Imagine yourself living as a young person "on campus". One Friday morning, you head out of the house at 9, run into a coworker/neighbor and awkwardly sit on the bus talking about Work, because you two aren't close enough to talk about Not Work. You go into the office with the coworker/neighbor, continue to talk about Work and do Work Things until 5. Your coworker/neighbor is also going home, so you sit on the bus and talk about Work. You both stop at the MultiMart to buy groceries, talking about Work in the checkout line. You get back on the bus, talking about Work, until you reach your building, where you both go into your flats and unpack your groceries.

You feel like being social that evening, so you go to a neighborhood bar, where you run into your coworker/neighbor along with many other coworker/neighbors. You all proceed to talk about Work the entire evening, because that is the unifying factor of your association with each other and talking about politics in the workplace (or the bar/extension of the workplace) can only lead to trouble.

You and a new coworker/neighbor who moved into your corporate housing development from Competing Company the month prior find each other mutually attractive, and in your drunken states, you both go to your flat where you have a satisfying round of sexual intercourse, thankfully not talking about Work in the process. In the morning, you make breakfast and occasionally talk about Work, but sometimes also talk about Not Work, although living on campus means that Work makes up much of both of your social circles, shared experiences, and external input. Not Work is increasingly less important over time, you both have found.

On Monday, you see your new acquaintance in the canteen, and you both make plans for a date at a local restaurant, one known On Campus for the romantic atmosphere. You talk a little less about Work, but it still comes up, and you are once again successful in mating with this coworker/neighbor, and a year later, you are in city hall (conveniently located On Campus, due to the sprawl of your large employer) signing a mutually beneficial civic partnership agreement legally witnessed by several other coworker/neighbor/friends. Before and after the ceremony, you all talk about Work, because there is a product launch coming up. Three of the six people in your group photo are wearing polo shirts with your employer's logo on the left breast.

Some years later, you have a child. Your coworker/neighbor/friends are happy for you, and make jokes about the child being You 2.0. You jokingly reply that you will name the child after a certain product that was excellent, but failed in the marketplace. You all laugh and someone starts talking about Work again. A coworker/neighbor in HR sends you an infant bodysuit with your employer's logo on it along with a letter informing you that your child now has a place in the local On Campus crèche.

Your child eventually goes to the local primary school, again On Campus due to sprawl, where your child's friends all have parents who are also coworker/neighbors of yours, occasionally coworker/neighbor/friends as well. Your child and their cohorts have all learnt to talk about Work from overhearing discussions at the dinner table, and so group divisions form in the class between Product Development, Marketing, and Sales. This is neither encouraged, nor discouraged, by the teacher.

Years later, you celebrate your birthday at a local restaurant, which at this point has been subsumed into Corporate Services District Building 7. Your coworker/neighbor/friends, and your child's neighbor/friends all gather to celebrate another successful year of your survival on this planet. You are particularly pleased by the gift from Corporate HR, a $100 voucher for an online store that you enjoy ordering from. You notice that your child's long-time neighbor/friend is not there. You ask if they had a falling out, and are somewhat distressed to hear that your child and the neighbor/friend did indeed have a falling out, over strong differences in opinion regarding your employer's recent logo change. Your child is proudly wearing a t-shirt with the new logo on it, which features "more dynamic swoops". You feel no small amount of pride in the fact that your child has chosen the proper logo.

A week later, you receive an email notifying you that your attendance at an All Group Employee Meeting is mandatory. You attend, and with numb shock, are told that you are being made redundant. You are escorted out of the building. Your partner comes home with a nearly identical story, and the next day you jointly receive a letter notifying you both that you have 30 days to vacate your Corporate Home. Over the following days, you notice that other coworker/neighbors and coworker/neighbor/friends withdraw from social contact as they digest their receipt of similar letters. You also notice that you are slowly shunned by coworker/neighbors and coworker/neighbor/friends who survived the cull.

You and your partner desperately search for new jobs, which at this point all involve On Campus Housing in what brochures claim are Modern, Energy Efficient, and Family Friendly Homes.

You are not able to come to an agreement regarding the location and corporate benefits of any of the potential employers. After a week, you and your partner have deeply bitter fights, and your partner expresses a desire to move to Omaha to work for Competing Company, which has no openings for you. Your child grows (or pastes-on, you're not entirely certain) a mustache and joins a local Luddite gang.

You begin to drift apart from your partner. You fall out of contact with your ex-coworker/ex-neighbor/friends, because the basis for the friendships were based on being coworker/neighbor, not ex-coworker/ex-neighbor.

Months later, you find yourself living alone in your car, which you bought with the paltry severance agreement. Half of the space is occupied with boxes of corporate polo shirts and bulky Lucite trophy/awards representing your 2, 5, 10, 15 and 20 years of service to your former employer. Your partner has filed for separation. You are alone.

You drive to a wooded Superfund site, not yet redeveloped into Corporate Housing Complexes for your former employer and Competing Companies, and build a fire. You feed it periodically with polo shirts, enjoying the mild chemical buzz of the fumes, and briefly think about sacrificing the Lucite trophy/awards. But they are the only proof that you have that you have ever existed at all, that you Shipped Widgetbook 1.1.4 In Time And Under Budget. You shiver, throw another polo shirt on the fire, and ponder your child's rebellious mustache.
posted by cmonkey at 6:34 AM on December 5, 2012 [120 favorites]


A world capital? Pfft. Aim higher! San Francisco, home of Starfleet Command!
posted by barnacles at 6:34 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've lived in San Fran (briefly) and I've spent enough time in super-dense cities that agree with Manjoo: SF is pretty, probably one of the prettiest, vibrant cities in the world, but I wouldn't live there again. And the reason for that is that it's not a well operating city. It doesn't have the awesome public transportation of Paris or Hong Kong, or the (easily reachable) bedroom suburbs, of well, any major urban city. The peninsula means that getting in and out of SF is a multi-hour traffic jam (at least it used to be in the late 90s, I've only been back to visit).

Building higher makes sense. Protect the pretty Victorian houses and the more scenic neighborhoods, sure, but you cant tell me every crummy old house in SF needs protection.

My favorite city in the world is Melbourne, Oz and I usually describe it to friends as "just like San Francisco, only livable". Melbourne has kept its Victorian and gold-rush character, but it has also built up and invested in infrastructure. Yes, its geography is easier; the Aussies could have chosen to built out instead of up, but they did the right thing (up).
posted by costas at 6:39 AM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, but they want to be San Francisco. Why on earth would they want to be Hong Kong?

No, no, no. SF is isn't comparing itself to far flung capitals and exotic cities. It's obvious that San Francisco just doesn't want to be like that world class hell hole, Los Angeles.
posted by FJT at 6:40 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


San Francisco wouldn't be San Francisco if it had three times the population density of Hong Kong and its skyline.

I've wanted to live in The City since I was a kid. If money were no object I'd live there now. But if I wanted to live in a manhattan-nized San Francisco I'd live in Manhattan. And just as New York is more than just Manhattan, the Bay Area is more than San Francisco.
posted by birdherder at 6:45 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


In San Francisco, even the bums have resumes.
posted by Catblack at 6:47 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought this article, briefly mentioned in the linked one, was way more thoughtful and interesting.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:48 AM on December 5, 2012


I've lived in San Fran

And you still call it San Fran? I call shenanigans.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 6:48 AM on December 5, 2012 [21 favorites]


No fair posting this so early in the morning before anyone in SF is awake.

San Francisco is more cosmopolitan than that. I consider myself a San Franciscan even though I live in the UK. But I lived there from 1992-2008 and saw the city go through severe changes. I have a ton of friends there including one whose family has been there since the early 19th century and whose dad was a mayoral candidate. I still send money to Arts organizations there. As a still-participant in Guess Where SF, I know the city better than most current residents. We go there twice a year and last time spent time looking at Tenderloin Art Deco and tracking down historical figures in Colma's cemeteries.

All that is to say, being a world city means the city belongs to the world, to more than its current residents.
posted by vacapinta at 6:52 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Over 20 square meters?! That's a fucking palace here in Paris!

There's smog in your city? I'd kill for semi-breathable atmosphere on Mars!

Paris prices grumble grumble.
posted by ersatz at 6:52 AM on December 5, 2012


You drive to a wooded Superfund site, not yet redeveloped into Corporate Housing Complexes for your former employer and Competing Companies, and build a fire. You feed it periodically with polo shirts, enjoying the mild chemical buzz of the fumes, and briefly think about sacrificing the Lucite trophy/awards. But they are the only proof that you have that you have ever existed at all, that you Shipped Widgetbook 1.1.4 In Time And Under Budget. You shiver, throw another polo shirt on the fire, and ponder your child's rebellious mustache.

Oh god cmonkey. It is like you peered into my soul.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:07 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dude understands that the San Francisco Bay area is home to a zillion converging fault lines, right?

Who in their right mind would invest in highrise apartments in San Francisco?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:21 AM on December 5, 2012


I ignore anything said by people who characterize their opponents' objections as "whining". I am now extending this to people who say that anyone needs to "get over themselves". This is just rhetorical bullying; it is not argument.
posted by thelonius at 7:26 AM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm curious : Why doesn't Michigan simply move the state capital to Detroit? It'd send an unambiguous messages to artists, entrepreneurs, developers, etc., ala "We promise you consumers for whatever you produce."

The 92 percent of Michigan that doesn't live in Detroit (particularly the Grand Rapids and U.P. parts -- that is, Western and Northern Michigan, who never bother coming to Detroit because Chicago or Milwaukee is closer) doesn't want the city to have that kind of influence.

Even the suburbs don't want the city to have that kind of influence -- Wayne County-wide initiatives often get tangled up by Detroit getting too many seats on the committee or the like.
posted by Etrigan at 7:37 AM on December 5, 2012


Portola, Bayview and Excelsior are architectural wastelands. No reason why some of those south & southeast neighborhoods couldn't be developed more densely while maintaining the historical integrity of the older areas. I don't think it could ever be made as dense as Manhattan though, without utterly destroying the reasons why people wanted to live there in the first place.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:49 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


The price of a unit of housing within a given market is somewhat divorced from the cost to actually manufacture that physical unit of housing. The value of the land is roughly determined by the price a person is willing to pay to live in the unit of housing on that land so that ends up being sort of circular.

You're right, but try modeling this in a very standard way. You'd expect prices to approach the marginal cost of building a new unit of housing if there were not significant limits on supplying additional units. It should be clear that there are very significant limits on such new housing in SF, and also high demand.

Again, Manhattan is not a model for affordable housing. Building more units in SF would just mean more people living in SF at high rent i.e. higher profit expectations for developers for a given project.

Please explain your model in which more housing supply does not result in downward pressure on prices. And note that there are very significant restrictions on building additional housing in NYC - see Ed Glaeser's classic Why Is Manhattan So Expensive?

I appreciate that this might sound like I'm a conservative ranting about government regulation, but that's really not the case. Zoning serves a number of useful purposes and is great at mitigating externalities in some cases.

That said, zoning that strangles the number of housing units allowed in our biggest cities is awful and it needs to be said. There are huge consequences to this, especially for the environment.
posted by ripley_ at 7:50 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


A couple of things:

- Developers have already done/are doing building-up-and-not-out in South Beach/Mission Bay. The problem is none of them want to build middle income housing--they all want to do luxury housing. Hell, what passes for "middle income" housing is still too expensive.

- We are a city of neighborhoods, and high rises would kill part of what makes SF SF.

That said, I went away for one year to go to school back east, and despite coming back with a decent job at a pay level, found myself priced out because I refuse to do roommates and I need a car for my work which limits the apartment pool substantially. Did I move down the peninsula? Nope (grew up there: been there, done that, never again). Marin. You can find a decent-sized apartment in Marin County these days in better repair for half of what SF slumlords are asking. Granted, there's practically no public transportation infrastructure, the smug problem is just as bad albeit of a different flavor, and no one seems to understand how merging on the freeway works, but being an SF Bay native, I NEVER thought I'd see the day when l'd be living in freaking Marin County because it was more economical.
posted by smirkette at 7:50 AM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't think it could ever be made as dense as Manhattan though, without utterly destroying the reasons why people wanted to live there in the first place.

People want to live in Manhattan! If we can cater to 1 million people who like that type of urban environment, that's flat-out better than developing the neighbourhood for 100,000 people who prefer sparser neighbourhoods.
posted by ripley_ at 7:52 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who in their right mind would invest in highrise apartments in San Francisco?

I'd rather be at the very top of the Transamerica tower during an earthquake than up on the marina in a 150 year old victorian. Architecture has come a long way.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:52 AM on December 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


Portola, Bayview and Excelsior are architectural wastelands. No reason why some of those south & southeast neighborhoods couldn't be developed more densely while maintaining the historical integrity of the older areas.

These are also some of the last working class neighborhoods in the city. The Excelsior has the highest percentage of homeownership in San Francisco, or at least it did five years ago when my students did a community mapping project. The architecture may not be as compelling, but these neighborhoods along with Lakeview and Ingleside are important to keeping families in the city.
posted by smirkette at 7:54 AM on December 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


People want to live in Manhattan!

SF doesn't need to be as dense as Manhattan at any point in the near future. If the housing stock went up by even 20%, that'd probably depress prices pretty substantially. People want to live in SF because it's SF. If you pave the whole schmeer, it's not that SF any more.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:57 AM on December 5, 2012


These are also some of the last working class neighborhoods in the city.

As a former Excelsior resident, I was being a bit tongue in cheek, but yeah. You can't remake the place without losing something, though if I were to have my druthers, plant a high-rise bloc out there, rather than in the Castro.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:58 AM on December 5, 2012


You don't have to build high-rises to increase density, you know. You could build five-story buildings and still end up with a very human, walkable city. It's the Cold Corporate Towers Looming Overhead that give places that pleasant, 'We care nothing for your existence' feeling.

Like Houston!
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:04 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, you're going to end up with lots of thirty-story apartment buildings

Those buildings are going to have far higher prices than whatever they replace.

