September 2009


All is good at GOOD Magazine, according to Alissa Walker, last night’s moderator for SPUR’s GOOD design SF. GOOD design SF was the last informal open discussion for the Architecture and the City Festival, and “is really what the Festival is all about, engaging the design community and thinking about how we can change the community”, according to Erin Cullerton, AIA’s Assistant Director and coordinator of this year’s festivities.

GOOD magazine assigns citywide problems to designers, providing a more visible connection to public figures.

Architects Min|Day Architecture, Surface Design, and Kuth Ranieri Architects, Industrial Designers Mike and Maaike, Map Makers Stamen Design, and Graphic Designers Volume Inc., were presented with current issues facing the city of San Francisco.

Min|Day provided an economical and effective graphical marking of Embarcadero, where the Promenade was given a more intimate setting, providing distinct bike lanes and new areas of green, as well as providing humanistic speed bumps, revealing a “loungy” side to a typically uninviting detour. Executive Director of the Port Authority Monique Moyer, made few comments on the design and how the seawall has its own set of parameters, such as utilizing it as a sea port and the need to provide a functional space for emergency vehicles, as the water is one of the principle means of providing emergency access to the city. She also made mention of the Blue Greenway Task Force, a greenway linking open spaces from China Basin to Candlestick Point. One other interesting point to mention is that because the Promenade is a seawall, it can not be considered a sidewalk; thus the reason bikes are allowed.

Surface Design was asked to give life to the Ferry Building during ‘off-peak’ hours. Their fantastic precedents from around the world, such as floating gardens in the Netherlands to Kiosks in London launched them into providing temporary/permanent kiosks programmatically set to the current farmers market, yet with the ability to push them against the former world trade club building. Ideas on hanging gardens and very modestly priced grade planters that would couple as benches also highlighted their presentation which sat quite pleasingly with Chris Meany, Principal of Wilson Meany Sullivan, a privately owned real estate investment and development firm focused on urban infill locations in the Western United States. I believe discussions were held after the meeting to further their ideas.

Partners in crime Mike and Maaike, an industrial design firm, were given Broadway Street from Columbus to Pier 7 on the Embarcadero. From fabric, to furniture, to the G1 platform, to re-inventing the automobile, this think tank duo habors an experimental approach to their firm. One look at their website and you’ll understand why they were paired with Broadways’ eclectic day/night personalities. By far my favorite of the evening, titled FORTUNE from the melting pot of individuals that flooded here because of the Gold Rush, this intervention extended the size of the side walk, placing beautifully designed neon signage, reflecting the existing lighting character, on the street; thus giving the sidewalk back to the city. The signs when approached at a stop light or while walking along, would automatically display your fortune. Michael Cohen, Director, City of San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development was quite impressed with the cleverness of the industrial designers and felt it was something that was actually ‘doable.’

Kuth Ranieri Architects were tasked with finding a way to discuss the ongoing educational debate here in SF. They presented a case study, much of which was cut short due to time; however some interesting facts were presented. The number of facilities that make up the Unified School District could be housed in 18 Transamerica Towers. From the 1960’s, enrollment in schools has decreased from 90,000 to now 55,000, meaning many schools are not at their full capacity. They highlighted the fact that the city was divided and had an unnerving conundrum: in the North West part of SF, there was an increase in population, but a decrease in the number of students over time and in the South East there was an in increase in the number of students, but a decrease in the population. The architects chose to address the condition by developing a magnet school that was both for the students and the community, housing workshop classes and a health clinic. Their aim was to create a facility that the community was proud of, so that they would stop shipping their students to the North West and bring North West students to the South East. Carlos Garcia, Superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District was pleased with the results of the investigation and sees that there is a real potential in making this happen….now if we can only get the funding!

Stamen designer Shawn Allen presented the group with “we make maps.” Charged with improving bike parking in SF, Allen showed maps that indicate the most highly bike traffic areas in the city by overlaying a few GIS studies (maps) conducted throughout the city. The suggestion, Option 1: place more transit hubs in bike concentric areas and mandate bike parking carols throughout the city, taking one parking space away per x number of blocks and provide GOOD bike shelters for inclement weather; Option 2: stop caring so much about our bikes and disperse a plethora of  shoddy bikes throughout the city for bike sharing. Nathaniel Ford, Executive Director, SFMTA, in his Australian accent, shared his desire to reduce the number of car parking spaces; however stated they need more support at public hearings in favor of this. He chuckled at Allen’s Option 2, although you have to admit, there is so much value in what he’s saying, it’s just not appropriate for a city official to advocate for shoddy bikes for a couple of reasons, one being liability.

And last but not least VOLUME. These guys produce a level of graphic design that plaster the walls of the Art Institute, an envy to many I can assure! A giant size Hi began this humorous presentation on none the less: recycling. The Problem: Those Frik’in Bins. They took us through their process looking first at better bin design, with examples from Italy and then they thought, this really isn’t the issue, so they referenced the book, NO IMPACT MAN, which they took as their motto: individuals need to step up. Each person creates 1600 pounds of waste a year, with 8600 gallons of gasoline used to power those garbage trucks. Solution: No Trash Pick-up! Rethink the way we use food and begin to think that ‘Food Packaging is the Devil!’ They referenced Whole Foods and Rainbow grocery on their dispenser style shopping, and then recommended that everyone “gets a kit” to use at the store. This would immediately reduce the amount of recycling used. So now those frik’in bins: recycling, compost and landfill bins now require a station within walking distance, discretely designed, where you would bring your trash, pay to dispose with your no bin credit card and watch your thrash-o-meter thermostat increase each time you came, indicating your level of annual disposal per a set standard. The graphics as you can imagine were fantastically done and the process well thought out. However, there are so many pitfalls, not to mention the smells that would be associated with this proposal.

