CFAH

From Michigan architect Michael Poris (and John King):

“I used to think of San Francisco as a museum, locked into doing buildings with bays,” says Poris, who worked for such architects as Cesar Pelli before moving back to the Detroit region where he grew up. “There’s a different feeling now. You still have the nice old neighborhoods, but there’s good contemporary design all over…I’m blown away.”

Another observation of Poris’ might startle locals convinced that things like graffiti and panhandling make San Francisco come off as an urban basket case.

“It’s so civilized,” Poris says. “I don’t remember it being so clean, or Golden Gate Park being so well kept. … I’d live here in a second, and I never felt that way in the ’80s.”

Hugs and high fives all around. But once again, Poris is visiting. And from Detroit.
What the out-of-town experts say about S.F. [SFGate]

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by Delancey

    Amazing what a timely bit of rainfall can do for a city…

  2. Posted by anonn

    Funny you should leave out the comments from the woman who worked on Aqua. She actually contrasts numerous Socketsite Chicagolover TM comments I’ve read.

  3. Posted by dub dub

    I think golden gate park is the most underrated part of the city (there are probably others).
    But I don’t expect architects to badmouth the city, because that might disadvantage their projects later! It’s a nice counterpoint to the Chicago stuff though.
    It also shows there’s no need to whine like little babies when “out-of-towners” disparage SF.

  4. Posted by anonn

    Seriously, if you spend any amount of time in the bandshell area of Golden Gate Park, and you don’t get a charge from the architecture there, you are most likely clinically dead.

  5. Posted by Eoral

    San Francisco is a beautiful place. nuff said.

  6. Posted by jamie

    San Francisco is gorgeous … nice to hear it isn’t just a group think thing.

  7. Posted by Mark

    Uh — he is from Detroit! Detroit would love to just have new buildings period. They tear more buildings down then they build.
    Don’t get me wrong — SF being better than a slum in decline ain’t bad!

  8. Posted by anonn

    Read the article, not the editor’s snarky synopsis of the article.

  9. Posted by Jake

    After reading the article on sfgate, it seems they spent much of their time on guided tours and other areas somewhat pre-selected for them. This, plus the recent rain some have mentioned, has got to be responsible for such comments. I think any regular traveler to other American cities can back up the claim that ours is pretty dang disgusting but not without its obvious charms.

  10. Posted by unearthly
  11. Posted by justin

    “It’s the hills, the water, the views, the quality of light at this latitude, the cleansing sweep of cool marine air-often visible as fog and a few buildings you don’t like, that makes it spectacular. Come on John, you could plop modern Atlanta down on our landscape and it would still be impressive”
    ^ My favorite comment posted on SFGate. ^
    Frank Lloyd Wright said that if you were to take away the hills, the Bay and the views you would have an architectural vocabulary of any older Midwestern City. One needs to not be confused between the architecture and the landscape (setting).

  12. Posted by dogboy

    The biggest problem with Golden Gate park is location. That’s why it’s underrated – nobody wants to go out there and (often) freeze their a$$es off.
    It reminds me of Central Park circa 1980. Some beautiful architecture and landscaping, but also dilapidated, littered and home to too many undesirables. Central Park leveraged the wealth of it’s neighbors to turn the park around, but Golden Gate’s location makes this difficult.

  13. Posted by anonn

    That’s why it’s underrated – nobody wants to go out there and (often) freeze their a$$es off.
    The thousands of people who use the park every day seem to rate it pretty highly.

  14. Posted by Kurt Brown

    I’m from Detroit as well (left there 31 years ago), and I can tell you that one positive thing about being from there is that EVERYWHERE ELSE seems really nice.
    That, and the ability to determine make, model, and approximate age of car, at night, from a distance, by looking at the pattern of its tail lights.