San Francisco is already one of the densest places in North America; Over 200,000 people only New York City is higher (and SF is denser than Queens or Staten Island).

Spend 30 minutes in SF and it's clear that it needs more SROs i.e "flophouses."

It used to -- and the same thing happened to them that would happen to the imaginary ones you are advocating -- they would immediately fill up with hipsters, who would drive the homeless right back out of them, and the rents would almost immediately rise to the level that's so shocking.

There is no way to mandate affordable housing in hotly-desirable hip cities. That's why the damn rents are so high in the first place: because people want to live there so desperately. You all can talk about Detroit, but there's a reason Detroit is so cheap: it's deserted. 2/3 of the population has left. The only way to ease the real estate crunch is to suffer economic devastation so that no one wants to live there. Same thing with traffic: traffic is bad because people are willing to put up with it because it's so desirable.

That's how you lower rents: make the place unlivable. Not thirty-story towers.

Also, I love San Francisco dearly, but it's not really a "World City", whatever that means; not anymore. It's lovely and scenic, but very little of global importance takes place there. It's a boutique city par excellence.
posted by Fnarf at 8:05 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the "feel" issue is a big one. Sure you could build a bunch of high rises and more people could live in the city and rents might go down a bit in some places. But the wealthy would continue to push everyone else out of the desirable neighborhoods, and these neighborhoods would become more generic and crowded. Soon the place would feel like midtown Manhattan or NYC's SoHo, which some of us think have lost their soul.

When you see it costing $2000 or more to rent a small apartment in areas that used to be much more affordable, the "soul" is already lost. The superficial appearance may still be there, but don't pretend it's still the same place.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:07 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Where I live in San Francisco it just feels so suburban. Forget world class city, my neighbors all live in three story buildings with garage parking. The few that can't park in their building have basically free ($100/year) street parking. There are at least 8 drivethru fast food places within half a mile. There are probably 6 car dealerships and 12 gas stations in the same area. Every store you go to offers parking, most of it free. People drive to work, park, drive home, park, drive their kids to school, park, drive to all their errands.

If SF wants to be a city it has to get over its car-focused transportation policy first.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:12 AM on December 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


ennui.bz: "you can think of the build-up of Detroit during the post-war boom as a bubble which has now thoroughly deflated due to this misjudged demand."

What do you mean there, ennui? Misjudged demand for the houses required by the hundreds of thousands of auto workers back when there actually were that many, or misjudged demand for the autos they no longer make there because the companies didn't respond appropriately when foreign auto makers started producing cars Americans wanted to buy? Calling the collapse of the housing market in Detroit a "burst bubble" is incredibly naïve. There is no market for houses in Detroit because the number of jobs in Detroit plummeted drastically in the last few decades. This was not the result of an artificial inflation in the value of housing. Post-war, when a high school education could land you a job with GM, Ford, or Chevy, you could afford a nice house in Detroit or one of the surrounding suburbs, and retire with a full pension. That's no different than any other market with a healthy economy.

Kill the jobs, and you kill the market: Not because people are priced out of it, not because the market is asking too much per house, but because the jobs left, and so did half of the people. This is what happened in Detroit. The city proper had nearly two million residents in 1950, and less than half that population today. Even if you include the entire Detroit metro area, the population hasn't increased for the last 40 years. Imagine what housing prices would be in San Francisco if the single most important class of business that support the area evaporated. Imagine what would happen in Washington DC if the federal government decided to move to, say, Oklahoma City. Would you then say that the housing in San Francisco or DC were simply bubbles?

Detroit is a great example of a city with problems, and can and should be used to illustrate problems with urban areas, dependence on single industries, etc. The blocks of empty brownstones and neighborhoods that have been razed and left to return to the wild are depressing as hell. But you cannot blame Detroit's problems on a housing bubble. Those empty buildings aren't new construction slapped together in hopes of making a quick buck in the '90s. Those are neighborhoods that used to be full, vibrant, and have been in decline for decades.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:12 AM on December 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


You're right, but try modeling this in a very standard way. You'd expect prices to approach the marginal cost of building a new unit of housing if there were not significant limits on supplying additional units. It should be clear that there are very significant limits on such new housing in SF, and also high demand.

My whole point is that you can't just naively apply some "standard" model to the housing market in SF, or any city. Letting developers build out areas, have smaller floorplans, etc. is liekly to not actually reduce the cost of housing. It's not simple supply and demand and the zoning is just one piece of that.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:14 AM on December 5, 2012


It doesn't have the awesome public transportation of Paris or Hong Kong, or the (easily reachable) bedroom suburbs, of well, any major urban city. The peninsula means that getting in and out of SF is a multi-hour traffic jam (at least it used to be in the late 90s, I've only been back to visit).

Re those "easily reachable bedroom suburbs"? Nothing SF can do about that. Take that up with the other eight Bay Area counties, both for building that housing and extending the public transit. And it's not like housing prices aren't going up on the Peninsula, too.

Traffic is slightly less terrible now than it was in the late 90s; I live in the Mission and work in Menlo Park (at a nonprofit, not a software company or startup) and it takes me 30-40 minutes door-to-door - but I take 280, not 101.
posted by rtha at 8:15 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


San Francisco could reduce housing demand if they just let Callahan back on the force. He may not play by the book, but dammit he gets results! With every criminal taken off the street (and every bystander tragically killed in the line of duty), there will be more housing for the lawful and lucky. Collateral damage from deadly games of cat and mouse can lead to the demolition of old buildings and further opportunities for redevelopment.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:19 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


My siblings live in SF, and my parents in the Bay Area. I've spent ton of time there, and always thought I'd move back there someday. However, the older I've gotten (and especially now that I have a kid), the more unliveable I've found it.

It's not just the prices -- I live in NYC, and am immune to sticker shock. It's the lack of accessibility, poor public transit, terrible housing stock, and dreadful schools.

I don't know that taller buildings are the answer, but the knee jerk NIMBYism seems to come from people who want SF to work just for them. And I have to wonder about the long-term viability of a city that's only live able for youngish people with money. I suppose that as long as the tech sector is there, those types will flock to the city, but industries rise and fall, and I think it'd be prudent to look at zoning with more demographics in mind.

I don't think SF can our should be Manhattan, but why can't it be Brooklyn? Townhouses and under 10-story buildings, with a small area of high rises thrown in?
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:22 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


First it needs to get over itself.

Oh yeah, that'll happen.

Just kiddin', I love you, Frisco!

I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry.

posted by entropicamericana at 8:24 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


ennui.bz, how exactly does housing diverge from the simple model of supply and demand?

You mentioned negative externalities of new development, but do note that there are significant positive externalities as well. I benefit when more people move to my city because that means shops and services can specialize even more. The entire world benefits if those people are coming from a place where they have much more impact on the environment.
posted by ripley_ at 8:25 AM on December 5, 2012


We already have a Brooklyn. It's called Oakland. San Francisco does not need to be a Brooklyn; it needs to find its own way, which, like every other metro area in the U.S., will come about over time and a hodgepodge of political compromises and policy decisions that turn out to be wrong and some that turn out to be right.

Also, it's not like SF is special in its NIMBYism.
posted by rtha at 8:28 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


The "height" debate is raging on in DC too, albeit a bit differently -- we've got more undeveloped and non-historic underdeveloped land to work with, as well as a considerably better public transportation system -- one that costs less than commuter rail, but serves more than just the city center.

My view is that a lot of San Francisco's problems have to do with the suburbs' unwillingness to grow, as well as the complete failure for the area to coordinate planning/growth on a truly regional level. Downtown SF might be running out of space, but there's a whole lot of underdeveloped land just outside of the city.

San Francisco is surrounded on three sides by water. It essentially has the same problem that Manhattan has. Even if you started ramping up density, you'd need to (vastly) overhaul the downtown transportation network, would still eventually run out of space, and things wouldn't actually be any cheaper.

And, oh my god, California is absurdly car-dependent. The Bay area's transportation network is the worst example of parochial interests completely derailing and ruining regional transportation planning.

Earthquake provisions also make it expensive to build very tall skyscrapers (which is already an expensive proposition). You can achieve a pretty high level of density (and a diverse mix of uses) with relatively short 4-6 story buildings. Hoboken, NJ has the fourth highest density of any city in the US, and very few tall buildings. (In fact the other top 3 are also NJ suburbs with no skyscrapers). It's more dense than "skyscraper cities" like Vancouver or Chicago, and even a bit more dense than Brooklyn (the canonical dense low-rise urban area in America). I also remember a study that compared a block of rowhouses to an identically-sized block of typical 1980s medium-height apartments, and the rowhouses actually turned out to hold more people, cost less to own and maintain, and had nicer amenities. Sadly, I can't find a link.

Basically, people need to start thinking about moving to Oakland and the other suburbs, and building rowhouses and small apartment buildings there. It's absurd that San Francisco takes all of the blame for the region's housing problems -- the suburbs are just as much, if not considerably more to blame.

A lot of this has to do with the California state government, which makes it really easy for residents to block development, and really difficult to plan anything at a regional level. Proposition 13 doesn't help either, nor does the crazy amount of foreign capital invested in San Francisco (or their 'absentee residents').

Skyscrapers are often sold as a panacea to improve access to affordable housing, increase density, and improve walkability. Often, they don't do any of these, and extremely large buildings (particularly those on superblocks) often turn into self-contained islands that disrupt the urban fabric, and actually result in a less lively streetscape. Single-use downtown areas are even worse at this, turning into ghost towns at nights and on weekends.

valkyryn: "As the article points out, if Japan can do it, we can do it."

That's a funny example to give. While Japan excels at building moderately dense suburbs, and providing great (transit) connectivity between them and the urban job centers (much like Europe), Tokyo actually isn't all that dense. In fact, it's way less dense than San Francisco, Hoboken. Even if you isolate just the downtown skyscraper neighborhoods, you still only get a population density that's comparable to Brooklyn. Tokyo is also one of the most expensive places to live on the planet. While I disagree with that author's conclusion that Tokyo's high cost of living derives from its lack of density, Japan is a good example of skyscrapers, but a poor example of concentrated urban density or affordable housing.

Heck. Paris manages to be almost as dense as Manhattan (and about twice as dense as NYC as a whole), while only having a single small (pop 20,000) high-rise district.
posted by schmod at 8:31 AM on December 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


London, which is unquestionably a World City, is less dense than San Francisco. Melbourne, a lovely city which has been mentioned in this thread, is something like a fifth as dense as San Francisco. I swear, reading the comments here I'd think I was reading about Phoenix or Houston.

Also, re: mass transit, I take it none of you have lived in a city that REALLY lacks transit. SF isn't that bad. Every time I go there I make a point of taking Muni, BART, and buses around, and marvel at how easy it is compared to here (Seattle).
posted by Fnarf at 8:32 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Schmod, thank you for bringing up the horror of superblocks. One of the things that's so great about downtown San Francisco -- one of the greatest business districts in the world to walk around in -- is that most of the older tall buildings are also very narrow. Plus, the streets are narrow (north of Market), which makes things closer together and interconnected. Every time I visit I compare that to the lifeless, windswept horrors that dominate the landscape here in downtown Seattle -- which is still infinitely more interesting than the architectural wonders of most US downtowns.
posted by Fnarf at 8:38 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


rtha: "We already have a Brooklyn. It's called Oakland. San Francisco does not need to be a Brooklyn"

Some cherry-picked near-suburban population densities:
Brooklyn, NY: 36,356/mi2
Queens, NY: 21,116/mi2
Staten Island, NY: 8,044/mi2
Hoboken, NJ: 38,577/mi2
Newark, NJ: 11,458/mi2

Arlington, VA: 8,309/mi2
Alexandria, VA: 9,493/mi2
Silver Spring, MD: 9,000/mi2

Cambridge, MA: 16,422/mi2
Somerville, MA: 18,147/mi2
Brookline, MA: 8,637/mi2

Oakland: 7,004/mi2

San Francisco doesn't have a Brooklyn. It doesn't even have a Brookline.
posted by schmod at 8:41 AM on December 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's weird, as a recent transplant to San Francisco from the Midwest, I don't understand people complaining about the public transportation here. It runs extremely widely around the city. I can hop on either a bus or light rail that'll take me directly downtown from within two blocks of my apartment. All the transit is tracked down to the minute, so my smartphone will tell me exactly when it's getting here, and if there are delays.

Seems pretty damned decent to me, and I'm certainly finding it better than I did the T when I lived in Boston.
posted by themadthinker at 8:43 AM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


San Francisco doesn't have a Brooklyn. It doesn't even have a Brookline.

I was speaking more culturally, not density-wise. (Also, I grew up in Brookline!)
posted by rtha at 8:44 AM on December 5, 2012


valkyryn: I think it's patently obvious that the city's skyrocketing real estate prices are caused entirely by a housing shortage, which is in turn caused entirely by a reactionary and protectionist zoning regime.

I laugh my ass off at arguments like this. Especially since they've been around in pretty much precisely the same form for the past 30 or even 40-odd years in San Francisco, regardless of who was in the mayor's office, who was on the Board of Supes, what housing activism collective was in the vanguard, or what comprised the latest trendy crowd of hipsters and young turks to storm the battlements of SF's festering (and always worsening) socialist regulatory hellhole. This has been true since at least the election of Joseph Alioto in 1968, the construction of the Embarcadero and other commercial high-rises in the Financial District at the same time (with an intent similar to that expressed by Farhad Manjoo, i.e., make SF a "world-class city" that could compete with other urban giants of the Pacific Rim), the mass demolition by the SFRA in the 1970s of the Fillmore and other neighborhoods that had high inventories of low-income housing stock, and the concerted push by Dianne Feinstein and her Board of Supervisors allies in 1978 to defeat an effort by Harvey Milk and George Moscone to pass legislation designed to cool down the pace of gentrification and real estate speculation in the Haight, Hayes Valley, the Mission, and Eureka Valley.

