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The web is California, writ large.
June 8, 2005 9:20 AM   Subscribe


 
If I wanted to read this guys blog, I'd read his blog. Absolutely zero insight, and guy obviously knows zero about city planning. None of this should surprise anyone.




Oh, wait, it's about the web, that's why he goes on for half of the length talking about the differences between streets on London and SF. And to think, this is the one metafilter link I clicked on today so far.
posted by absalom at 9:53 AM on June 8, 2005


jeez absalon, where did all that come from?

I thought Matt's essay was brilliant and drew parallels I hadn't seen before between the way SF works and the way the web worked in 2000. Having lived in SF, and away from it, it's all clear now how many web businesses only worked well there (webvan was a killer app in SF for very specific reasons).
posted by mathowie at 10:04 AM on June 8, 2005


I thought the theory was very interesting. However the writing, especially near the end, was almost completely incoherent. I was lost on the driving analogy.

And since there aren't really freeways in most of San Francisco (see also), his theory does have some merit. I thought the Amiga story was great.

The idea is definitely one to remember if one is considering investing in or starting a web-based business targeted at suburban or rural users.
posted by tweak at 10:14 AM on June 8, 2005


(actually, just the driving analogy was incoherent, but it gave me a headache for the rest of the article)
posted by tweak at 10:14 AM on June 8, 2005


The essay reminded me of how heavily over-represented Bay Area people were/are on many community web sites, to the point where get-togethers in person were naturally assumed to be in or near San Francisco. Which isn't exactly his point, but it's a cognate: San Francisco is the cultural centre of the web.
posted by mcwetboy at 10:19 AM on June 8, 2005


Ah, ok, a little over-harsh. I have no problem with what I take to be the thesis of the article, and when he starts actually talking about his point, it's pretty solid. The main reason for my dislike is (as tweak hinted at above) the overly long, confusing, and rambling introduction and analogy about driving/difference between london and SF streets/GTA:SA/etc. I guess I thought it was too much work seperating out the good parts. Proofread, proofread, poofread! Revise, Revise, Revise!
posted by absalom at 10:37 AM on June 8, 2005


Maybe I misframed this article with my title. It's not just about the web; it's about technology and culture more generally.
posted by Tlogmer at 10:42 AM on June 8, 2005


Yeah, I was just thinking that Netflix, Ebay and Amazon.com were really San Francisco kind of businesses due to the lack of video rentals, antique shops and book stores there as opposed to, say, rural Maine or Ohio.

Oh, wait.

Maybe if his point was "The web is all about America" this would have made more sense. As it is the essay is basically just cherrypicking to support a pretty weak point.

And the games thing is just crap. Europeans and Japanese develop the vast majority of driving games and make the best sports cars in the world.
posted by selfnoise at 10:50 AM on June 8, 2005


Oh, wait, it's about the web, that's why he goes on for half of the length talking about the differences between streets on London and SF. And to think, this is the one

I definitely agree with absalom. This article is totally meaningless.

First of all, it mostly only relates to the dot-com stuff, especially the 'stupid' dot-com stuff, which made a lot of people rich with poorly spent Venture Capitalist money and little else.

His only insight is that some of those services make more sense in SF then they do in London. Because apartments are bigger and roads are grid like. But does this guy even realize that there are more then two cities in the world? Something that would work for LA would also work for Huston, Dallas, Chicago, Des Moines etc, etc. Any major city with suburbia around it.

And other then a few places like NYC maybe driving in the US on a freeway is about the same (although people do signal around here).

And those companies didn’t fail because they had bad ideas; they failed because they had bad business plans. The whole "Get big fast" thing. The fact is people do make money selling pet food and home delivery online. They just don’t get fabulously rich in months like the people who ran pets.com and kosmo.com expected to do.

Then he has the revelation that some video games seem more similar to SF then to London. It’s kind of interesting, I never thought of Sim-cities grids to be 'unrealistic' when I played it because I grew up in a begridded town, but I think that's the only real insight, and it doesn't have much to do with 'the web'.

Finally, his essay is only interesting for dot-commers who view the entirety of 'the web' as a huge cash bonanza. Since I don't look at the web this way, it's very boring. There are huge aspects of the web that don't seem particularly 'Californian'. What does 'blogging' have to do with SF? Is web-based email to los-angelne? Perhaps instant messaging (not http, but probably something this guy would consider to be part of 'the web') like driving down the highway between Barsto and San Diego?