  15. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    SF is gorgeous, there are many beautiful homes, the weather is incredible and I love the hills and the fog. Personally, I compare SF to Chicago because I lived in Chicago for many many years before moving here and I had assumed that with SF’s reputation for tech, progressivism, and green that MUNI would be efficient and relatively well run, the city would be encouraging of a variety of architectural styles and there would be an aggressive “green” agenda. However, MUNI is poorly run, after you get over the Victorians their is little “wow” architecture (in my opinion) and the city is bogged down in nimbism and the most petty of politics instead of setting THE standard for green living.
    Chicago on the other hand is incredibly clean and efficiently run, has invested heavily in infrastructure upgrades such as rebuilding Wacker drive new libraries police stations, parks, and schools through the city. The city has planted over 500K trees in recent years, has an aggressive “green roof” and “green alley” program pushed by the city (the Sears tower has a green roof and so does the control tower at O’Hare airport), and the CTA (while it certainly has it’s problems) has completed major upgrades to stations, tracks, greener buses, handicap accessibility, and has had “translink” like cards for about a decade now that work on CTA and suburban PACE.
    It’s not that I don’t like SF, I simply disagree with the opinion that SF is a “world class” city.

  16. Posted by bk

    Justin: being from the midwest I would respond: San Francisco looks NOTHING like the midwest.
    Now SEATTLE as a whole looks EXACTLY like my home town (Fort Wayne, Indiana) draped over some pretty hillsides and coastal views. No unique architecture or character whatsoever.
    But…San Francisco? Nah.

  17. Posted by dub dub

    I don’t think the phrase “world class” was used anywhere here, or in the article. Real-estate prices aside, I believe the “non world-classness” of SF was suggested via codewords in the article (“small scale activity”, etc).
    Someone elsewhere used the phrase “urban hicks” in a different context, but I think that describes SF very well.
    It probably also accounts for all the alleged NIMBYism, but by the looks of the new star trek movie, it looks like the NIMBYs lost, big time 😉

  18. Posted by Conifer

    I think we have had this discussion in one form or another.
    Chicago is a big, major city.
    New York is a big, major city.
    San Francisco is charming, lovely, smaller city, very pretty, offering pleasant weather and a good way of life, even if infringed upon by a group of ultra-liberal politicians who know what is best for everyone else.
    Most of us on this list know that if we want higher culture or a more traditional bustling city, all we need to do is take an airplane.
    The architecture of SF is interesting, but it is not Chicago, New York, or Paris. SOMA is Atlanta or Houston.
    There is the money and sophistication for architecturally better buildings, but they do not seem to get built very often. Instead we have blue and green glass.
    It is terrific that Olague, who along with two others constitutes the Trotskyite wing of the Planning Commission, is opposed to Peskin and Daly on the preservation issue. [See Nevius in today’s paper.]

  19. Posted by BobN

    I love to walk around
    Remember that comment, often heard from both residents and visitors, next time another project with dead space at street level comes up for consideration.

  20. Posted by sf

    We need to deport about 2/3 of you. Charm/ world class rating would skyrocket

  21. Posted by San FronziScheme

    BobN,
    So true about dead space. A quick walk around the Infinity towers or the new condo buildings on Valencia and you’ll see what that means. The biggest attractions of walkable cities are what you find at the first floor. People come here for the views but mostly for its people and its life. Too many new buildings have nothing going on at street level but garage doors and stained glass/concrete walls. That’s a missed opportunity, imho.

  22. Posted by david

    I agree wholeheartedly. San Francisco is better than Detroit. At least for the time being.
    Now, comparing SF to other cities…
    Badlydrawnbear is right. As well as Conifer. If people accept that SF is basically a medium-sized city with pretty scenery (not necessarily architecture), some nice things to do and good restaurants, and ok weather, well, yep, that’s what we got.
    And actually, if you took just about any similarly-sized Midwestern city and dropped it on the hills, you would get BETTER and HIGHER quality housing. If you’re comparing some ca. 1970’s grown-up suburb to SF, then you’re right, but then again, SF also beats Detroit.
    If you take, say, Milwaukee’s architecture (Milwaukee being about the same population of SF, and founded just a few years earlier) and dropped it into SF, you’d be amazed at how much better SF looked. Seriously. Take a look at the churches, brick houses, warehouses in the Third Ward, the old Grain Exchange, and you know what? There are plenty of Victorians, Craftsmen and 4-squares in Milwaukee too, like SF. Then compare the tidy bungalows going a little further out from Milwaukee’s grander lakeside neighborhoods (aka Pac Heights) and compare them to the ****boxes you get in the Sunset and south, and you’ll recognize that large tracts of SF are fugly.
    People just get used to averting their eyes around here. It starts with the bums and then moves on to the architecture.
    PS. No Milwaukee doesn’t have the downtown skyscrapers of SF, but honestly, as the article indicates downtown SF’s skyscrapers are boring as hell.