Sf's problem is not holding on to techies and other professionals. They can afford to live there and can afford to love it. SF's problem is that the high cost of living prices out anyone who makes less than $50,000 a year. Changing regulations to be more sympathetic to developers and landlords isn't going to alter that fact other than to accelerate it.
posted by blucevalo at 8:45 AM on December 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


The whole Bay Area needs more housing. There are a lot of jobs, but not a lot of housing. So people drive in to the high-employment areas (San Francisco, down to San Jose), sometimes over an hour. Maybe building high-rise apartments in San Francisco won't lower prices there, but building them in the rest of the Bay Area certainly will.

Housing is expensive, not because of construction costs, but. outside the distorted market of San Francisco itself, because land is expensive, and a high rise puts lots of housing on a relatively small area. You don't need to add more housing in San Francisco, add it outside the city, and improve mass transit. If it is cheaper to live outside the city and commute in, it will be harder to charge so much for housing inside the city.

I remember visiting Tokyo, where one subway station alone passes millions of people per day. They take the mass transit every day from surrounding communities into the city.

I just finished reading the book Two Years Before the Mast, wherein a student worked on a sailing vessel out of Boston, and visited San Francisco, when housing consisted of one single house.

He came back a few years later (after the gold rush), and the population was over 100,000.

The one constant of the city and the surrounding areas is change.
posted by eye of newt at 8:50 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


And building housing high-rises close to where there are jobs significantly reduces the use of oil, gas, and the output of pollution.
posted by eye of newt at 8:54 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was speaking more culturally, not density-wise.

Ah, I was speaking of density. I feel like every time zoning in SF comes up, there's a lot of OMG skyscrapers! My point is that you can get more density without going that high.

But at heart this is a question of what SF wants to be. I realize that it works for many people, but with small children, it doesn't work for me. And declining school enrollment numbers seem to imply that this is true of many families.

You may not find this to be problem. Clearly there are plenty of places for families to go. But I think this situation is fairly rare among major American cities (NYC, for example, is experiencing the opposite problem from a schools perspective) and I'm interested in finding out why.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:56 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Guys, I got this.
posted by themadthinker at 8:57 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


no, you know what.. build all that shit in fucking San Jose. let the businesses and clubs and restaurants open in the South Bay.

SF is SF precisely because it isn't a Chicago or Manhattan. I think SF with the density of one of those bigger cities would be terrible and would ruin SF from the inside out.

SF does not have the infrastructure to handle that kind of density. you can't just throw some high rises in the air and hope for the best.
posted by ninjew at 8:58 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


San Francisco doesn't have a Brooklyn. It doesn't even have a Brookline

I nominate:

Daly City, CA: 13,000/mi²
Berkeley, CA: 10,752/mi²
Albany, CA: 10,368/mi²

and even

Emeryville, CA: 8,090/mi²

Hardly Brooklyn, but comparable to Brookline, or more.

The real problem, of course, as you point out, is the oceans of Cupertinos and San Rafaels and Concords out there.
posted by Fnarf at 9:03 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


My point is that you can get more density without going that high.

Oh, absolutely. Cities like Oakland seem to be doing a good job of high-density, low-rise infill housing, which I think is pretty awesome. When I first moved to SF, I worked in West Oakland, and the area around the BART station was kind of a wasteland. Now I go there and - housing! Cute housing, even.

San Francisco doesn't have a lot of unused land, and lots of San Franciscans seem to really value to the open space we have. So while we don't need to build skyscrapers to cram more people into our 7x7, putting in more housing of whatever variety will still mean elimination of at least some if not a lot of current housing stock. Places where people already live. The Sunset and the Richmond could be denser, I suppose - although there are lots of low-rise apartment buildings in those neighborhoods. But SF has an ugly history of redeveloping neighborhoods out of existence, and people remember. Who would it benefit, exactly, if we could magically densify the housing in the Excelsior or the Bayview? It wouldn't benefit the current residents, that's almost certain.
posted by rtha at 9:07 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


NYC, for example, is experiencing the opposite problem from a schools perspective

Immigrants, right? SF is taking in a lot of Chinese, but it's a pretty settled, and pretty white, city overall, and becoming more so every day as Hispanics and African-Americans flee the place. Hipsters sometimes have kids, but not like recent arrivals from the Dominican or Colombia or Somalia do.

People complain about Manhattan being expensive, but that's only true for part of NYC -- vast stretches of it comprise one of the two great immigration magnets in the US, but those areas aren't appealing to hipsters and don't appear in the media or in the consciousness of middle-class whites.
posted by Fnarf at 9:09 AM on December 5, 2012


SF is SF precisely because it isn't a Chicago or Manhattan. I think SF with the density of one of those bigger cities would be terrible and would ruin SF from the inside out.

SF is notably more dense (~17,000/sq mi) than Chicago (~12,000 sq mi) already, fwiw.
posted by enn at 9:11 AM on December 5, 2012


enn, the makeup of the two cities are very different and the numbers don't exactly tell that story. the actual 'downtown'/metro area of Chicago I believe is more dense than SF, but it sprawls out. Chicago has a lot more high-rise apartments than SF does.
posted by ninjew at 9:17 AM on December 5, 2012


Who would it benefit, exactly, if we could magically densify the housing in the Excelsior or the Bayview? It wouldn't benefit the current residents, that's almost certain.

Yes, but the people demanding more high rises WANT those people to leave, so they can move in. They want more places that are groovy places for the upper-middle-class to hang out and drink chai and blog, while paying almost no rent, but since nobody knows how to build those places, they advocate for more soulless dead zones instead. They want the Haight in 1966, but they end up with Fox Plaza (or pretty much anything on Market Street, actually) instead. Or the dreadful condos going up in SOMA and the Mission.
posted by Fnarf at 9:19 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


from article: “Once again, San Francisco has become a magnet for the smartest, most creative young people in the world. They’re flocking to the city to launch start-ups and to work at the world’s most respected firms. Thanks to these workers and the companies and VCs that will support them, San Francisco’s economy — like that of the rest of the Bay Area — has been on a tear.”

Man, does this article ever rise above the level of self-serving bullshit?
posted by koeselitz at 9:21 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love when I'm on a date with a girl here in New York and she's originally from San Fran and her heart is still there and she tries to explain why it's a better city. I just smile and laugh on the inside. It's kind of cute how they try.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:26 AM on December 5, 2012


That is pretty silly. Why would anyone try to explain something that's self-evident?
posted by koeselitz at 9:35 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's a simple way to solve SF's high prices: wait for the next major earthquake. With half of the city in rubble, and the other half in flames, the yuppies will flee and housing costs will decline at least 5%...ahh who am I kidding here? After the next quake devastates the Bay Area rents will rise even higher, based on "Well, we're the only building on the block still standing."
posted by happyroach at 9:36 AM on December 5, 2012


who am I kidding here? After the next quake devastates the Bay Area rents will rise even higher, based on "Well, we're the only building on the block still standing."

Pretty much exactly what happened in Christchurch after their devastating run of earthquakes. Surviving landlords jacked up rents massively, as the displaced often had nowhere else to stay. I even heard the University was ousting postgrad students into makeshift spaces so that they could rent rooms to businesses.
posted by themadthinker at 9:41 AM on December 5, 2012


San Francisco and New York have a lot in common. Each city has an extremely obnoxious core of citizens who feel it's their need to remind the rest of the world how much better their city is than yours, and each city costs an absurd amount of money to live in. But with San Francisco, at least it's only the people working at tech startups who are insufferable pains in the ass. Everybody else seemed pretty nice.

Fuck high-rise buildings. They're what make cities like New York so hostile and alien. Some people might be insane enough to enjoy Manhattan, but one such asylum ought to be enough for the planet.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:43 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am incredibly disappointed that we even have to have this conversation on metafilter, and much more so that the wrong side is winning.

Demand for housing is sky high because San Francisco is a gorgeous city and because there are a ton of jobs here — well, not here, 40 miles south of here -- and because there is a massive, massive, massive undersupply of housing not just in San Francisco but throughout the bay area as a whole. This is to some extent choking the life out of the place — if I didn't have to get in to my office, I'd dig up the study I've found that shows that given the amount of investment here (well over half the total venture capital in the US), we're actually adding jobs about 20% slower than expected, due to how expensive both residential and commercial space is here.

Well, okay, why does it matter that jobs are going to Seattle or LA or Arizona or whatever, even if all the employers actually want to be here? It matters because the Bay Area has great weather.

No, I'm serious. I'm not saying this in a "gosh it's nice here" sense, I'm saying it because that means the carbon load for living in the Bay Area is off the charts low. We don't have to burn fuel to heat in the winter. We don't have to burn fuel to cool in the summer. Practically everything humans eats grows around here, so being a locavore is simple-ish. Humans don't need much fossil fuel support at all to live here, even with the drawback of how terrible the urban planning and public transportation are outside of SF-Berkeley-Oakland.

I recall (again, I can dig up sources when I've got more than 10 minutes to kill) reading a study that showed that people living in San José — never mind San Francisco itself, I'm talking sprawled out, good luck getting anywhere if you don't have a car, not a real city San José, produce on the whole less carbon than Manhattanites. If we want to not drown, one of the things we need to do is get everyone who wants to live in Northern California a place in Northern California.

It's possible to have a tall, gorgeous city. I direct your attention up the coast to Vancouver, which although it has its own undersupply problem — we've built so few cities in North America in the last 100 years that whenever anyone sticks their nose out and gives it a try everyone moves there and drives up the rents, due to the pent-up demand for them — ahem, which is glass and steel and tall, but also filled with light and completely beautiful.

Until such time as the pent-up demand for urban living is satisfied, dense urban environments are going to be expensive. But we need to start soaking up that demand yesterday, because those big old houses on big plots outside Detroit, next to a big grid of big roads that you have to drive on for a half-hour to get to everything, are killing us. Someone needs to stick their neck out here, and goddammit if I'm not going to put my flyspeck of weight behind the bay area being a leader on this.

LA needs to build up. San Diego needs to build up. Seattle and Portland need to build up. Hell, New York and Boston and Philadelphia and Detroit and Chicago need to build up. Locally, Palo Alto and San José and Mountain View and Redwood City and Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond and Millbrae and San Mateo and if I had my druthers Atherton need to build up. But there's no reason why San Francisco shouldn't take the lead, because dammit, we are cutting edge and we are smart and we are good people (aside from the libertarians, who thankfully aren't as numerous as they think they are, and who thankfully have a knack for marginalizing themselves) and if this batch of people can't lead on this, then we might as well hang it up as a species.

why yes I do get a little worked up on this topic...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:49 AM on December 5, 2012 [25 favorites]


"Who would it benefit, exactly, if we could magically densify the housing in the Excelsior or the Bayview? It wouldn't benefit the current residents, that's almost certain."

So this is apparently the Excelsior, which looks to be mostly short single-family homes dedicating what looks to be about half of their floorspace to automobile storage, despite being within easy walking distance of subway and light rail stations.

This is a random block in Brooklyn, full of 4-story apartment buildings, each home to something like 8 families each, down a nice tree-lined block right near a shopping street with a couple grocery stores, some bars, restaurants, and coffeeshops, and some random other businesses.

Since that block in San Francisco is mostly single-family homes, their owners would benefit from the increased value of the land due to its upzoning. A two- or three-bedroom apartment would rent for a bit less than one of those houses, so being able to put a few such apartments in that space would greatly increase the property value. If the apartments were built without parking, there would even be room to substitute street trees for curb cuts. Increased density would also lead to more local businesses, and more niche businesses locally. The supply of housing units would be dramatically increased, which reduces rents for everybody. If off-street parking requirements are removed, there won't even be room to store any more cars in the neighborhood, and so traffic wouldn't be increased.

Since there would be so much more within walking distance in the denser neighborhood, families could get by with one or zero cars, easily cutting $5,000-$10,000 from their yearly budget, and likewise cutting carbon emissions as well as other pollutans.

You don't need remotely high-rise buildings to house a lot more people in San Francisco. Good old fashioned mid-rise urbanism would make a big difference.

And after the next tech crash, all that mid-rise housing might become downright cheap! Plenty of people will always want to live in San Francisco on the basis of its climate.
posted by akgerber at 9:55 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


if I didn't have to get in to my office, I'd dig up the study I've found that shows that given the amount of investment here (well over half the total venture capital in the US), we're actually adding jobs about 20% slower than expected, due to how expensive both residential and commercial space is here.

or that VC returns are lower than thought/expected.

I'm a little skeptical about housing costs being a problem that be solved through a supply response in high cost/high income/high opportunity cities.

NYC vacancy rates have been shockingly consistent and low over the entire period the city has collected that data, while affordability as measured as median income/imputed rent has varied wildly.

Part of me suspected building more housing becomes like building more highway lanes until something happens to make a city less attractive and then supply matters and it gets very ugly.

That and people are totally irrational about home prices and expectations.
posted by JPD at 9:57 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know that old planning joke? "There are two things people hate: 1) density and 2) sprawl"

After years of living in SF, then Berkeley, I am now in a Peninsula suburb. And I serve on my town's Transportation Commission. It's the right place for me for where I am in my life (forties, two little kids and a giant dog) but Jesus Christ On A Bicycle living here would not appeal to your average Facebook employee. So when Facebook came to town, and wanted to triple the number of employees occupying the space at its headquarters, people here were very concerned about traffic impacts- there are a number of intersections that already operate at poor levels of service during peak times, and adding more cars is a recipe for disaster. Your 20-something tech employee does not want to live in suburbia, they want to be able to go out and have fun after work and meet their friends. Menlo Park pretty much rolls up the sidewalks at 8pm. So a statistically large percentage of Facebook employees live in SF and commute down. And I don't see that changing, so of course Twitter apartments will appeal. Facebook did agree to some hard limits on the number of car trips generated by its campus, but it's still too early to really judge the impacts.

I know SF believes it is the most special of special snowflakes, but it doesn't have a monopoly on resistance to change. Just say the words "high density housing" around here and watch tempers flare. The thing is, everybody fears change. The towns that have the resources to fight it will be tempted to do so.

if I had my druthers Atherton need to build up

Oh man I would love to see someone show up at an Atherton town meeting and propose building multi-story low-income housing. Snort.
posted by ambrosia at 10:00 AM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


LA needs to build up. San Diego needs to build up. Seattle and Portland need to build up. Hell, New York and Boston and Philadelphia and Detroit and Chicago need to build up.