Or not.
posted by delmoi at 10:51 AM on June 8, 2005



And the games thing is just crap. Europeans and Japanese develop the vast majority of driving games and make the best sports cars in the world.


good point.

Honestly I think London is a bit of an outlier, not the other way around.
posted by delmoi at 10:53 AM on June 8, 2005


Couple observations--

I'm from San Francisco. I've been to London. I promise you, as weird as my home town is, London is weirder. The utter lack of city planning, the over-the-top compensation with a (very impressive) tube system, and the air of complete superiority flying in the face of ASBO's, awful food, and overpriced everything...

Hmm, superiority? I do believe I see a little of that in this article, no?

(Mind you, I actually and finally had a great time in London the last time I was out there. Will never fly British Airways again, though. Evil, evil bastards.)
posted by effugas at 10:53 AM on June 8, 2005


Visiting San Francisco for the first time in 2001, it all snapped into place. Here was a city cross-hatched by freeways that each felt just a little too dangerous to walk under. Coupled with a lack of decent public transportation, it meant there were loads of communities slightly too small to support really big stores or specialist shops.

What San Francisco did he go to, the one at Disney's California Adventure? BART/Muni ain't half bad, and freeqays cross-hatching the City???
posted by paddbear at 10:57 AM on June 8, 2005


A point here and there -- it's no surprise that the technology world reflects California because of the role California companies have played in it, and because many of those companies probably never had a global market in mind in the first place. But the dude's reading way too much into his culture shock.

Dot com boom != San Francisco
Silicon Valley != San Francisco
LA != America

The Web is San Francisco circa 2001, writ large. ... The whole of the Web is like this: appropriate ... to folks with big houses
These statements don't work together at all.

He could have been more explicit and said that some part of the boom reflected SOMA: crappy area of town becoming gentrified by computer nerds unwilling to avail themselves of the nearby sub-par services, maybe raised in big houses with big stores around but now being cool and urban and going carless. So they dreamed up their own services.

Generally most of my brain shuts down whenever I hear a Brit mention straight streets, having heard that bete noir many times. The shock seems to be that things are not like how they are in Britain -- yet it's the Americans who must be cast as provincial. A tenuous explanation usually follows.
posted by fleacircus at 11:01 AM on June 8, 2005


What San Francisco did he go to, the one at Disney's California Adventure?

Hilarious - that made me laugh out loud! At the thought of someone going to Disney's CA Adventure.
posted by jonson at 11:11 AM on June 8, 2005


There's a reason instant messaging is computer-based in america and mostly phone-based elsewhere -- well, many reasons. If you spend most of your time and money in privately-owned spaces (houses, cars, etc.), it makes sense to have a computer basestation; if you're out wandering public spaces (squares, pedestrial walkways, train stations) with your friends (and public spaces elsewhere tend to suck much, much less than those in much of the U.S.) it makes sense to do things with your phone. Similarly, ipods are less popular elsewhere because people don't drag their cars with them everywhere -- in the U.S., your car is almost always nearby, so you have space to store 10 specialized devices; in London, you're on foot or taking transit, so you want one easy-to-carry all-purpose device.

Maybe if his point was "The web is all about America"

That kind of was his point. As I said, sorry for misframing.
posted by Tlogmer at 11:29 AM on June 8, 2005


To clarify, I think he's conflating "San Fransisco" and "the San Fransisco Bay area". It is, after all, one contiguous blob of people; brits used to more clearly defined city boundaries probably won't pay much attention to the purely administrative divide between (say) SF and San Jose.
posted by Tlogmer at 11:34 AM on June 8, 2005


Personally, I found the whole thing to make a lot of sense (I don't mean that it is correct, just that it wasn't incoherent or confusing).

delmoi : "Huston"

Anjelica?
posted by Bugbread at 11:46 AM on June 8, 2005


Broad brush + broad strokes + inflected stoicism masquerading as wisdom = O'Reilly book deal.

I suppose.
posted by gramschmidt at 11:53 AM on June 8, 2005


I'm seconding Mathowie's comment. It made me think about this in a way I hadn't before.

