Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Juxtaposition of 21st and 19th/20th/21st century technologies

A lot of the opposition by older folks to streetcars is expressed in terms of being opposed to the adoption of 19th century technology--streetcars having been first devised in the 19th Century--while failing to acknowledge that the technological basis of automotive technology dates to the 19th Century as well.

In both cases, initial technology continues to be improved over time.

FWIW, what they are really arguing against is "mass" transit versus personal or household mobility effectuated by car ownership and use.

I was struck by this photo, by Justin Sullivan (Getty Images), that was used in an article about Twitter, a 21st Century web-based application technology, as it shows the building the company is based in, an Art Deco office building which probably dates to the late 1920s or early 1930s (20th Century), a 21st Century automobile, and a streetcar uilt in the 1930s and updated since,  juxtaposed.

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At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

It's 1937, it's late art deco/moderne. Definitely like 1940s buildings built in California (probably elsewhere). Conservative for the era but SF has always been a conservative city architecturally. (And SF wasn't hit by great depression in the ways the east coast was, it was a booming government and military city/region during the Depression.)

It's sort of an atrocious building without much street presence. And way too wide, but that's all my personal feelings. I'm sure others like it. That whole part of Market Street never recovered from the building of BART so that building always felt like one more dead mass.

At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

its a hell of a lot better than ugly Mies or Gropius atocities and at least has some quality craftsmanship which none of the bauhaus crap has at all

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard you need to get the people at organizations such as CHRS and Committee of 100 to read or to see your writings about streetcars- these are the people that need convincing- they are the ones against the streetcars and who are going to cause roadblocks and obstacles to progress- and they already have. As I see it- the previous plans to put a streetcar line on 8th street SE- which was the first and a HISTORIC streetcar line- were abandoned- and as I gather- it was likely due to pressure from CHRS and other bandit organizations out to wreak havoc on the legitiame plans for this city's progress into the future..please correct me if I am wrong in this- but it was sort of quietly shelved and we do not hear about streetcars on 8th street anymore

At 6:22 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Christopher -- 1. thanks for the back story.

2. including mentioning the failure of that area since the BART construction. I didn't know that was why the area languished so much. To me, movement of Silicon Valley firms to that area is a great move.

3. have you been there recently enough to be able to give an assessment of current Market St. conditions, based in part on your past experience?

At 6:24 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

anon -- if it is true about 8th St. and the streetcar, that is insane. I believe you might be right because I talked with Tommy Wells about it once and he was defending an 11th St. routing.

it's really tragic that the historic preservation movement in the city is so narrow minded.

If I win the lottery tomorrow, maybe I'd fund the creation of "the Citizens Planning Alliance," an updating of the Citizens Planning Coalition, and focused on respecting the past but also building on it to achieve a 21st century city.

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

it would aim to develop an action-research-engagement orientation much more inclusive and forward looking that C100 or the preservation groups, and more rigorous intellectually than CSG.

At 9:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

for quite some time I have been calling for an alternative organization to CHRS that takes the lead on urban issues and that is no auto- centric as CHRS is . We also need an alternate to Cmtte 100 that equally is not comprised of old people who are recalcitrant on progressive issues surrounding non- car mobility and density, etc. Both organizations are obsolete and top heavy not allowing younger people or those with modern views to rise in their power structures.

At 5:30 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

The last time I was there the area was just starting to come back. There's been successive problems with that stretch of Market.

1. BART. Tunnelling was much quicker to rebound around the financial district where the properties owners pushed the process faster.

2. That part of Market was the theater district. Comparable to SF's Broadway. those old theaters went to being adult theaters and rock clubs during that decline in the 1970s. additionally that area is bounded by the civic center which was always kind of a dead zone, too monumental for actual full time use. There were a couple large buildings that went up to replace some of those theaters but they were equally bad. Large under used plazas. Or no street presence at all: BofA had their operations center there. Fox Plaza (an apartment building that is kind of ugly) replaced the Fox Theater. The area too is bounded by a lot of SROs that catered to dock workers and theater people. That's near the original gay neighborhood. Back when gays were part of the fringe of the working class. Think of Georgetown before the 1980s. After Reagan closed the CA mental health hospitals that area flooded with addicts and mental health patients attracted to the SROs.

3. The decline not just of market street but south of market as industry left for Oakland and then elsewhere. That area also was in something of a holding pattern (like SoHo) waiting for freeway expansion with the central freeway (that wasn't completed and eventually torn down, that's a little further West but that waiting meant property owners weren't anxious to do anything with their buildings and land. Just like SoHo property owners were waiting for Mid Manhattan Expressway to come and buy up their property. Artists took advantage of that but the reason SoHo survived is more about an uncertain future made the property easily available.)

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The SROs can't help. When we were there a couple years ago, we experienced problems with really aggressive "street people." I won't say that they were homeless, because they may have lived in those buildings... But that area was gnarly.

and yes, about the civic center, that was the point that JJ had against the monumental nature of City Beautiful civic projects. She was somewhat right as while beautiful (e.g., like the Cleveland equivalent) they were simultaneously dead zones much of the time.

your point too about "holding on" and not moving forward is also very important. That's typical when infrastructure decisions are in play and in a holding pattern. People don't see the cause and effect, and justify "demolition" because they see the problem as "blight" when it's more complicated, about the hidden process, and the long time frame on which commercial property owners make decisions.

At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry but I strongly disagree with JJ's critique of the city beautiful- the craftsmanship and high quality of Burnham and Posts works were unprecedented and we needed this kind of detail in our cities . It was important to have these kinds of buildings as they represnted the best that fine arts and architecture working together could attain. JJ gives no alternative of this magnitude when criticizing these marvelous buildings. I think this is her worst idea/thinking. Burnham and White, and others were friends of the artists and it was a great time in America's cultural progress.We have not done anything better since this era which basically died in 1941

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it strikes me as peculiar that jane jacobs would actively protest the demolition of the old Penn Station - a signature City beautiful neoclassical edifice- and on the other hand condemn this very style. There is an inconsistency here. Something else is going on- something unsaid or left out of the dialog- maybe something was lost here in her thought train.

At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Christopher said...

Not at all. She liked Penn Station because it was an active space. And not monumental for the sake of monumentalness. It was tightly interwoven with the surrounding areas. It was too expensive to maintain of course, which is another City Beautiful problem and certainly led to its decline and demolition. City Beautiful really led to the suburbanization of the city. Burnham was a big believer of highways and ring roads and separating traffic. Olmstead designed the first parkways for high speed car traffic and one of the first planned suburban housing developments in Forest Hills San Francisco. Winding disconnected streets without sidewalks. City Beautiful led to that template. That was her critique. Her critique was fairly functional. The building alone did't matter so much as what it did and how it fit into the urban fabric. I'd say she'd probably be very much in favor of adaptive re-uses and the idea that buildings not be frozen in time. Her take on the city was very pragmatic. That's what I appreciate about her.


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