You get yer goddamn hands off my Philadelphia. The fact that most of Center City is only 4-5 stories tall is one of the best things about it. What we need are more "dense urban areas" spread across the country, so that there's less pressure on lovely medium-sized cities to turn into the shitty big cities its residents were trying to escape.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:06 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


ambrosia: well, in my fantasy the people making this suggestion to the atherton city council have brought with them:
  1. red flags to wave, and
  2. serious firepower :)

posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:07 AM on December 5, 2012


Immigrants, right?

Maybe -- I actually haven't been following that much. But at least in my neighborhood, the problem is actually that people just aren't leaving for the suburbs anymore. You've always seen strollers in Manhattan, but now there are more and more school aged children. New schools have been or will be built in Chinatown, but also battery park city and the Flatiron too. I joke that my kid will have a better shot of getting into Harvard than she does our nearest preschool, as the number of slots just isn't enough to meet demand.

Back on topic -- either the supply of affordable housing goes up, or middle and working class people leave. In NYC, they go to the outer boroughs, but mass transit makes it easier for them to work and be a part of the city. I don't see a parallel path in SF.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:08 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rory: "up" can very well mean 4-6-story rowhouses (I know I sound very Robert Moses here, but Jane Jacobs devotes a fair bit of space in Death and Life to talking about how a neighborhood can become dense and effective without going above 4-6 stories).
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:10 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: Oh! Rowhouses are fine. Carry on. (Also, bookmarking Jane Jacobs for future reading.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:11 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


San José, produce on the whole less carbon than Manhattanites

That cannot possibly be true. San Joseans (of which I used to be one) drive everywhere, even more so than Angelinos. And they air-condition everything, and when it gets "cold" in the winter they crank the heat. All of their houses and offices have huge plate glass windows. Manhattan apartment living is the most energy efficient of anyplace.

Since that block in San Francisco is mostly single-family homes, their owners would benefit from the increased value of the land due to its upzoning. A two- or three-bedroom apartment would rent for a bit less than one of those houses

AH HAH HAH HAH. No.

The problem is you cannot just transport a bunch of 120-year-old Brooklyn row houses and drop them in the Excelsior. You need to build new construction, which not only has a zero percent chance of resembling Brooklyn row houses but is ultra-expensive simply by virtue of being NEW CONSTRUCTION. New construction, especially new high-rise or even medium-rise new construction, whether in Brooklyn or SF, is hideously expensive. The new units are going to cost a fortune. New units always cost a fortune.

The owners in those neighborhoods are not going to economically benefit from the increased value, either; that's not how it works. They're going to sell out to developers, and move far away; and the developer is going to get the money. Your average Excelsior resident can't afford to put a new roof on, let alone build a condo tower.

The new units will be very expensive, and I'm not even convinced that density would increase all that much -- because those houses tend to have large families in them, while tech-money hipster apartments have singles and couples in them.
posted by Fnarf at 10:12 AM on December 5, 2012


And after the next tech crash, all that mid-rise housing might become downright cheap!

Recent history from last dotdomb says this is not what happens here. I moved here in 2001 from the DC area and was lucky to have friends who had friends who would rent me a room. A room that was $200 more a month than the one-bedroom apartment I was living in in Takoma Park (about a mile from the Metro, so, walking distance). And it's gotten more insane here since then, of course.

I know SF believes it is the most special of special snowflakes, but it doesn't have a monopoly on resistance to change. Just say the words "high density housing" around here and watch tempers flare. The thing is, everybody fears change. The towns that have the resources to fight it will be tempted to do so.

This. Wouldn't you think that the Palo Altos and Menlo Parks and Athertons would want to keep the Googlers and Facebookers and Applers in their towns, rather than having them travel back and forth on company buses? Think of the tax and retail rewards they could reap if they built more housing and loosened zoning laws so there could be more bars and clubs and things that would make this cohort want to live there!

Good luck with that. Y'all can bitch about strict zoning laws in SF and low-density housing and blah blah blah but go take a look at the maps and demographics of Peninsula towns. They could do a shit-ton more but they don't. Go ahead and get them to agree to put in more light-rail and public transit, to close up their green spaces so there can be more housing, etc. Ha!
posted by rtha at 10:16 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


okay, one more comment before I page out: If you think that density == crime or density == ugliness or density == bad, you're stuck in one of two mindsets:
  1. You think the massive racially motivated, disinvestment in cities that started in the 60s and 70s is still ongoing everywhere, and that it's natural and unchangeable. It's not natural, and out west it's already changed.
  2. You're buying into the planning models (Garden City, Radiant City, and so forth) from the late 19th, early 20th century, put together by people who hated both cities and people and tried to build cities that pretended they weren't cities. Even though she wrote 50 years Jane Jacobs is still the person you need to read here.
San Francisco is beautiful and vibrant and, oh yeah, also safe, because it is dense. Cities get dangerous and scuzzy in the middle densities, where there's enough people around for you to not know everyone, but not enough people for everyone to watch out for each other — or where no one knows anyone because they're always in their cars instead of out on the streets being humans. Dense cities are what humans are built for, which is why we love them so much.

Which is why urban rents are so high when cities are undersupplied, like they have been in North America for the last century.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:17 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, whenever people complain about gentrification, I basically want them to shut the hell up. I'm from a rust belt city that would kill for some gentrification right now. They're not worried about some artisinal free-range gourmet doohickey moving in down the block; they're worried about getting shot.

The anti-gentrification crowd really does need to get over themselves. I love reading their sentimental tales of the Old Neighborhood, but they need to accept that no neighborhood stays the same forever. And for every neighborhood that gentrifies and becomes too expensive, another formerly-disused neighborhood becomes livable. This is simply how it works. Globally, US cities are a bit of an aberration : due to late-20th century urban blight, they became less-desirable than the suburbs. This trend is reversing itself, which is good for humanity in general. Dense land-use patterns are better for the environment and general quality of life.

Besides, SF actually has pretty reasonable rent control laws. My neighborhood -- the Mission -- despite being center of the much-decried gentrification, is still mostly inhabited by working-class Mexicans.

The real problem with SF is that it doesn't have a Brooklyn. Sure, it has Oakland, but without a reliable 24-hour transportation link, Oakland is not really an option for urban-pioneering cohort that would otherwise consider moving there. For example, you spend a night hanging out in Brooklyn, but you live in Manhattan -- or vice-versa -- you're never worried about getting stuck there. Sure, you may have to wait a while for a train, but you're never stuck. With Oakland, there's always that danger. Well, I guess there's always that sketchy-ass bus that leaves once an hour and runs late into the night ... haha, like anyone actually wants to take that option.

If the BART ran 24 hours (or even until, say, 3AM), I think it would open up Oakland as a place to hang out and live, taking the rent pressure off SF and making both cities better places to live.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:20 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


So I guess the construction noise I hear all day at work from that 700+ unit 17-story apartment building that's going up across the street is just my imagination? And the other 1000+ units of rental housing going up within a 5 block radius? SF is building new housing, and building new high-density housing in very transit-friendly locations.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:29 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


1,700 units doesn't make a difference when everything west of Van Ness is stuck at 70+ years old and <30 feet high until the end of time.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:41 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]



The owners in those neighborhoods are not going to economically benefit from the increased value, either; that's not how it works. They're going to sell out to developers, and move far away; and the developer is going to get the money. Your average Excelsior resident can't afford to put a new roof on, let alone build a condo tower.

The new units will be very expensive, and I'm not even convinced that density would increase all that much -- because those houses tend to have large families in them, while tech-money hipster apartments have singles and couples in them.

How does selling your house for half-a-million dollars (which appears to be the current going rate), or probably even more than that, not count as "economically benefitting?" If you move "far away" to somewhere cheaper, buying a similar house could leave you with $400,000 in your pocket. How many new working-class families are moving into the existing half-million dollar 800sqft. houses, in any case?

And if rezoning were done at sufficient scale, the resulting housing could be cheaper, as in areas where supply better matches demand. New construction isn't expensive by magic, but because the demand outstrips the supply:
here's a nearly new 2-bedroom with much more floor space than a lot of those SF houses for just over $224,000 in the most exciting neighborhood in Milwaukee, and that includes two underground parking spaces, which cost many thousands of dollars to build apiece. Costs would be higher to buy and teardown existing homes, but amortizing two $500,000 houses across 8 or 10 units adds on $100,000 or so per unit.
posted by akgerber at 10:50 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


What Gingerbeer said. San Francisco is adding housing at a fair clip, and will add it even faster if demand merits. The funny thing is that SF has so many strikes against it and demand is still growing. Imagine it Google, Apple and Intel moved 100k employees to highrises in SOMA and the schools were Palo Alto quality.
posted by MattD at 10:50 AM on December 5, 2012


Also, it's not like SF is special in its NIMBYism
It is, a little bit, because of the constant clashes between tolerance and self-righteousness. The nudity hearings were pretty special.

rolls up the sidewalks at 8pm
THIS. Whether or not SF can, or should want to, become a "world capital," could y'all in the city and its environs please start keeping things open after 6, or even 8, p.m.? I love you to death, but I want to be able to go grocery shopping or buy a sandwich or fill a prescription within walking distance of my apartment after I get off of work.

density == bad
Yeah, but it's also not true that density == skyscrapers, or even high-rise buildings, which a lot of people have been proposing in this thread. While I do think that increasing housing density is a good idea, I think it needs to be done both contextually and incrementally. Developing low-rise apartment buildings, in the four-to-six story range, would be less of a shock, provide more interaction with the street level, be easier in terms of engineering, allow for greater flexibility if there's later flight, and not result in the canyon-like, walled-city atmosphere that I grew up with in Manhattan.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:56 AM on December 5, 2012


THIS. Whether or not SF can, or should want to, become a "world capital," could y'all in the city and its environs please start keeping things open after 6, or even 8, p.m.? I love you to death, but I want to be able to go grocery shopping or buy a sandwich or fill a prescription within walking distance of my apartment after I get off of work.

Jesus, where do you live? I can do all of these things past 9pm most nights and later than that on weekends here at the eastern end of 24th street. Safeway is not far from us and it's open till midnight or thereabouts; Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are open until 9 or 10 pm. If your neighborhood pharmacy or convenience store closes up at 6 pm, that is not the city's problem to fix.

Like a lot of urban areas, SF has a bad history of supposedly helpful redevelopment, and a lot of people still remember. The Fillmore was "redeveloped" out of existence for the people who lived there, for instance.

There's no reason we have to repeat that particular kind of fuckup in that particular way, but handwaving a lot of "Oh, just offer the people in the Excelsior lots of money for their houses, knock the houses down and put in apartment buildings and problem solved!" is not exactly the way to go about it.
posted by rtha at 11:07 AM on December 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh, just offer the people in the Excelsior lots of money for their houses, knock the houses down and put in apartment buildings and problem solved!
That isn't the solution. The solution is to "make it so it isn't illegal to build mid-rise apartments or 2- or 3-family homes near mass transit without parking". Then, if a developer wants to build an apartment building and can find someone willing to sell their house, they can. Or if a family wants to add another floor onto their house for a rental unit to help pay the mortgage, or convert their garage into an apartment, they'd be able to. That's how the affordable unit I lived in La Jolla, a few blocks from the beach, Mitt Romney and a Bentley/Lamborghini/Rolls-Royce dealership, got built. A lot of working-class people work in construction, and would be able to use those skills to expand their house if it were legal, as was often the case before World War II. I don't know that much about construction, but mid-rise wood buildings appear to be possible to build to earthquake-resistant standards.
posted by akgerber at 11:31 AM on December 5, 2012


my bad: I had misremembered which counterintuitive thing about carbon load is true. I've been going off of this Brookings Institution report that argues that the LA metro area has a lower carbon load per capita than the New York metro area. SJ is very, very slightly more dirty than NY metro, according to this.

But, yeah. The places at the top of this list are the places with good climates that can get power from clean sources, and then secondarily the places with good urban design (I would guess because even the metro areas with good urban design in the core are surrounded by the sprawl that will drown us if we let it). Right now most places in California, especially Northern California, are pulling up the drawbridge when they should be inviting everyone in.

Yes, SF is building... but demand for housing and office space in SF is not just high but in fact still rising — I don't think they've even stopped falling behind, as far as providing supply to match the demand goes. As a big old fashioned Marxist, I wish some of that new housing was city/state-provided rather than market-based, because market-based housing will take a really long time to come down in price — but I'm fine with even market housing provided we build enough of it.

The nearly omnipresent (less here than elsewhere, thankfully) bitching about which Bay Area city "has" to go first on this misses two things: First, it's not a matter of which city "has" to go first, it's a matter of which city gets to lead, and second, I don't care if you're in Fremont or Richmond or (god save you) Atherton; if the county you're in touches the bay, to the world you're San Francisco.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:34 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


In other words: Welcome to San Francisco! Now what the hell are you doing here?

The author is so wrong. That's not what they are simply saying.

I find it chilling that he would use Paris/NYC/Tokyo as templates of "world-class cities", that he would have SF conform to some crudely generalized ideal of a globalized metropolis. He uses the phrase "cultural values", but when he dismisses the argument that the tenant-rights activist is trying to make, he doesn't seem to understand the larger historical, cultural significance of the SF Bay Area at all. He has no idea what culture actually means.
posted by polymodus at 11:35 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Oh, just offer the people in the Excelsior lots of money for their houses, knock the houses down and put in apartment buildings and problem solved!"
I wasn't the person suggesting that.

Jesus, where do you live?
Brooklyn. But when I'm in SF, I usually end up staying in the Sunset, since that's where my friends who are still in the city can (just barely) afford to live.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:36 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


You aren't going to have any more bohemian art districts, because even the shittiest apartments will be too expensive for artists.