Thanks for the link, Tlogmer.
posted by 27 at 11:57 AM on June 8, 2005


One of the things that one gets used to, having lived in San Francisco for 25 years, is a constant influx and outflux of tourists -- some of whom "live" here for a couple of years, as this Matt Webb person did -- arriving, getting a superficial take on what the city "is," declaring it loudly and then leaving, feeling utterly confident that they know all there is to know about San Francisco.

This is what Webb "knows" about San Francisco, and he is wrong in nearly every specific:

Here was a city cross-hatched by freeways that each felt just a little too dangerous to walk under.

"Cross-hatched?" The city has a couple of major freeways running through it, so few in fact that if someone isn't talking about one they're talking about the other. New York and Los Angeles both have considerably more.

"Dangerous"? Ah yes, the old fear of earthquakes. Tourists are terrified by the thought of them. Long-term residents know that the eventuality of a Big One is too certain to worry about every day.

Coupled with a lack of decent public transportation

Both MUNI and BART have their annoying shortcomings, but I travel to other countries a lot and SF's public transit system holds up quite well compared to those in many other cities its size. There's nothing here as good as the London Underground, which I love, but given the fact that central London is so apocalyptically congested and the famous buses are slowed to a crawl, surface public transit here is better.

it meant there were loads of communities slightly too small to support really big stores

Oh, for a Wal-Mart on every block! Tear down those Victorians to make way for some real commerce and convenience.
The resistance of SF neighborhoods to chains building "really big stores" is one of San Francisco's leading virtues.

In other words, while it's a thought-provoking essay -- and it is -- it doesn't have much to do with San Francisco.

posted by digaman at 12:18 PM on June 8, 2005


digaman : "This is what Webb 'knows' about San Francisco, and he is wrong in nearly every specific:"

From what you write, it doesn't seem like he's "wrong" in any of the specifics, just that he interprets the facts differently.

He isn't wrong that San Francisco is criss-crossed by freeways. Sure, LA and NY have more, but he never said it had the most, just that it has 'em.

He isn't "wrong" that it's dangerous. Dangerous is in the eye of the beholder, and if you're from Mayberry, San Francisco is dangerous, and if you're from Rwanda, it's safe. There is no "right" or "wrong" on the issue.

He isn't "wrong" that it has bad transportation. If you live in Seoul or Tokyo, San Francisco has lousy mass transit. If you live in Houston or Montana, it has awesome transportation. There is no "right" or "wrong" on the issue.

And you didn't really address whether SF is too small to support big stores, just that you're happy it doesn't have them.

Your opinions are all probably quite valid, but it's a bit of a disservice to say he's "wrong" for having opinions that differ from yours.
posted by Bugbread at 12:30 PM on June 8, 2005


There's a reason instant messaging is computer-based in america and mostly phone-based elsewhere

Tlogmer, the U.S. operates multiple walled-garden wireless phone systems based on different technologies and which until very recently refused to interoperate (apart from making simple telephone calls) even to the extent of supporting inter-carrier SMS. While the rest of the world has been standardised on GSM. Europe uses SMS because it works effortlessly and has for years, whereas in the U.S. it's still an obscure novelty to most.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:30 PM on June 8, 2005


(Note: I'm not saying he's right about everything; I haven't lived in SF, so I don't know. It's just that all of your examples of his wrongness don't point at him being wrong about anything)
posted by Bugbread at 12:31 PM on June 8, 2005


So wait. The essay author can bullshit about digiman's home town and digiman can't call him on it?

Well, I think that Canton, Ohio is a town full of serial killers and that all the inhabitants smell of unwashed socks.

But that's just, like, my opinion, man. So don't contradict me or nothin'.
posted by selfnoise at 12:56 PM on June 8, 2005


Where are the applications for people who live in tight communities of a thousand people and strong local government? Where are the corner-stores offering convenience and personality coupled with the economies of scale and selection of the whole web? Where's the LiveJournal for people who don't like linear narrative, the RSS for people who don't have information OCD, the freedom of expression we have in weblogs but without the implicit anonymity, where you know your readers already know your face? Where are the networked market-places, the software for close and dispersed families, and the hundred cheap web-apps for doing soho accounts in a small town?