  23. Posted by David

    PPS. I realize that brick, with the seismic issues here would be impractical.
    PPPS. But another thing you notice in, say, Milwaukee or Chicago or Minneapolis is that streets actually have trees…and there are parks other than one central park…etc.

  24. Posted by anon

    i don’t understand. if you don’t like this town, why do you live here?!?!? i can understand living in a crappy city because it’s all you can afford but this is one of the most expensive places to live in America.
    david, i have a suggestion, if milwaukee is so much better compared to sf, then why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and move there. i guarentee in 3 months you’ll be telling people how much better sf is.
    if everyone who complained non-stop about this city actually decided to move somewhere else, i might be able to afford to buy a place instead of rent.

  25. Posted by David

    I have moved back to the Midwest (Chicago) and had to come back here for job reasons.
    I tried my damndest NOT to live here.
    Furthermore, I don’t live in SF, I live in the “inner East Bay” where IMO, the housing stock and many ‘hoods are much nicer than SF–again, trees on the sidewalks, nice Craftsmen, Victorians and Mediterraneans with tidy yards and not the same ****box in the Sunset built right against its neighbor.
    Finally, if you get out of SF proper, it’s cheaper to live here than Chicago. My cost of living is a full 30% less than my house+prop tax+utility costs in Chicago, and I have a bigger house. Of course I gave up a bit in quality of life to move to such a small town, aka the “East Bay”, but it is admittedly nicer not to spend 6 months of the year shivering on an elevated train platform at 5:45 am.

  26. Posted by native_son

    It’s almost official: Now I’ve heard it all. San Francisco, San Franmotherlovingcisco being compared to and ranked below Milwaukee? Milwaukee!!! Too good, too good. Cleveland, anyone? St. Louis? What about you, Houston? Let’s name every hack town in this country where 2/3’s of this City’s residents come from (and left) and use them to demonstrate how two-bit Baghdad is.
    Bourdain was right when he said there are two cities in this country: NYC and Chicago. This is probably true. They’re both old, great, populous, and amazing cities. They have the requisite population, infrastructure, and centuries of build up behind them to make them what they are today. Although, to be honest, I’ve never ever heard anyone say anything great about Chicago (other than Jordan, Oprah, or Carl Sandburg) until the past few years.
    I don’t think anyone actually from SF thinks of SF as “world-class.” It’s weird to us. It’s as if someone were to walk up to you and say straight to your face that you are the most beautiful person they have seen. You’re kinda like, “Really??!!” and then take a look at the mirror in a curious way. San Francisco is just San Francisco. So long as we’re not LA, we’re doing ok.
    But, but, but whenever our relatives or friends come to town, we know. We know it when we trek up the hills and look at them as they look at those old buildings, wondering what’s going on in that flat or that apartment. We know when we’re standing atop Twin Peaks and look down at the Castro and Noe and the Mission and South of Market and Downtown. Yeah, the hills and the views and the water don’t hurt, but most people’s eyes scan the cityscape, the skyline. And while you’re up there, you take a look at that God-awful Sutro Tower and you think, hm, yeah, that’s kinda cool I guess.
    People come here and they tell me that they know they’re in San Francisco once they see all the houses “stuck together.” To us, ugly. To them, classic. South of Market is barren and industrial and old and new and modern and chic. The Marina is shallow and shakey and pretty as hell.
    I personally think brownstones are ugly, but I can see why they love them back east–they are nostalgic and essential. I also personally think 90% of downtowns everywhere are plain ol’ boring buildings with only a few standouts. Yes, NYC and Chicago included.
    People think architecture and they think stand-alone, single buildings. Oh, the Empire State; Oh, the Disney Concert Hall; Oh, the Spire (ahem)! I say step back a bit. See the whole picture. Monet looks better from 30 feet that at 3 feet. See how the architecture addresses the phsycial environment on which it sits. Do we use our hills to great effect. Hell yes. Just as Chicago uses its lake and LA uses, well, nevermind.
    One last thing: Comparing American cities to international cities isn’t apples to apples. Paris, London, Tokyo, Rome, whatever, those cities are pretty much the only game in town. Yes, there are other great towns in thier countries, but the premier city is pretty much where everything is centered (finance, high art, popular art, tech, medicine, universities, etc). The US spreads it all out. NYC is the closest thing the US has and even it isn’t the center of film or tech or education or much outside of finance and publishing.
    Ok, that’s it.