Let's not forget that restaurant waiters receive a minimum wage of $10.55 per hour (San Francisco ordinance) and mandatory health care from their employers (San Francisco ordinance). Artists who can also work day jobs do just fine. For a population of under 800,000, the city is fucking LOUSY with artists and musicians.

And renting a 220-square foot (one 15x10' room; one 7x10' bathroom) apartment for $1,500 is insane.

The real problem with SF is that it doesn't have a Brooklyn. Sure, it has Oakland, but without a reliable 24-hour transportation link, Oakland is not really an option for urban-pioneering cohort that would otherwise consider moving there.

PROTIP: There is a reliable 24-hour transportation link. AC Transit runs all night across the Bridge. It's a wonderful bus ride across the bridge at 3:30am.

Also, the Outer Mission should suffice as SF's Brooklyn. It doesn't have to be over the bridge.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:43 AM on December 5, 2012


Ah, what an annoying way to present an argument I basically agree with.

Caveats: screw highrise housing. Fine for affluent downtown condos, not what will solve the housing shortage. We need 4-5 story apartment buildings built for families. LOTS OF THEM. And they need to be out here in the Sunset, along the N and L lines, in the Excelsior, and all the other places left in the city where non-affluent people with families live.

How to get that? Totally not sure. Just ditching all the regulation will lead, as it has in the past, to more fancy highrise condos. Not helpful. But NOT building more housing, also bad.

Also, on school enrollment, elementary and middle school enrollment is up, recently. High school still down. I've got kids, we're sticking with the city, I hope it's part of a positive trend.
posted by feckless at 11:45 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brooklyn. But when I'm in SF, I usually end up staying in the Sunset, since that's where my friends who are still in the city can (just barely) afford to live.

The Sunset is sort of considered the suburbs by many San Franciscans. Even the NY Times refers to it as bleak. The sleepiness of the Sunset is legendary and not really typical of most of the rest of the city.
posted by vacapinta at 11:45 AM on December 5, 2012


Keep calling us bleak, NYT. That way maybe we'll get a seat at Outerlands again one day. And keep all the sunny days to ourselves.

But honestly, the car situation out here is hilarious. Everyone needs more space, often because they have in-law apartments (sometimes with actual in-laws in them) and use their garages as storage or extra rooms. So all the cars go on the sidewalk. I'd love de-carify the neighborhood and build more 3-4 modest level condos but it's a hard sell to the folks who live out here.
posted by feckless at 11:50 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wasn't the person suggesting that.

I know.

Also: The Sunset. It's the most residential, least commercial part of the city. It's never going to be the TL or Hayes Valley or the Mission. Grousing that stuff isn't open past 6 pm out there? Take it up with the people who actually live there, and who have lived there for a long time now. If there was a huge demand for all the sandwich shops to be open past 6 pm, sandwich shops would stay open to fill that need. It's not the city fathers ordering sandwich shops and grocery stores in the Sunset to close early.

Don't generalize your limited experience of one neighborhood as if that's the way it works everywhere in the city. It isn't.
posted by rtha at 11:51 AM on December 5, 2012


The Sunset is sort of considered the suburbs by many San Franciscans. Even the NY Times refers to it as bleak. The sleepiness of the Sunset is legendary and not really typical of most of the rest of the city.



Nothing says "we don't count you as being part of the city so therefore your ability to live somewhere in the city that is still relatively affordable makes you NOT ONE OF US" quite like that. How dare you afford housing???
posted by Kitteh at 11:52 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


if the county you're in touches the bay, to the world you're San Francisco.

That's the thing now. It just isn't true. San Jose is bigger and Silicon Valley is richer. Because of Google and Apple, Mountain View and Cupertino are household names.

San Francisco is San Francisco and it's only 49 miles of space. It will NEVER be a world-class city if it needs to be a megalopolis.

Even the NY Times refers to it as bleak.

Well it's a far sight better than Daly City.

How to get that? Totally not sure. Just ditching all the regulation will lead, as it has in the past, to more fancy highrise condos. Not helpful. But NOT building more housing, also bad.

Exactly. This idea of killing all the restrictive regulations is ridiculous. All you'd get is more rich retirees and foreigners buying vacation spots. Walk around those downtown condos (including my nemesis, the big middle finger known as One Rincon Hill) on a weekend in January. There are over 700 residences in the building, yet you will see no one on the streets.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:52 AM on December 5, 2012


PROTIP: There is a reliable 24-hour transportation link. AC Transit runs all night across the Bridge. It's a wonderful bus ride across the bridge at 3:30am.

Thing is, you and I wouldn't balk at taking this bus, but I think a lot of people would. For Oakland to become more livable, you need more people walking around the city at all times of the day -- that includes nightlife. Lots of people in SF -- even edgy hipster types -- would hesitate to spend a night hanging out in Oakland if it meant taking a bus that leaves once an hour from some random location.

Hell, I do hang out in Oakland at night, and it's annoying that I have to leave shows before the encore so I don't get stuck there. It's just a completely different story in Brooklyn or other parts of NYC. Never having to worry about getting stuck far from home changes your entire perspective on a city.

I would argue that running the BART 24 hours (or even until 3 or 4AM) would do a lot to make the Bay area more livable and affordable, without having to mow down charming old Victorians in favor of highrises.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:53 AM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


My neighborhood -- the Mission -- despite being center of the much-decried gentrification, is still mostly inhabited by working-class Mexicans.

Sure, if by "mostly" you mean making up 39% of the population.
posted by asterix at 11:54 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and if you need to eat late in the Sunset? Just drop in to our Korean restaurant in a garage.
posted by feckless at 11:54 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


For Oakland to become more livable

I live in Oakland. It's plenty livable.
posted by asterix at 11:55 AM on December 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


That's the thing now. It just isn't true. San Jose is bigger and Silicon Valley is richer. Because of Google and Apple, Mountain View and Cupertino are household names.

San Francisco is San Francisco and it's only 49 miles of space.


Fine, fine, fine. The different types of Bay Areans can call themselves whatever they want — just so long as they're competing to be the leaders on saving us all from drowning.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:16 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


How to get that? Totally not sure. Just ditching all the regulation will lead, as it has in the past, to more fancy highrise condos. Not helpful. But NOT building more housing, also bad.

But why would the choices possibly be "regulation exactly the same as it is now" or "no regulations at all"? I have no idea what regulations would be best, but there are lots of options that could balance things, such as the suggestion made numerous times here of allowing mid-rise housing in some areas.
posted by jeather at 12:16 PM on December 5, 2012


I see a "tragedy of the commons" situation where local residents have every incentive to block additional development because they believe that it will dilute their "share" of local free parking and space on the roads. This is frustrating because there's clearly a demand for housing with no parking, and it drives opposition to even the most no-brainer creation of in-laws and garage conversions which could add significant housing at incredibly low cost. Indeed, it's in the places where it would be most useful--the places with good transit and shopping and everything in walking distance--that it's most opposed, because that's where the free parking is most impacted. One potential solution: allow developers to opt out of automatic inclusion in the residential parking permit program.

Then there's stories like this (the Whole Foods was built, by the way, with no housing, and keeping a large surface parking lot). If the city charges almost $100k to add an apartment, that's definitely going to add to the cost of housing. It's understandable, I think, because the political process allows existing residents to push costs onto new residents as much as possible, which they're happy to do (and perhaps have a right to). But there's no question that it results in higher housing costs.
posted by alexei at 12:22 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


for whatever it's worth: the reason NYC can keep the subway running 24/7 is that many of the lines have express tracks that the local trains can divert onto during track maintenance. BART has run some pilot programs on keeping the system open later on Fridays and Saturdays, so that people can take the train transbay after concerts and such — but this requires scheduling maintenance in the early morning hours, which actually results in reduced ridership on the whole (turns out people need those early-morning trains to get to work).

If we want 24/7 BART, what we need is a second transbay tube, a second line through SF, and express tracks on the east bay side. Which, well, is what we need, but getting political capital for it right now is about exactly as realistic as my fantasy about a Marxist goon squad forcing the Atherton city council to build at gunpoint.

I'm hair on fire frantic about all this stuff, because it seems like these next couple of decades will be the last chance for us to build the infrastructure we need before the fossil fuels run out and the cost of modernizing becomes impossibly high. Hopefully the generational shift in power that started to become visible in the last election will happen fast enough for us to, um, save the world.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:23 PM on December 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


such as the suggestion made numerous times here of allowing mid-rise housing in some areas

Mid-rise housing is allowed. I don't know why people are acting like SF zoning laws prevent the development of housing that isn't either skyscrapers (e.g. that horrible Rincon building) or single-family. There's a bunch of relatively recent four-ish storey condos that have gone up in the Mission, for instance. There're similar developments in SOMA and Hayes Valley.
posted by rtha at 12:25 PM on December 5, 2012


The political process allows existing residents to push costs onto new residents as much as possible

Beginning, of course, with Prop 13, otherwise known as "I've got mine and screw you."
posted by ambrosia at 12:27 PM on December 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


rtha: " I don't know why people are acting like SF zoning laws prevent the development of housing that isn't either skyscrapers (e.g. that horrible Rincon building) or single-family. There's a bunch of relatively recent four-ish storey condos that have gone up in the Mission, for instance."

Curiously, a lot of zoning codes actually do prohibit this. Most of DC's "best" neighborhoods would be illegal to construct under the current zoning laws that were written in the 1960s. The city is pushing for a complete rewrite of the code that would make neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and Dupont Circle "legal" again, but it's getting a lot of public pushback because most residents don't understand the current code or the rewrite. Basically, the current code does everything imaginable to prevent mid-rise development, and makes it way too easy to build suburban-style single-family homes and tall(ish) buildings with no setbacks.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if SF had a similar mid-century zoning code that made it needlessly difficult or uneconomical to construct mid-rise development. SF's crazy air-rights trading scheme certainly suggests that the code is pretty messed up.
posted by schmod at 12:42 PM on December 5, 2012



Mid-rise housing is allowed. I don't know why people are acting like SF zoning laws prevent the development of housing that isn't either skyscrapers (e.g. that horrible Rincon building) or single-family. There's a bunch of relatively recent four-ish storey condos that have gone up in the Mission, for instance. There're similar developments in SOMA and Hayes Valley.

Is it permitted as-of-right, or is there a difficult process to go through to build it? Does it require parking? Can you build it anywhere near a mass transit line, or only in a few neighborhoods? Can you build ground-floor retail, at least on some streets, especially those nearest mass transit?

Because those are some of the fundamental elements to having dense affordable housing, not just "allowing some 4-story buildings somewhere in the city". I'm guessing when you have blocks-upon-blocks of houses topping out at two stories, with the first story being a garage, even when said houses start at around half a million dollars, that the city has limited the height to two stories and requires the parking be built.
posted by akgerber at 12:44 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


If we want 24/7 BART, what we need is a second transbay tube, a second line through SF, and express tracks on the east bay side. Which, well, is what we need

What we really need is pedestrian access over the Bay Bridge. It's sort of ridiculous.

I guess when the fossil fuels run out we'll walk down the middle lane of the bridge and the cops won't be able to stop us.

There's a bunch of relatively recent four-ish storey condos that have gone up in the Mission, for instance. There're similar developments in SOMA and Hayes Valley.

Seriously. There's a shitload of development going on in those neighborhoods. You think it will bring rents down?
posted by mrgrimm at 12:52 PM on December 5, 2012


Is it permitted as-of-right, or is there a difficult process to go through to build it? Does it require parking? Can you build it anywhere near a mass transit line, or only in a few neighborhoods? Can you build ground-floor retail, at least on some streets, especially those nearest mass transit?

All building permitting processes in this city are difficult - unless you're a wealthy, politically connected developer - but I don't think this is very different from a lot of urban areas. I don't know the specifics of height restrictions, except that it depends on the neighborhood, and there are often exceptions.

Parking in new construction of multi-unit buildings is often capped, not required.

You can't build anything anywhere you feel like, whether near or far from transit lines. And the vast majority of BART and (underground) MUNI stations in the city are already in densely populated neighborhoods.

Most of the recent housing I'm familiar with (in the Mission, Hayes Valley, SOMA) has ground-floor retail, yes.
posted by rtha at 1:22 PM on December 5, 2012


For what it's worth, the SF Planning Department's regulations with regard to height and bulk can be found here, and a map of the zoning districts is available here (click a spot on the map, select the "zoning" tab, click "Height and Bulk Districts," and then click the blue map button next to "Height and Bulk Districts").

If I'm reading the two correctly (which I totally might not be—maybe someone with a better understanding of urban planning and development could take a look?), mid-rise building isn't prohibited anywhere in the city. However, the majority of the city is zoned as residential such that projects over 40 feet in height (about four stories) require special conditional approval from the Planning Department. It also looks like there are prohibitions against things like converting single-family structures to multiple-dwelling units (Section 207.2 discusses the issue).
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:48 PM on December 5, 2012


I saw this article a few days ago (and then saw the byline and felt totally trolled — srsly Farhad Manjoo?!) BUT anyways, for me this is the thing:

I moved to SF from New York (Brooklyn, specifically) about two years ago now, and while there are things I miss about New York (a fucking useful public transit system not reduced to tourist toys, for one), the thing I love most is San Francisco's sense of the local. Manhattan at this point is overfull tourist joints (even picturesque ones), banks, and drugstores. Here so many more businesses are local and neighborhoody and I really love it. So no, thank you, I don't need SF to become Manhattan (or even Brooklyn, though Brooklyn is a lot better).

At the same time, parts of SF could really do with some more density. But those are the Richmond and the Sunset — put in some five-story floor throughs Brooklyn style, add light rail or BRT to Van Ness and Geary and maybe Noriega and presto! now you have middle class neighborhoods with public transit. No one needs some coffins in SoMA that are just going to be crash pads or SROs 2.0.