The author's main point seems to be that the internet is built on a shallow base. That's a good point, though I would disagree with his SF/London analogy and propose a different one: the internet was built by and for geeks, not hypersocial people whose lives are lived primarily in public. In other words it's not a physical structure that it replicates, it's a social one. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. What's surprising (and what he points out) is that it has continued to build on this same base instead of branching out to provide services to people who don't fit the profile. And please don't bring up social software as a counter-example, communicating with strangers via text and pictures instead of with neighbors face-to-face is a classic geek technique.
posted by cali at 1:05 PM on June 8, 2005


effugas - the lack of city planning in London? Heh heh! City planning was mostly done by rats, fire and plague in the old days. We just haven't got around to improving it yet. Er..and the awful food is a bit of a 'smoggy London' cliche I'm afraid. May have been so 20 years ago, but today London has some of the best food in the world (well, second to New York anyway). It's no co-incidence that the recently voted best restaurant in the world is a mere 15 miles away from the city centre.
posted by Duug at 1:09 PM on June 8, 2005


Man, that's one ugly website.
posted by signal at 1:18 PM on June 8, 2005


selfnoise : "The essay author can bullshit about digiman's home town and digiman can't call him on it?"

No, he can call him on it, but not say the guy is "wrong" about things where there is no right or wrong. If somebody says "Mohatma Ghandi was born in SF", he's wrong. If he says "There are a lot of people in SF", he isn't particularly right or wrong. I mean, sure, you wouldn't know everybody by name, but there are a lot more people in China. In other words, it's really really hard to be wrong about something for which there is no right answer.

So what can digaman do? He can say, "This guy is off-base. San Francisco has far too few free-ways to affect the distribution model that the dot com boom was based on. It's not nearly dangerous enough for that to be a factor either. It has a better than average mass transit system for America, so if mass transit were an important factor for the whole dot-com boom, SF would have been one of the least likely cities to spawn those industries." Stuff like that.

As it is, it's like me saying "elephants are big" and digaman saying "you're wrong. Saturn is big." It's pretty much impossible to be wrong or right with statements like that. It's very easy, however, to be wrong in your conclusions based on those judgements. ("Elephants are big. That's why most schools don't have wandering elephant herds in the hallways: because they're too big to fit")

Duug : "and the awful food is a bit of a 'smoggy London' cliche I'm afraid"

I was really impressed by the food I had in London during my trip last summer.

posted by Bugbread at 1:22 PM on June 8, 2005


Looks like I forgot to close my html. Sorry.
posted by Bugbread at 1:23 PM on June 8, 2005


I made it until:

" ... Coupled with a lack of decent public transportation ... "

Is he on nitrous oxide?

If he thinks that SF has a bad public transit system, he should try getting around in Portland or Seattle or Honolulu (for starters).

And what freeways crisscross the city?
posted by Relay at 1:36 PM on June 8, 2005


He isn't wrong that San Francisco is criss-crossed by freeways. Sure, LA and NY have more, but he never said it had the most, just that it has 'em.

Sorry, but yes, he is absolutely "wrong." He didn't say it had freeways, he said:

Here was a city cross-hatched by freeways that each felt just a little too dangerous to walk under.

I don't want to belabor a minor point, but I found the whole article nearly incomprehensible, so ...

San Francisco freeways definitely do NOT crosshatch (or even criss-cross), and the only place to walk under them is SOMA. If I remember correctly, one used to kinda go around the city, but it's gone now.

Methinks he's visited SOMA a few times. His freeway comment indicates he knows very little about the city.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:37 PM on June 8, 2005


Relay : "I made it until:

"' ... Coupled with a lack of decent public transportation ... '

"Is he on nitrous oxide?

"If he thinks that SF has a bad public transit system, he should try getting around in Portland or Seattle or Honolulu (for starters)."


See, that'll work. A strong counter, without using the word wrong.

And in the event that he really plain ole is factually wrong, instead of saying:

digaman : "'Cross-hatched?' The city has a couple of major freeways running through it, so few in fact that if someone isn't talking about one they're talking about the other. New York and Los Angeles both have considerably more. "

it would make way more sense to say:

mrgrimm : "San Francisco freeways definitely do NOT crosshatch (or even criss-cross), and the only place to walk under them is SOMA."

Boom!! There ya go!! THAT'S what digaman shoulda said.