Because this is something near and dear to my heart, I thought I would pose my suggestion. I propose a revival of the corner market. After living in England an amazing thing occurred, I began cooking more and used fresh ingredients. The days of going to the supermarket in your car were over. You had a choice between going to the mini Tesco’s, the Markets (yes real fresh markets), a highly specialized shop called Simpsons (check it out if you’re ever in Leeds), the Asian markets and the local Tescos, all within a 15 min walk, no car parking available! Proper city living! Yes you would go to the market more often; however, you walked by it usually on your way home from work. This allowed the fridge to completely reduce in size, ours was literally the size of a college dorm fridge, and it’s AMAZING what space you really need! And no this was not some old building we were living in, the flat we were in was only 2 years old and very modern. It’s simply a different mindset there. Moving back to the States has really made me aware of how everyone’s first reaction is to get in your car. It’s like an automatic pilot button that needs to be overwritten. It is in the planning of our cities, and the mindset of our planners and citizens that these ideas need to be addressed, where density makes cents$ on so many levels!

A major thank you to SPUR and the AIA for hosting such a fun and exciting event! I hope to see more initiatives like this in the future! Fantastic!

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I recently read an article in The Urbanist, SPUR‘s publication, about America 2050, “a national initiative to meet the infrastructure, economic development and environmental challenges of the nation as we prepare to add about 130 million additional Americans by the year 2050.” If you have not yet been introduced to America 2050, I highly recommend you check them out! They are tackling some major issues, one we should all be aware of if not involved with.

As an individual who has had experience working as an urban designer in England, I am continuously baffled by the comments that “a federal plan dictated from Washington would be deeply unpopular,” not because I disagree, but rather because I find it quite amusing that 50 states can not seem to collaborate with a common initiative, and European Nations seemingly work so well towards a common goal, most effectively when economics are in your favor. We are so divided as a Nation. Therefore, in light of our divided, yet united country, I believe we should look to Europe and adopt a similar strategy, spatial planning or maybe an even more appropriate term would be the most current strategy called territorial cohesion.

So what is Spatial Planning? The first and most concise definition can be found in the Torremolinos Charter adopted in 1983 by the European Conference of Ministers responsible for Regional Planning (CEMAT): “Regional/spatial planning gives geographical expression to the economic, social, cultural and ecological policies of society. It is at the same time a scientific discipline, an administrative technique and a policy developed as an interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach directed towards a balanced regional development and the physical organisation of space according to an overall strategy.” Should a more extensive survey be to your liking, the United Nations published a study in 2008, entitled Spatial Planning: Key Instrument for Development and Effective Governance with Special Reference to Countries in Transition and can be downloaded by clicking here. This macro approach to the entire country, and now European Union countries, provides an intrinsic set of rules, highlighting each countries values, and reinforcing these ideas in the way they envision their country and interaction with other countries in 40 to 100 years. It is my belief that inherent to this type of planning, is a civic mindset, of ‘giving a damn’ about where their country will be long after you are six feet under. This type of planning takes on a new vernacular when addressing the economic, cultural, safety and social aspects of a country.

One recent discovery, on none other than wikipedia, for me is the global approach Europe takes when using “scoping documents.” With just a quick keyword search on Google, I found that the US does use scoping documents for planning purposes; however, the difference between the US and Europe is scale. The US uses these scoping documents to perform area and more prominently project specific scoping documents. I believe this example shows the compartmentalization mindset of the Nation. We must think broader in terms of scope and in our means of research. How else will we affect change?

An example of this type of research was used in 2004 when the term territorial cohesion first came into existence in a ‘scoping document” in Rotterdam which led the Espon Programme to further the empirical study in the document: The Teritorial States and the Perspective of the European Union, which was released in 2006, only two years later! And according to wikipedia, the following year at the minister’s conference in Leipzig, a political document called the “Territorial Agenda” was signed to continue the process begun in Rotterdam.

I believe the URBANIST’s most recent issue on megaregions and their belief that this regional approach will be more popular, is a fantastic starting point for a global use of these ‘scoping documents,’ one I would whole heartedly gable at the opportunity to gather research on. Because America2050 seems to have begun this initiative of the collection of empirical data on our future, I hope the bigger issue remains at the forefront and a scoping document takes hold. It’s amazing to see what initiatives these documents produce and in such a short amount of time.

I have been advocating, albeit to friends, co-workers and anyone who will listen, about the need to masterplan the US. It’s my short concise way of saying, can we get a framework please? One where everyone’s goals are addressed and set out, and what better way than a scoping document? In a consumptive society, we must change our mindset to longevity, not immediate gratification, the side affect of greed and complacency.

I’m going to end by quoting the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon:

“Cities embody some of society’s most pressing challenges, from pollution and disease to unemployment and lack of adequate shelter. But cities also present real opportunities for increasing energy efficiency, reducing disparities in development and improving living conditions in general. History demonstrates that integrated urban policy can be a solid path towards development.” – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, 2008

This quote is a great foresight into what an integrated urban policy can do, one I’m excited to see take hold in the US!