Finally, it is really easy to bike here, even with hills. There are ways.
posted by dame at 1:58 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


if I had my druthers Atherton need to build up

Oh man I would love to see someone show up at an Atherton town meeting and propose building multi-story low-income housing. Snort.
posted by ambrosia at 10:00 AM on December 5 [1 favorite +] [!]
I did a literal spittake at that. It would be the most epic real-life trolling of all time. Please invite me, please! Maybe you could also suggest they put in sidewalks, too? Bwahhah

For me, it's transit that's the problem. World class cities (NYC, Paris, London, Tokyo) have incredible transit systems, far better than the SF/Bay area set. But here the problems really are getting the various agencies to work together across county lines.
posted by marylynn at 2:05 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's a shitload of development going on in those neighborhoods. You think it will bring rents down?

Well, that's the question, isn't it? Certainly the shiny new units will go for fairly high prices--especially given the relatively high cost of building them, combined with the fact that the builders don't build to lose money. The hope is that once they're built, the moneyed techies will take that option, relieving the pressure on older buildings and less-favored neighborhoods.

So you'd see expensive new condos and the same old apartments and houses which would be somewhat cheaper than they would be in the hypothetical universe where the new ones weren't built. Unfortunately, these results are invisible, and even lead people to take the opposite conclusion: "new condos expensive, old apartments cheap, so let's forbid new condos".


Parking in new construction of multi-unit buildings is often capped, not required.

Only true in a small part of the city. It's required in most of the city. And even where it's not required, any project which doesn't provide parking will be accused by area residents of trying to take "their" parking--and anyone with a few hundred bucks has the power to file a complaint which can delay construction for months, if not derail it entirely.
posted by alexei at 2:09 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


We already have a Brooklyn. It's called Oakland.

With the greatest love and respect to Oakland, I know Brooklyn, I own an apartment in Brooklyn, and Oakland is no Brooklyn. Oakland is barely Queens. Short of a few areas it is car-filled, multi-lane suburban-ness with mediocre transit. It's not a horrible place, but it really has very little in common, on-the-ground-wise with Brooklyn.
posted by dame at 2:10 PM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


for whatever it's worth: the reason NYC can keep the subway running 24/7 is that many of the lines have express tracks that the local trains can divert onto during track maintenance.

Well, the L in NYC (as well as a couple other lines, I think) doesn't have an express track. From what I recall, whenever they need to do maintenance on a given segment, they close that segment for maintenance on one side of the rack, and then run a train back-and-forth along that segment on the other track. Why can't BART do that?
posted by Afroblanco at 2:14 PM on December 5, 2012


Actually, they turn the L into shuttle buses and it blows.* Because buses (that aren't BRT with stations, exclusive lanes et. al.) are like one step above useless. They get stuck in traffic, they don't carry enough people and the boarding methods mean they spend up to 40% of their time idle. It is horrible and SF's reliance on buses is the single worst thing about the transit system (MUNI and BART having no reciprocal transfers clocks in at #2).

*They do the one-train thing when they do work under the river because that is hard to bus-ify.
posted by dame at 2:20 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


dame : yeah, I remember the whole bus backup thing. So then what are they doing when they run the L in segments like that? Because I definitely remember them doing that. Wasn't that for maintenance?
posted by Afroblanco at 2:23 PM on December 5, 2012


(oops, just saw your asterisk)
posted by Afroblanco at 2:24 PM on December 5, 2012


Is the Fillmore district that area near Japantown and the Fillmore Auditorium along Geary street that looks all retro-future 70s and has brutalist buildings like that pagoda? If so I have to admit I kind of love it.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:29 PM on December 5, 2012


It is. But before that it was a big empty lot for something like 20 years. And before that it was where all the black people lived. Because if you want to know where to start "redeveloping", just look at the racial makeup, right 1950s?
posted by dame at 2:33 PM on December 5, 2012


Is the Fillmore district that area near Japantown and the Fillmore Auditorium along Geary street that looks all retro-future 70s and has brutalist buildings like that pagoda? If so I have to admit I kind of love it.

The north side of Geary is Japantown, the south side is the Fillmore.
posted by asterix at 2:35 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe you could also suggest they put in sidewalks, too?

FYI marylynn, Atherton doesn't do sidewalks because it considers itself to be "rural."

Seriously.
posted by ambrosia at 2:39 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


For me, it's transit that's the problem. World class cities (NYC, Paris, London, Tokyo) have incredible transit systems, far better than the SF/Bay area set. But here the problems really are getting the various agencies to work together across county lines.

I think part of this is related to the fact that all of those transit systems were begun at a time (and/or in a place) long before the car became king. BART began in 1964, when most of the transportation infrastructure was already devoted to roads and cars and the needs of drivers.

MUNI is building the Central Subway. It's slated to cost $1.5 billion-yes-with-a-b for its 1.7 miles from the Caltrain station to Chinatown.
posted by rtha at 2:40 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


You Can't Tip a Buick: "If we want 24/7 BART, what we need is a second transbay tube, a second line through SF, and express tracks on the east bay side. "

Does BART actually have the ridership numbers to even remotely justify the cost of 24/7 service? I agree that BART needs to be reconfigured to serve as more than a really expensive Indian Gauge commuter rail line to the suburbs, but 24/7 or express operation make very little sense for the system.

Even if maintenance hours weren't a consideration, you could never justify the cost of running those extra trains, given how few people would ride them. You could provide a whole lot of late-night bus service for what it would cost to run BART 24/7.

Buses are perfectly adequate for late-night transit service, since there's not a lot of traffic (and you've got a bunch of spare buses lying around at night). London does this, and it works very well.

Express tracks also make little sense, as the closest pair of BART stations are way further apart than the furthest-apart express stations in the NYC subway. The two systems are fundamentally very different.
posted by schmod at 2:41 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


FYI marylynn, Atherton doesn't do sidewalks because it considers itself to be "rural."

I know, that's why it's so hilarious. I read a comment in a Palo Alto online news article that suggested that maybe Atherton could use it's Facebook traffic money to put in sidewalks. The LULZ jumped off the page.
posted by marylynn at 2:44 PM on December 5, 2012


Hey, OP and lifelong SF-er here. Recently, in the Ingleside neighborhood (right next to where I grew up), there was a Kragen store that, together with a spacious parking area, was taking up quite a bit of space. That closed a few years ago and now it's an apartment complex with a Whole Foods and underground parking. Just now I thought to myself: this is right in front of the K Muni Line, two blocks from 280, and literally across the street from the main City College campus - how come it took so long for an apartment complex to be built? It's an anomaly in a sea of single-family homes. Adjacent to this is what, for a long time, I considered the greatest waste of space in all of San Francisco, a huge reservoir that was built during WW2 and never held water. For most of my life it was just a parking lot, but last year CCSF opened a new multi-use building on part of the site, and I hear there's going to be a new performing arts center there too. I remember my dad telling me as a kid that there were developers trying to build apartments on the site but people didn't want it. It struck me as such a waste, and even with recent developments this huge plot of land isn't, IMHO, being used to nearly its full potential. Not all of the open spaces in this city are parks.

Oh, and now I have a chance to tell y'all how I came to grow up here. Funny story, that. There really wasn't a way my family could've afforded to live here, except for the fact that we got our house from my mom's uncle. How did he get it? He bought it in 1977 because the previous owner, who had lived there barely a year, if that, was totally convinced the house was haunted and was desperate to get rid of it. Haunted or not, my mom's uncle was simply not the kind of person to balk at a good deal, so here I am.
posted by MattMangels at 2:49 PM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Does BART actually have the ridership numbers to even remotely justify the cost of 24/7 service?

It's kinda chicken and egg, though, isn't it? If public transit was reliably useful, then more people would use it. I *love* transit. But I have a bike in SF, which I use far more, because it is more practical for more trips. If there were decent coverage (including a single ticket with MUNI in city limits and MUNI improvements)* then I would take transit tons, but once I have to make alternate plans for those times when I need to get across town via Van Ness in under an hour, I may as well just ride my bike downtown, though the BART would be great for that.

The Central subway is kind of a terrible joke too. It has no link to the Market lines without exiting the system and walking; it just ends in Chinatown instead of going through North Beach then heading left out to the Presidio under Geary, again proving the Richmond with transit superior to the 38.

I love living here, but I wish this town would get serious about fixing its transit. It would make a huge difference. And to the city's credit, it is *trying* — I just wish it tried a little harder and faster.
posted by dame at 2:56 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


* You can actually make this happen if you buy a monthly MUNI pass on your clipper card and pay a little extra, but if you aren't a daily commuter and desire to say, go from the Mission to the Marina, you have to either hang out on Van Ness for an hour or pay for two systems. Or ride your bike.
posted by dame at 2:59 PM on December 5, 2012


Express tracks also make little sense, as the closest pair of BART stations are way further apart than the furthest-apart express stations in the NYC subway. The two systems are fundamentally very different.

In general you're right, but the stations in SF from Embarcadero to Mission-24th Street are fairly close together. The stations along Market street are like 800 yards apart.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:01 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Buses are perfectly adequate for late-night transit service, since there's not a lot of traffic (and you've got a bunch of spare buses lying around at night).

Uh, yep. And as I mentioned earlier, that's essential what the East Bay does. I believe the bus you want is AC Transit 800. Admittedly it runs just once per hour, but yeah, if you ride it, you may well find that you are the only one on it.

It's kinda chicken and egg, though, isn't it?

Not really. Try BART outside of SF at 10pm on a Wednesday. There will be like 1-2 people on each car. And I don't see anyway it will ever be cheaper than driving. It costs me $7.10 round trip. Why on Earth should I take my family of four in SF on BART for $28 vs. driving for $5 (I can usually find free parking)?

There will be a lot of sea changes (perhaps literal) required before SF Bay Area public transit becomes "world class."

if you aren't a daily commuter and desire to say, go from the Mission to the Marina, you have to either hang out on Van Ness for an hour or pay for two systems. Or ride your bike.

What? That's one of the easiest routes in the whole city. The grand 49! (Is that what you mean by hang out on Van Ness for an hour b/c that's about how long that ride takes.)

MUNI and traffic in general in San Francisco are so slow and the city so small you'd be stupid NOT to ride your bike everywhere (if you are able). I like to race (safely) MUNI routes to compare how much faster a bike is than a bus and even on a fucking huge N run like Ocean Beach to Union Square, the bike ALWAYS wins. As long as you're in the city proper, biking is the answer.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:14 PM on December 5, 2012


I know, that's why it's so hilarious. I read a comment in a Palo Alto online news article that suggested that maybe Atherton could use it's Facebook traffic money to put in sidewalks. The LULZ jumped off the page.

Oh god that comment board has some gems, especially when they start to argue about height limits and *I swear* worry that Palo Alto will become "like Mahnattan".
posted by Space Coyote at 3:22 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well I guess that's part of the problem — BART attempts to be both a commuter rail and a city transit system, kinda like if Matro-North and the subway had a baby, and it is crap at being city transit. At the same time, it is preferable to buses and light rail that has to share streets with cars, because yeah, the 49 takes an hour and more than one person will probably try to pee on your shoes by the time you get to the other end. Underground trains, to me at least, and just so obviously superior to buses — mostly because paying at the door is much slower than paying when you enter the station. (Urbanized really got me excited by the possibilities of BRT, though.)

But Muni and traffic are slow because there is too much traffic on the road because people have cars because Muni is not good enough to rely on for a lot of people. And once they have a car, why wouldn't they use it? So I think it is a vicious circle where people point at ridership, when there is a lot more that could be done to increase it.

I like riding my bike, but sometimes it is not possible, sometimes parents are in town, or it's pouring, or what have you, and I really would like a comprehensive, relatively quick and pleasant transit system, like the one I left behind when I moved out here.
posted by dame at 3:27 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Uh, yep. And as I mentioned earlier, that's essential what the East Bay does. I believe the bus you want is AC Transit 800. Admittedly it runs just once per hour, but yeah, if you ride it, you may well find that you are the only one on it.

Look, if they're trying to encourage people to enjoy the Oakland nightlife, or trying to entice people to live in Oakland, with the promise of accessible SF nightlife, that sketchy-ass bus is not the way to do it. Sorry. It's just not an option. The people they'd be hoping to attract simply do not want to wait for up to an hour in places where even the bravest among us don't want to be standing outside after midnight. It's just not an option.

Compare that to NYC, where nobody's afraid to take the subway anymore. And yeah, train cars are kinda empty-ish late at night (except for the F, which always seemed fully-populated for some reason), and sure, they're not gonna make their money back on 24-hour service, but so what? They run the trains all night because that's a part of what NYC is. You're never stuck anywhere. Constantly available mobility. And it's fucking beautiful.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:30 PM on December 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


We already have a Brooklyn. It's called Oakland.

If that was true there would be better bars in Temescal.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 3:34 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm really not sure why Goog and other high tech companies don't just put up dorms on their campuses.

Housing in Mountain View is not that expensive, especially on a Google salary. Fun fact: Facebook used to have a housing subsidy for employees who lived near the office and got rid of it partly because once they started to get big enough, the subsidy ended up inflating rental prices in the subsidy zone.
posted by phoenixy at 3:37 PM on December 5, 2012


Google had plans to build apartments for it's workers near campus, but it seems that was shot down by the Mountain View city council because of where they wanted to build.
posted by marylynn at 3:45 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree that SF should invest in large scale infrastructure and affordable housing in areas without height restrictions and away from historic downtown San Francisco. Places like the Dogpatch with access to Cal Train and Silicon Valley, or the Bayview and Hunter's Point, or south of Ceasar Chavez. These are optimal neighborhoods for people to commute to and from the peninsula and areas that would be revitalized by affordable housing AND condos/twitter apartments. The weather is better in these parts of the city as well. No one wants to build condos in the Sunset, because they would never see the sun. These buildings should not be built on Market, or anywhere near the hills or North Beach. Nob Hill deserves their view. That was where the rebuilding began after the 06 quake and it is downright beautiful. Part of what makes SF so special is the views from Twin Peaks out towards Alcatraz and the Golden Gate. If you start blocking that with high rises, it is going to look awful. The old industrial section and shipping yards south of downtown and China Basin are the best place for this guy to go and build.
posted by Roger_Mexico at 4:18 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I recall (again, I can dig up sources when I've got more than 10 minutes to kill) reading a study that showed that people living in San José — never mind San Francisco itself, I'm talking sprawled out, good luck getting anywhere if you don't have a car, not a real city San José, produce on the whole less carbon than Manhattanites. If we want to not drown, one of the things we need to do is get everyone who wants to live in Northern California a place in Northern California.