(The only reason I'm belaboring the point is that digaman's comment probably makes hella sense if you actually know San Francisco, but if you do, you don't really need it pointed out, and if you don't know SF (like me), it says "the guy is wrong", but then doesn't point out why.)
posted by Bugbread at 1:51 PM on June 8, 2005


I grew up in the UK and moved to SF in 96 and can see where he is coming from. In England we see a lot of the US on TV and I guess now via the web, and it is indeed a shock to see what seems implausible or made up when viewed on a screen is actually a reality.

My first image of the US was flying into LAX, the plane banked and all I could see was arrow straight streets going on for ever, spectacular, and an image that will never leave me.
posted by zeoslap at 2:02 PM on June 8, 2005


Also with regard freeways, coming from England where you really have to go out of your way to find an onramp freeways really are a major part of the city, the 101 and 80 both dive straight into the heart of the city, this isn't how things are in the UK.
posted by zeoslap at 2:06 PM on June 8, 2005


" ... Coupled with a lack of decent public transportation ... "

Is he on nitrous oxide?

If he thinks that SF has a bad public transit system, he should try getting around in Portland or Seattle or Honolulu (for starters).


From which we learn that Portland, Seattle and Honolulu have worse public transit, not that SF has good public transit.

A question: are MUNI stops announced?
posted by kenko at 2:14 PM on June 8, 2005


If this guy can't get the geography in my hometown right, then he has no business dabbling in metaphors.

And yes MUNI stops are announced. They weren't in 2000, but they were in the process of rolling out the new buses and they did start introducing the NextBus digital displays at bus shelters. And while BART has always been fairly robust, MUNI went through problems in 2000 when they installed an expensive ATCS system at the Embarcadero stop that delayed Metro cars further.

But this guy is dead on when he points to the city's infrastructure of small shops and outlets applied to the Web. He probably would have been more successful in articulating his point had he juxtaposed this urban model against the largely suburban valleys of the heartland.

The other thing: if San Francisco-based attitudes and proximity influenced web design (as I believe it did to a small degree), then it would be interesting to compare how the Web's spending habits and often highly concentrated structure matches up.
posted by ed at 2:28 PM on June 8, 2005


cali has it exactly right, I think.

George_Spiggott: Yes. But I've watched people my age (early 20s) begin to transition to cell phone messaging from AIM and the like, and it has to do as much with changes in their lifestyles as anything else -- if you're an american teenager, you rely on parents for transportation; you're at home (or someone else's house) all the time, so mobile messaging isn't as useful (except, I guess, in school, where it gets you in trouble). If you're a british teenager, or an american adult, you've got freedom of movement, and your pack of friends isn't terribly stationary -- better for mobile texting.
posted by Tlogmer at 2:28 PM on June 8, 2005


Again: I think the author's talking about the greater SF area more than SF proper, so cut him a little slack.
posted by Tlogmer at 2:30 PM on June 8, 2005


But outside of SF, the rest of the valley seems to be just like suburbia everywhere else in the country, full of big box retailers and the like.
posted by gyc at 3:02 PM on June 8, 2005


Matt Webb visited in 2001, didn't live in SF, so forgive him for getting some of the particulars wrong.

When he says SF is criss-crossed by freeways, I think he was including the old 101 terminus that spit you onto Fell, and more generally, I'm guessing he thought of Market as sort of a main byway that intersects the city, and it definitely bissects it.

When he said public transport sucks, I'm recalling that I actually met him for the first time on his 2001 trip, and we had dinner with friends in the area of town by clement st and arguello. Kind of Richmond area, but not quite out to 19th yet to be official -- which is basically a public transit black hole when it comes to trains. If you're downtown or in SoMa, you have to muni out to sunset and take a bus up towards that part of town. I suspect he took that route.

I would agree that public transit in SF can in fact suck. I lived a 20 min walk from the nearest muni line, on the most crowded line in the city, and it was no picnic to commute by train. I also lived on one of the most popular bus lines, so that meant the buses were constantly late, missing, and/or full when you finally got one. I think the BART rocks and love it every time I get to take it, but SF Muni blows and was totally unreliable in my years of SF living.
posted by mathowie at 4:21 PM on June 8, 2005


27-year San Francisco resident here, and I'm with digaman on his take on the City. A definite short-timer's view. I couldn't even figure out what he meant by walking under the freeways being "dangerous" until digaman's comment.