  27. Posted by David

    PS
    As God and many friends as my witness, I never stated during my all-too-brief time back in Chicago after living 6 years in Berkeley, that SF was better. Or that the Bay Area was better.
    The only thing I said, and will continue to say is that of course winters in Chicago suck (IMO spring sucks more) and there are hardly any jobs for a guy like me (biotech).

  28. Posted by Legacy Dude

    I usually don’t follow the threads that are bound to turn into architectural pissing contests or SF vs. some city. But recent comments on this site (on various threads) seem to be degenerating into some kind of dogmatic “love it or leave it” extremism.
    Just because you love something doesn’t mean you can’t see its faults and imperfections. We all love our families, but are they perfect? Or do they drive you nuts sometimes? If you complain about your crazy alcoholic gambler uncle borrowing another $100 from you, do the other family members disown you and tell you to go join a different family?
    I love living here, and have no intention of moving to Milwaukee or Chicago. But our transit system sucks, our city government is a joke, and we’re not “world class,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. We’re a 2nd tier city like Boston. And I’m just fine with that.
    Endlessly complaining may not be productive. But accepting the status quo only assures that things will never improve. So how’s this for a middle ground: I love San Francisco enough to realize that the city can be better than it is today, and I’m disappointed we’re not living up to our full potential.

  29. Posted by David

    Native, ever been to Milwaukee? Google up some pictures of the old City Hall.
    http://www.mkesports.com/Milwaukee_City_Hall.jpg
    Third ward
    http://www.americanheritage.com/assets/images/articles/magazine/ah/2006/2/2006_2_68.jpg
    http://fineartamerica.com/images-medium/milwaukee-river-walk-anita-burgermeister.jpg
    Along the river
    http://blog.lib.umn.edu/iruss001/architecture/Riverwalk.jpg
    Milwaukee houses:
    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/160/385936600_7be4149dac.jpg?v=0
    Now I recognize that architecture is a matter of taste, but seriously, compare the Milwaukee City Hall to SF City Hall. Is it really that inferior? And you know what? The Milwaukee City Hall doesn’t smell like bums’ fecal deposits.

  30. Posted by David

    The funny thing is that the amateur architecture buffs here think that they know more than Frank Lloyd Wright. His comment was spot-on.

  31. Posted by Anon_is_JT

    For a good example of the urban hillbilly phenomenon check out “anon” AKA JT’s commentary on this and other threads on socketsite.
    He’ll tell you how things are run in mayberry by the sea… Our buildings are low slung and ugly and thats how we likes it here. dagnabbit!
    I think christopher guest could make his next movie here – some kind of norcal version of deliverance. Kathy Bates could play Sue Hestor.
    What I find really amazing is that the people who made SF into a city – the railroad, oil tycoons etc WERE trying to make a big city: Paris of the pacific.
    Somewhere along the way it became second tier by the bay.

  32. Posted by native_son

    David,
    I’ve been to Milwaukee once–I was lucky enough to sneak into the All-Star game a few years back. And I can see why you like it or love it even. Great town. I have no problem with Milwaukee or whichever city. I just, and maybe this is my local and native bias, can’t comprehend comparing San Francisco to Milwaukee. Even as I’m tying this, I’m shaking my head. I just can’t do it. Milwaukee? If you’re from there, I appreciate your hometown pride though. People from SF are unabashed homers as well. It’s just, well, when you stand on Columbus, stare down North Beach and up at the Transamerica, I don’t know. You just feel like you’re in the prettiest city in the world.

  33. Posted by kthnxybe

    Conifer, Badlydrawnbear and David are absolutely correct. I think a lot of us live here because it’s kind of like a city (a lot of us can walk or bike to work, we can go see an opera or a ballet – maybe not the best but okay, there’s shopping and museums and restaurants close at home, and it’s not as economically depressed as other places) but it’s still really close to nature, the weather is usually perfect, it’s by the ocean and it’s less crowded and sprawly and smoggy than LA but warmer and sunnier and more convenient than Seattle or Portland.
    I love it, but it’s never been Everything. If I could stand living away from California, I’d move to Chicago in a heart beat.