I'm probably one of the people who would move to Northern California, particularly the SF area, if it were affordable. I already did the NYC thing though and I found it very hard to live with roommates in tiny apartments an hour away from work on my field's median salary. But in the end, my field is tech, and there is a high concentration of innovative techies and tech companies in SF that I'd love to take advantage of. But I'd also like to have a family, and I couldn't imagine doing it in a place like SF with the housing costs there, even though I am fine with living in small spaces. I wonder if the housing problems in SF keep a lot of women like me out of some of the hot tech companies. I've spoken to other women who feel the same.

I love Chicago in terms of affordability, but damn it my heating and cooling bills are awful.
posted by melissam at 4:23 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


As far as Bart goes, I think they have a lot of low-hanging fruit in terms of building housing and retail near their stations. They've taken some steps in this direction, with projects at Ashby, Macarthur, Fruitvale, Walnut Creek, and other stations.

In principle, these could, in addition to boosting ridership (in both directions, which is great, because the trains running in the anti-peak direction are running under capacity), provide much-needed rental income which could be used to improve Bart service. In practice, however, they've spent huge sums on heavily-subsidized parking, which is... pretty self-defeating.
posted by alexei at 4:30 PM on December 5, 2012


We already have a Brooklyn. It's called Oakland.

We need to stop this kind of silly talk right now. If Brooklyn were a separate city from NYC, then it would still be the 4th biggest city in the US, since it is slightly smaller than Chicago. It is more than twice the size of San Francisco, and actually contains people from every walk of life imaginable, including artists, musicians, writers, nerds, lawyers, bankers, movie stars, and people from every country in the world AND people from every major city in the US. Feel free to compare San Francisco and Brooklyn, they are very similar, but comparing Oakland and Brooklyn is beyond the pale.
posted by Roger_Mexico at 4:31 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Recently, in the Ingleside neighborhood (right next to where I grew up), there was a Kragen store that, together with a spacious parking area, was taking up quite a bit of space. That closed a few years ago and now it's an apartment complex with a Whole Foods and underground parking. Just now I thought to myself: this is right in front of the K Muni Line, two blocks from 280, and literally across the street from the main City College campus - how come it took so long for an apartment complex to be built?

But who's paying $2185 for a studio, or $3500 for a two-bedroom (I couldn't find one-bedroom rents) in Ingleside? This is a serious question.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:48 PM on December 5, 2012


God, people, I was snarking. Apologies for doing it so poorly, and please consider that it was still on the early side here.
posted by rtha at 4:49 PM on December 5, 2012


If Brooklyn were a separate city from NYC, then it would still be the 4th biggest city in the US, since it is slightly smaller than Chicago.

Hehehe. Or as I like to say, "Brooklyn is the city most often compared to Oakland by people who've never been to either one."

Still, the salient point is that Oakland could take the rent pressure off SF, if only public transit options were better.

And while I generally agree with Roger_Mexico, I'm sorta skeptical of his vision of the future of Bayview/Hunter's Point/Dogpatch/China Basin. Condos, sure. But low-income housing? Correct me if I'm wrong, but a lot of that area already is low-income housing -- as in, it's sort of a dangerous neighborhood. It'll be interesting to see what happens as Condoville spreads up the T line and butts into some of the more-questionable neighborhoods. But yeah, hell yeah, build the highrises there and keep 'em there. Ugly fucking things. Seriously, China Basin? What an ugly fucking part of town. Big rectangular boxes. Looks like it should be in a suburban office park somewhere, except for the (presumably) awesome views of the bay.

Also, what about the Tenderloin? And the sketchy parts of SOMA? Only a matter of time until these get gentrified. Seriously, these are some of the most central and transit-connected parts of the city. Oh wait, homeless people. Still haven't thought of what to do about them. Nevermind....
posted by Afroblanco at 5:02 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rtha, I think perhaps it is because we all have experience with people who don't say that in jest. Way, way too many people.

Still, the salient point is that Oakland could take the rent pressure off SF, if only public transit options were better.

Honestly, I am not sure that's enough. There may be tiny parts that are okay once you get off the train, but the place is so very suburban, I am not sure a train can fix all the problems. The scale just strikes me as wrong. I really think the Sunset / Richmond / out by Lake Merced are more likely to take the rent pressure off the eastern neighborhoods, if they ever get decent transit.
posted by dame at 5:09 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, a lot of the Bayview/Hunters Point area is low income housing, but there is a large redevelopment going on in the area, especially the old ship yards and candlestick point. Many new developments combine low income housing and High end condos (cough Brooklyn Waterfront cough) with success. Revitalizes the area, provides a counterbalance to gentrification and reduces city-wide rents.
posted by Roger_Mexico at 7:27 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


My guess is that SF will turn into a large-scale Portland, where a small wealthy technological elite patronizes what artisanal culture is allowed to make a living downtown, while the surrounding neighborhoods make their own culture at the fringe.

Promises, promises.
posted by telstar at 7:50 PM on December 5, 2012


There may be tiny parts that are okay once you get off the train, but the place is so very suburban, I am not sure a train can fix all the problems

Where is this terribly suburban Oakland? I mean, there are large chunks of Oakland I've never been to (perhaps because they're hopelessly suburban, I don't know), but suburban isn't really a word I'd use for Oakland.
posted by hoyland at 7:51 PM on December 5, 2012


Single-family homes on largish lots predominate once you get away from the core. Fire up Google and drop the yellow man anywhere in (say) East Oakland; likely you'll be on a street with a built form that's more or less the same as Menlo Park's or Sunnyvale's.

I love parts of Oakland to death (most especially the neighborhoods around Lake Merritt), but the thing that surprised me the most about the city as a whole is that it's, well, kind of a suburb.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:09 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


the thing that surprised me the most about the city as a whole is that it's, well, kind of a suburb.

So what you're saying is that there's no there there?
posted by asterix at 8:48 PM on December 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yeah, whenever people complain about gentrification, I basically want them to shut the hell up.

Most of the people you never hear complain; over time they've quietly packed up and moved to an unsafe neighborhood where they could make rent.
posted by eddydamascene at 8:54 PM on December 5, 2012


There is quite a bit of there there, it's just not evenly distributed.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:57 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, what about the Tenderloin? And the sketchy parts of SOMA? Only a matter of time until these get gentrified.

Keep holding your breath. I don't expect to see a Pottery Barn on 6th/Market St. anytime soon (though Dottie's has certainly changed the block a bit).
posted by mrgrimm at 10:05 PM on December 5, 2012


I've wanted to live in SF for most of my life & I finally moved here in January. I was lucky enough to find a 650 sq. ft. ("spacious" by San Francisco standards) apartment in SOMA for $2400. Since the pricing structure is kind of weird, I was able to get the lowest rent by taking a 6 month lease. When my lease was up, they raised my rent to $2900 (for an 11 month lease this time, which gave me the lowest rent). I dread what it'll be the next time I renew, so I'll most likely move at that time.

I got rid of my car before I moved here, since it would cost me $250/month to park at my apartment. I walk to work, since it's easier than driving & trying to find a place to park even if I did have a car since there's no place to park at my office.

The company I used to work at, which ran out of money last month, was only 3 blocks from my home (and in the wrong direction from the one way street I live on). My new job is 5 blocks away, still an easy work.

On weekends I love to walk to Chinatown for lunch, and I sometimes walk to the ferry building or Fisherman's Wharf.
posted by mike3k at 11:19 PM on December 5, 2012


Many of the dot com-ers I suspect want to live in San Francisco as much because it is San Francisco as it is Not The Soul Killing Blight of Silicon Valley.

So long as San Francisco is prettier and more bikeable and more historic than San Jose, there will be young engineers with six figure salaries who wish to live here.
posted by zippy at 11:23 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


madcaptenor: But who's paying $2185 for a studio, or $3500 for a two-bedroom (I couldn't find one-bedroom rents) in Ingleside? This is a serious question.

Tech people, I suppose. I really don't know. I remember seeing them being built and sarcastically thinking "oh I'm sure those apartments will be affordable to City College students." Not that they should be in any sense, it would just be nice.
posted by MattMangels at 12:05 AM on December 6, 2012


They should be accessible to City College students. And City College professors. People should be able to live near where they work because walking commutes release no carbon at all.

In the long run, building as much as possible as quickly as possible will drive down rents as those buildings age. Eventually, new construction will become old construction, giving the workers, artists, and students who make the city happen a chance to live here. But in the short run... well, in the short run how about we get some non-market housing? The most common system for making this happen in the US is requiring developers to set aside a certain percentage of units for below market rate housing, but I dislike this because it slows development. Admittedly I'm a big old commie, but, well, I think what we need is good old fashioned government provided housing, and lots of it.

Newcomers should be able to get reasonable accommodation in this town, as should people who are hanging on in places too big or small for their current needs because they can't lose their rent control. Because the market is broken and will never provide reasonable accommodation at reasonable prices, let's have the city or state build the units.

I'm being willfully idealistic because not drowning.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:54 AM on December 6, 2012


It's a world class city with a world class infrastructure that includes public transportation

Uh, no. Public transportation is an embarrassment. BART (regional rapid transit) is pretty good, but Muni (city buses, streetcars, subway) is almost entirely unreliable. The two systems are separate; they share some stations but you usually have to go to a different level of the station. BART and Muni are focused on getting people to work in downtown San Francisco, so many of the lines radiate out from downtown and there isn't a circle route around the outside. Buses from downtown to the neighborhoods are infrequent and slow outside of afternoon rush hour, when there are express buses. Connecting BART to the San Francisco airport was an afterthought and it's still not connected to the Oakland airport. There are ferries, but like the other systems they're oriented around commuting and they don't connect to the other systems.

I'd rather be at the very top of the Transamerica tower during an earthquake than up on the marina in a 150 year old victorian.

Most of the Marina is landfill put in place for the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in 1915. There aren't many (if any) Victorians there.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:57 AM on December 6, 2012


I stand corrected. Should I have said North Beach? I haven't been home in 15 years.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:30 AM on December 6, 2012


I believe that's the first time I've ever encountered the phrase "a much-talked-about San Francisco Magazine essay."
posted by whir at 8:19 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


MattMangels: " That closed a few years ago and now it's an apartment complex with a Whole Foods and underground parking. Just now I thought to myself: this is right in front of the K Muni Line, two blocks from 280, and literally across the street from the main City College campus - how come it took so long for an apartment complex to be built?"

Yeah, but (as others have mentioned in this thread), infill around BART has been almost completely nonexistent.

There is just nothing about BART's inception and operation that makes any goddamn sense.

I mean, why go through the expense of building several very expensive Rapid Transit lines in the suburbs, when they all funnel into the same two tracks downtown, severely restricting headways to levels that you'd more typically see on a commuter train service?

Why the hell didn't they use standard-gauge rails like the rest of the western hemisphere? BART needs to buy (very) custom railcars, and maintenance equipment from India. Even India doesn't use Indian-gauge for rapid transit lines.

Why did they bother building the line almost entirely underground all the way out to Millbrae, but only put a few stations along the line? Why didn't they plan any urban infill around this segment? Arlington, VA lobbied hard to bury the Metrorail Orange Line between Rosslyn and Ballston, and then went on to build one of the most successful new urban developments in the country (and concentrated that development around Metro stations so successfully that the suburban housing stock a few blocks away is still completely intact).

One could easily argue that, despite being enormously expensive, the DC Metro has paid for itself a dozen times over, when you consider the economic development that it enabled.

BART did....virtually nothing for the areas that it serves, except to provide some already-existing populations with a more convenient commute.

As far as 24/7 service goes, I'll again reiterate that the system's very nature would make it difficult for such a service to be viable. The travel distances between stations are just too far to accommodate most usual late-night commuting patterns. BART wouldn't just lose money -- they'd lose fistfuls of money operating a late-night service. If buses have a perception problem, San Francisco should start fixing that first. (For what it's worth, I've found Muni's buses to be grimy, but their service to be pretty good -- the routes mostly make sense, and the buses arrive frequently)
posted by schmod at 8:38 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


We already have a Brooklyn. It's called Oakland.

With the greatest love and respect to Oakland, I know Brooklyn, I own an apartment in Brooklyn, and Oakland is no Brooklyn.


It's sorta like Brooklyn if you exploded it over a much larger and more attractive landscape, then paved it over and graffitied the thing. I think it is definitely where the "poor artists" of the area live.

You know, this NYT article (or the folks profiled in it) says SOMA is the Brooklyn of San Francisco, and I'd say that's about right. Or Inner Mission. But both are far too close to the center of town though to be considered other boroughs ...

Long and short of it is that SF Bay Area is much different in many ways than the NYC metro area.

They're not worried about some artisinal free-range gourmet doohickey moving in down the block; they're worried about getting shot.

You know I wouldn't have put myself in that position last week, but then a 50-year-old bicyclist just got shot and killed on a street and a block that I bike on several times a week with my 3 y.o daughter. Then this morning, I woke up to gunshots across the street and down the block ... again. Berkeley. To be fair, there have been "only" 4 murders this year in Berkeley. That's like one night in East Oakland. Literally.

I love San Francisco a lot, but I have 2 kids and ...

I was lucky enough to find a 650 sq. ft. ("spacious" by San Francisco standards) apartment in SOMA for $2400.

For less money, I get a 3 bedroom house in Berkeley with a huge backyard and a 30-minute commute to a downtown SF job. (True, throw in another ... $156.20 per month for BART and we're even, but I used MUNI and BART when I lived in SF.) And since I can't leave sleeping kids alone in the house (can I?), it doesn't matter so much that I can't walk to a corner store at midnight or grab my pumps and hit the Tranny Shack or see whatever Satan-worshipping bands you kids are into on a whim, but that's the obvious tradeoff.