But, like others, after the driving analogy made my head start hurting, the rest seemed pretty incoherent. I mean, what is his point? That the web should cater to its growing international user-base? Isn't that inevitable? That the web is going to change? Isn't that inevitable as well?

On preview: It's been my experience over the years that MUNI goes through phases of blowing and not-blowing, though blowing wins. You can still get anywhere in town on it, though.
posted by trip and a half at 4:25 PM on June 8, 2005


I live in SF. I've lived in NYC. Public transport in SF, compared to cities with mature transportation systems and a populace that's not reflexively anti-progress, really does suck. There are many parts of the city that just aren't reached in any practical amount of time with a reasonable amount of effort.
posted by anildash at 4:36 PM on June 8, 2005


"Unpucker, folks...it's ok."
posted by Plutor at 4:41 PM on June 8, 2005


I couldn't even figure out what he meant by walking under the freeways being "dangerous"

Walking under the 80 in SoMa used to be a dangerous thing, especially after dark. The urine soaked sidewalks that went under freeways used to house crowded homeless encampments that were an adventure to walk past.
posted by mathowie at 4:42 PM on June 8, 2005


>That the web should cater to its growing international user-base? Isn't that inevitable? That the web is going to change? Isn't that inevitable as well?

Should the web as it exists today change, or should *their* habits change to mould around the web?

And all this talk about crosshatching and meaningless detail is really like the question I just asked. He pretty much took his subjective view and imprinted his thinking about where the web lies today, and where it should go. There's nowt wrong with that.

Oh, and I like San Francisco. HONEST!
posted by gsb at 4:42 PM on June 8, 2005


Oh fcuk me, that should be "mold."
posted by gsb at 4:44 PM on June 8, 2005


Public transport in SF, compared to cities with mature transportation systems and a populace that's not reflexively anti-progress, really does suck.

Cities such as ...

"Suck" is definitely the wrong word. Lacking? Yes. Sucking? No.

I'll admit that the transportation systems in NYC, Chicago, and Boston are better than SF (they also have many more people and cost more per ride (not sure about Boston's price these days)), but have you ever tried riding the bus in San Diego? LA? Tampa? Louisville? I have. It's not as good. Mass transit needs mass, and SF is under 800,000 people.

London and Paris are also much better (and more expensive per ride), but in America the auto is king.

Shit. I actually just glommed onto "reflexively anti-progress." Color me trolled. D'oh.

The dot com boom made sense. In San Francisco.

Take it from someone who was there. It didn't. At all.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:56 PM on June 8, 2005


And yes MUNI stops are announced. They weren't in 2000, but they were in the process of rolling out the new buses and they did start introducing the NextBus digital displays at bus shelters. And while BART has always been fairly robust, MUNI went through problems in 2000 when they installed an expensive ATCS system at the Embarcadero stop that delayed Metro cars further.

Ah. I've only taken it once (or maybe it was BART. That's the other thing, three different mutually incompatible systems? wtf? I'm pretty sure it was MUNI) and I was baffled as to how people knew when to get off, since not only were no stops announced, from where I and others were sitting it was difficult to see the street signs.

I don't like the CTA that much but man, it's better than that.
posted by kenko at 6:06 PM on June 8, 2005


It's funny how the first comment or two in a thread determine the whole.
posted by lisatmh at 7:15 PM on June 8, 2005


Walking under the 80 in SoMa used to be a dangerous thing, especially after dark. The urine soaked sidewalks that went under freeways used to house crowded homeless encampments that were an adventure to walk past.

Actually, mathowie, you're probably thinking the Central Freeway (now demolished) on Market Street, which was a major congregation point for the homeless. Portions of SOMA under I-80 weren't exactly hot either, but then those places weren't exactly pedestrian points at night, save near the Transbay Terminal. Although I should point out that even with the Central Freeway, the City was never cross-hatched. Perhaps you can make a case during the pre-Loma Prieta days with the Embarcadero freeway.

And while MUNI may be slower than other cities (it's actually more time-efficient to live in Berkeley and commute to work than to live and work in the City), keep in mind that, outside of the Los Angeles streetcar system from the early 20th century, it's probably the best public transportation system we have in the car-centric California.

The problem with building additional subways in San Francisco is that this highly concentrated, 49 square mile city is a small place. Manhattan, by comparison, has square miles to burn. But NYC also had an early start. Here in San Francisco, any construction means tearing up significant chunks of blocks and thus tying up all of the main thoroughways. And then there are the practical aspects. (To see what happens when you build an expressway in San Francisco, for example, one need only look at how developer Justin Herman (our own version of Robert Moses) transformed the Fillmore as a historical precedent.

This isn't the populace's fault, but one of unexpected development, privatized subway lines in the 1930s and 1940s, and city design which adhered to the 1905 Burnham Plan. New York, for example, had the advantage and the foresight of opening its first subway in 1904 and using the subway as a major transportation conduit. But while subways thrived in New York during the 1950s, in San Francisco, buses, streetcars and cable cars were favored more so than the subway. It wasn't until the construction of the BART tunnel during the 1970s that the double-decker MUNI/BART tunnel which now runs under Market Street came into fruition.

Despite the fact that a San Francisco subway was long the dream of boosters such as Bion Arnold, you're talking about a subway system that is not only sixty years behind a city grid as capable as New York's, but one that is almost prohibited from expansion because of this city's extraordinarily small makeup, the prohibitive costs and San Francisco's highly vocal preservationists (who did their best to rebel against Mayor Alioto during the 1970s when he approved a variety of skyscrapers that polluted the city's skyline).

It's an interesting conundrum, one that MUNI has responded to largely through bus lines and one in which this city's staunch advocates put up with. (And it should be noted that there are really only about five stops which serve the City's five subway lines, Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell, Civic Center, and Van Ness. The subway system here really is small potatoes, but then we're not nearly as big as Paris or Berlin.)
And, yes, I'm a public transportation geek.

Oh, and Jason Kottke can bite my fun-filled ass.
posted by ed at 9:06 PM on June 8, 2005


metafilter: typically humorless
posted by jeblis at 11:18 PM on June 8, 2005


Bah, so much Bay Area upsterism. Was that really the point of Webb's article?

Not really.

This post kind of haunted me today, in part because it was oddly written, a diddling stream-of-consciousness and Not Really Right on a number of levels.

SF, despite being in many ways The City certainly wasn't the hub of Internet 1.0 by a long shot. It was certainly a hipper address than Sunnyvale or Cupertino, but more development was going on SouthBay than in the SFO.

I remember seeing a claim, maybe 1999 or so, that half of all the registered domains were based out of California.

Half.

Certainly times are changing, have changed.

Webb diverged into disparate ideas as to Where Things Are Going. One being that the money trough is opening up into the Far East, and that's nothing new. HP has been pushing dev there since before '01, Intel likewise. One of the biggest hurdles they face is that while we can put a label like "India" on a large mass, it is exceptionally far from being a contiguous social sphere.

Where he's off his mark is that the Internet is not leaving its NorCal roots -- it left it a long time ago. As soon as browsers started handling internationalization the doors were open and still are. Where's Raheed? He's right here on the Internet and that's not coming, that's here now.

The idea that the Internet is going to serve pocket areas with anything approaching "well" is far fetched. Development and commonality serve each other. This isn't to say that extreme specialists aren't exceptionally well served by the 'net, but they have been from day one. One of the reasons Ebay excells is that it provides a common marketplace for the fringe. As for mom and pops, there's a ton of them too and they are better served by the wider reach of the 'net.

The idea that the same fervor that brought forth the Californication of the web will suddenly bring forth Siliconfordshire tucking neat stacks of cash into four-horse towns throughout the countryside is foolish. Such communities exist and always have existed in spite of and to spite their general condition.

The next revolution will not serve them any more than the last one did.

Though its been mentioned, Webb was clearly in some sort of cultural miasma if he thinks anyone here sounded like the Amiga. I'd also argue that Sim City's general play is influenced more by the fact that grids are easier to program than free-form terrain. SC1 was damned near Lego blocks, and Lego's don't flow forth from NorCal, last I heard.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:35 PM on June 8, 2005


metafilter: typically humorless

Kottke: typically shiftless
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:38 AM on June 9, 2005


I can't believe that some tit mentioned town planning, comparing London to San Francisco. Hmm that'd be something to do with London being thousands of years old, and San Francisco having been largely re-built since 1906.

Having lived in both, I came away with the impression that San Francisco is a poor (and narrow-minded) imitation of many European cities. The surrounding terrain, however, is spectacular.
posted by catchmurray at 7:23 AM on June 10, 2005


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