When I was last living if SF in 2009, I was sharing a one-bedroom apartment in the Mission (Lapidge) with my to-be-wife for $1500/month. You can find similar rents now (warning: that's probably some sleazy management company). That's the first craigslist listing in SF (in the $200-2000 range) right now.

The things I miss least about living in San Francisco, in order of annoyingness:

* The Wind
* The Tourists
* The Lines

and really, none of those are that bad. Scratch that, the wind fucking sucks. It took me about 10 years to come to terms with it. It's always going to be cold (except for 2-3 days per year.) Anyway, again I like SF a lot and I make decent money, but I'm still a little priced out. I'm trying to convince my wife we should put our savings to a house in SF, but we've a long way to go for that. Berkeley is expensive too, but slightly more realistic.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:46 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


BART did....virtually nothing for the areas that it serves, except to provide some already-existing populations with a more convenient commute.

That's not such a bad thing in and of itself (isn't that what public transit is for?). Plus, consider that it also provides people with the mobility to move around the Bay Area (to some degree). I have reports in SF who live in Milpitas and Fremont and take BART.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:48 AM on December 6, 2012


Connecting BART to the San Francisco airport was an afterthought and it's still not connected to the Oakland airport

You can take BART to OAK, with a shuttle bus transfer. This is no different from DC's Metro to BWI, and way better than Metro to IAD, where the shuttle bus is $10 from the West Falls Church station. Metro is building a line all the way to IAD and has been for years now. I also see very little evidence of infill housing along most Metro lines in VA outside the denser urban bits close to DC.

Why didn't they plan any urban infill around this segment? Arlington, VA lobbied hard

The "they" in your question seems to refer to BART, and in your next sentence you reference the city that planned and lobbied around its Metro corridor. Why didn't Millbrae plan the urban infill? I assume that BART has control over certain portions of the land on either side of its tracks, but municipalities also bear responsibility. Many of these municipalities are not San Francisco.

Years ago, I took BART way the hell out to the West Dublin/Pleasanton station to meet a friend for lunch. What an utter wasteland it was, and looking at the satellite view, it's not much better now. How is creating infill housing in Pleasanton (or Dublin, whichever it is) specifically the sole responsibility of BART or San Francisco?

I understand the frustration and impatience. But direct the ire at the entities that have the most power to actually make the changes.
posted by rtha at 9:14 AM on December 6, 2012


That's not such a bad thing in and of itself (isn't that what public transit is for?).

Well, as others have mentioned, public transit can also be transformative, generating new riders by adding new connections between neighborhoods, as opposed to just recapitulating existing patterns of commuting.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:17 AM on December 6, 2012


mrgrimm: "That's not such a bad thing in and of itself (isn't that what public transit is for?)."

That's what buses are for, not multi-billion-dollar rapid transit systems.

Heck, it'd be hard to justify even Light Rail, tram, or BRT if it didn't considerably alter population density or traffic patterns.

Infrastructure investments generally expect a payback of one sort or another, and fixed-guideway transit is usually a very significant investment.
posted by schmod at 9:28 AM on December 6, 2012


Yeah, but (as others have mentioned in this thread), infill around BART has been almost completely nonexistent.

I've spent a lot of time standing around waiting for the 29 Sunset at Balboa Park BART recently. (My girlfriend lives off the 29 in Ingleside; I live in the Mission and work downtown.)

Balboa Park station is served by all BART trains (so during the day has sixteen-train-an-hour service to downtown); three Muni trolleys (J Church, K Ingleside, M Oceanview); and five Muni bus routes (8X San Bruno, 29 Sunset, 43 Masonic, 49 Van Ness-Mission, 54 Felton). By all rights there should be huge amounts of activity here. There isn't - just a lot of people waiting for buses. The location seems to split the difference between Geneva/Mission and City College, satisfying nobody.

So why is the station here? Because it's directly over 280. Which would make sense if it had parking, but it doesn't, so it's only useful for kiss-and-ride service. Except there's not even a good place for that.

I suppose the 88 stops there but I've never seen an 88.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:44 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's one of my favorite pieces of terrible BART station placement. Well, and terrible urban design.

Click on the link up above. See those houses south of the BART station? First of all, well, it's a bunch of single-family houses on big lots right next to an underutilized mass transit station, which is problematic in and of itself. But beyond that, because the station is above the freeway, and because the street grid there... well, just isn't... anyone living south of the BART station has to walk over half a mile in a giant spiral to actually get to it. I'm pretty sure you can hear the BART every step of the way — you're never more than a few hundred feet from it, but you've got to walk that half-mile to use it. It's even worse if you're on one of the not-a-blocks immediately to the south of the one I marked, unless you're willing to jump over a fence to get through.

Is there a shortcut google maps doesn't know about? I've streetviewed around there and I'm pretty certain there isn't, but I've never actually walked to that station... but I'm pretty sure no one does.

BART is planning an extension of that line out to Livermore, and originally intended to send the line through Livermore's little downtown to avoid absurdities like the one in Castro Valley — but anti-transit anti-environmentalists out there are lobbying (have lobbied? I can't tell if this is still an open issue) very, very hard to keep the line routed over the freeway.

Don't get me wrong, I see the advantage of putting it out of the way — you get to feel good about your shiny nice toy that shows what good environmentalists you are, without actually going through the trouble of doing anything environmentally worthwhile. It's so convenient! All you have to do is accept the waste of billions of dollars...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:35 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Here's one of my favorite pieces of terrible BART station placement.

Oooh, I've been there a few times. I walked all the way up to the big hospital area on Lake Chabot. I even got a shitty drink at Spanky's. It really is the good example of U.S. Western suburban hell (one of many).
posted by mrgrimm at 10:47 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here [PDF] is the list of routings to Livermore (linked from here). Page 11 has a nice list with little maps.

The preferred alternative when that report was made was 2b (I-580, Portola Ave, then along the UP tracks to Vasco station to meet with ACE). It would have served 31,900 riders for a cost of $3.83 billion [1]. However people were concerned with effects on Livermore's "historic downtown". The report addresses the possibility of TOD, but doesn't give any ridership numbers for new development.

The new preferred alternative is option 4 (I-580 and stopping at Isabel Ave). It's essentially the first half of the routing for 2b. It will only serve 19,900 riders, but will only cost $1.15 billion.

[1] It includes a new maintenance yard, but what the hell. Seriously
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:34 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are so many places in SF and Oakland where relatively cheap infill stations would get way more new riders than this freeway-and-parking-lot station in Livermore. It seems like the only benefit the Livermore provides is more parking spots, taking pressure off of parking at Dublin/Pleasanton and West Dublin (the latter of which was itself primarily intended to provide more garage space to free up parking at the former, correct?).
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:43 PM on December 6, 2012


Uh, no. Public transportation is an embarrassment. BART (regional rapid transit) is pretty good, but Muni (city buses, streetcars, subway) is almost entirely unreliable.

Meh, people trash-talk MUNI a lot, but it isn't half bad during the day. However, there's a rather precipitous dropoff in service around 7PM, after which your best options are BART and cabs. Don't get me started on the absurdist rentier economy that is cab licensing in SF. Can't get a goddamn cab in this city to save your life, but at least the cab companies are making money! ... fuckers ...
posted by Afroblanco at 1:18 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've found Muni's buses to be grimy, but their service to be pretty good -- the routes mostly make sense, and the buses arrive frequently)

Hahahahahahahahaha. I don't know where you live, but the 12-Folsom, a bus that goes directly from my home to my work runs twice an hour during rush hour. I can't even.
posted by dame at 1:21 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


For anyone who wants to geek out on the engineering and policymaking history of BART ...

A history of the key decisions in the development of Bay Area Rapid Transit. Prepared for the US DOT and HUD by Richard Grefe and Richard Smart of McDonald and Smart, Inc. Sept 1975.
posted by zippy at 2:20 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: The West Dublin station was partially privately funded by a developer who wanted to build TOD around the station. But there were always plans to put in that station, and it did add a significant amount of parking.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:01 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


zippy: "A history of the key decisions in the development of Bay Area Rapid Transit. Prepared for the US DOT and HUD by Richard Grefe and Richard Smart of McDonald and Smart, Inc. Sept 1975."

Oooh. This'll be on my reading for tonight. I fear that it'll be a clusterfuck.

I still have to say that I'm continually impressed by how competently* the DC Metro was planned and built, given the inability of DC (or the 1960's) ability to plan anything well. They made a plan -- cut very few corners and made very few compromises with the plan -- and then built the whole f--ing thing according to the plan.

Sure, you can look back and criticize some of the decisions today, but overall (and especially for the time) it was an amazingly well-planned and executed project.

*Escalators notwithstanding.
posted by schmod at 3:10 PM on December 6, 2012


I once walked three miles from 28th & Geary to California & Fillmore, along a bus route, and made it almost the whole way before a bus came (the bus arrived when I did at the stop one block from where I was going).

You can take BART to OAK, with a shuttle bus transfer. This is no different from DC's Metro to BWI, and way better than Metro to IAD, where the shuttle bus is $10 from the West Falls Church station.

Not connecting is not connecting. A sucky equivalent and a slightly more sucky semi-equivalent (sounds like the only issue is the price of the ticket) doesn't make AirBART suck less.

I still have to say that I'm continually impressed by how competently the DC Metro was planned and built, given the inability of DC (or the 1960's) ability to plan anything well.

Again, no circle route; it's hub-and-spoke with no outside connection. Vienna-to-Shady Grove is 12 stops going in and 14 stops going out.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:09 PM on December 6, 2012


It doesn't have the awesome public transportation of Paris

Maybe I visited a different Paris. Doesn't the Metro close at midnight?

so many of the lines radiate out from downtown and there isn't a circle route around the outside

When I moved out to SF in the mid 1990s, I used to sit and ride the 42 all day (and night) long.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:34 AM on December 7, 2012


Of course the "outside" for the 42 would be the "tourist SF" i.e. Bay to Van Ness to 11th to Brannan to Downtown and around Embarcadero back up to Bay (or North Point or whatever).

But as for going around the whole city, it doesn't make much sense because of the geography. You could take that old 42 route and turn right on Lombard, head out to Divisadero (that huge hill is a problem), then run out California or Geary to the Great Highway, then down to Lake Merced and Geneva to Bayshore to 3rd, etc. but who the hell is gonna ride that thing? Those areas are served (fairly well) by the MUNI streetcars (K, L, M).
posted by mrgrimm at 9:17 AM on December 7, 2012


Not connecting is not connecting. A sucky equivalent and a slightly more sucky semi-equivalent (sounds like the only issue is the price of the ticket) doesn't make AirBART suck less.

As much as I hate AirBART, the bus (B32?) from BWI to Greenbelt is worse, as it runs less frequently. I also don't know that you can reasonably criticise BART too much for not running to OAK--40 years ago (longer when you factor in the planning phase), people wouldn't have taken BART to the airport, plus most of OAK's traffic at the time was military, I think. In addition to SFO being the much bigger airport, it's much easier to extend from Daly City than it is to build a spur off at the Coliseum (which is, I think, officially proposed).
posted by hoyland at 9:53 AM on December 7, 2012


But as for going around the whole city, it doesn't make much sense because of the geography. You could take that old 42 route and turn right on Lombard, head out to Divisadero (that huge hill is a problem), then run out California or Geary to the Great Highway, then down to Lake Merced and Geneva to Bayshore to 3rd, etc. but who the hell is gonna ride that thing? Those areas are served (fairly well) by the MUNI streetcars (K, L, M).

Something like that route exists, although only as an owl route. It's the 91 Owl, which runs from SF State to West Portal via basically the entire city. (In brief: north on 19th/Park Presidio, east on Doyle/Lombard, south on Columbus/Stockton/Third/Bayshore, west on Geneva/Ocean. Muni map, map I made. It's a 25-mile bus route, which is pretty damn impressive in a 7-by-7 city. It connects two terminals 1.6 miles apart.

I suspect nobody has ever ridden this end-to-end. But I'm moving to a place out near both ends of this route soon, so if I ever get insanely bored at two in the morning...

(I'm kind of curious about the history of this route. It clearly is just a splicing together of a bunch of daytime routes - the 28, 45, T, and parts of the 8 and K - but why is it like this?)
posted by madcaptenor at 10:44 AM on December 7, 2012


Personally, I'd be happy for the BART monopoly to end over here in the East Bay so that some of those bus lines will come back. BART is a money gobbling beast, and ensures that only a narrow corridor will be functionally accessible for people without cars.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:29 PM on December 7, 2012


BART is a money gobbling beast, and ensures that only a narrow corridor will be functionally accessible for people without cars.

I think this is a bit of an exaggeration. It is true that BART is not super useful for many trips, but I happen to be back in the East Bay this week and I've actually been struck by the fact AC Transit seems to have gained ground, particularly in the east-west direction. (Okay, mostly I noticed that you could take the bus to right where that stationery shop used to be on Piedmont, when near Oakland Tech was as close as I could get before.) I moved from Berkeley to Minneapolis and, while it's totally possible to live in Minneapolis without a car (and while the people I know here now have cars), the radius from my apartment which is functionally accessible is dramatically smaller. Most of St Paul might as well be another planet because I'm never going to see it.
posted by hoyland at 10:43 PM on December 7, 2012


Why I Moved To The Suburbs, outside London. These suburbs were built before the automobile dominated culture, so they're built on a walking scale and have good transit links.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:41 PM on December 9, 2012


Personally, I'd be happy for the BART monopoly to end over here in the East Bay so that some of those bus lines will come back.

I'm sure you back that up by taking AC Transit every time you need to cross a bridge?
posted by mrgrimm at 8:43 AM on December 10, 2012


mrgrimm, I did before I lived a block away from a BART station. It was quicker to take an Express to SF from the east bay AND they let you take your bike!
posted by small_ruminant at 9:54 AM on December 10, 2012


I too was pretty surprised to take the F and J and get to work in about the same time as BART. Less stressful and a nicer ride, imo, but it IS more expensive (adds up to $1 per day) for some reason.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:20 PM on December 10, 2012


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