  34. Posted by David

    Which part of Columbus? The corners with the strip joints? 🙂

  35. Posted by kthnxybe

    PS, in total agreement, Legacy Dude. I’m fine with being a second-tier city. In fact, I prefer it. But there’s no reason not to try to be the best little Beta city we can be and admit we could be doing much better.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_city

  36. Posted by Top tier

    Well rounded global cities
    Very large contribution: London and New York City
    Smaller contribution and with cultural bias: Los Angeles, Paris, and San Francisco
    A place among the well rounded global cities beside Los Angeles and Paris does not sound too shabby for a city the size of Milwaukee. Dontcha think?

  37. Posted by native_son

    That thing that Wright said, about taking away SF’s natural beauty, yeah, he was right. But that could be said of almost any other city, no? Take NYC off the island and it’s attendant bridges and water and Statue and plop it down in Missouri, and you have the biggest and prettiest city–in Missouri. There’s a reason why most cities promote themselves with pictures of the skyline beside the water, be it a lake or river or bay or ocean–the natural landscape is an integral part of the city and how it came to be. It’s like saying take away the hills and cliffs and Cinque Terre are just five plain ol’ villages. Yeah? Profound.
    And about the strip clubs: love them. I personally never go, but I’m glad they’re there. Cities need stuff like that; all the dirt and grime and graf. Otherwise you’re living in Celebration. Keep SF clean, sure, but don’t sanitize it. Being overly concerned with bugs makes you more prone to swine flu. 😉

  38. Posted by Morgan

    If you read these three books…
    IMPERIAL SAN FRANCISCO (when this city wanted to be a West Coast Paris or New York)
    ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (early architects who came here to create a regional urban identity)
    EDGE CITY (A huge part of this book details the change of San Francsico from a middle class city of commerce to an urban residential and touristic historical playground for the very rich and very poor.)
    ….. you will come to a better understanding of how we are the city we are today (both bad and good).

  39. Posted by sf

    If we had the tax base of New York City we might be able to pay for better public transit. Until then realize you live in a city with LESS than 1 million people! “I R Smart.”

  40. Posted by David

    Native, you don’t have to lie. I saw you at the Roaring 20’s the other night:)
    I just politely disagree with the sentiment that looking down Columbus is strikingly beautiful.

  41. Posted by Legacy Dude

    “If we had the tax base of New York City…”
    Nonsense. There are cities that have less people than SF proper and working subway systems. Rennes in France and Lausanne in Switzerland are two that I’ve read about (both with less than a million in the metro area).
    I may be naive, but 90% of this city’s problems, in my opinion, are attributable to the turgid dolts we keep electing to run the place. Our city planning policies could be a case study for the law of unintended consequences, whether it’s architecture or transportation.

  42. Posted by REpornaddict

    I don’t like big cities generally. I hate London, for example.
    So, I think SF is great, having only 800k people and offering what it does. How many other places on that wiki list are as small, or close to as small?
    For me, for cities, biggest is not always best. It’s what you do with the size you have.

  43. Posted by Zig

    “Nonsense. There are cities that have less people than SF proper and working subway systems. Rennes in France and Lausanne in Switzerland are two that I’ve read about (both with less than a million in the metro area).”
    This is still the good ole USA. Let’s be realistic or at least not hold San Francisco to some incredible standard.
    I looked up Rennes. They have one line with 15 stations. BART has 8 in SF and, what, 5 in Oakland and a few in Berkely along three lines? Seems we are doing ok for an American metro
    To the point about Chicago, they certainly have a better historical heavy rail system (this is in many ways just good fortune) but the CTA has some serious infrastructure (neglect) and budget problems. From what I can tell they haven’t been great stewards of this system. They do have excellent commuter rail I will concede.
    The Bay Area (along with DC) were the only cities to construct rail systems from scratch after WWII. This was during an era of highway building. Its was quite a success. It build a downtown in the era of cars that restricted parking so it could be compact and it fought off freeway building.
    The Bay Area is a very unique region unlike any other. It has three large cities, one, San Jose, being a sunbelt city while the another two being older in a relatively young part of the US all connected by old and new suburbs and towns with unique histories.

  44. Posted by Zig

    “So, I think SF is great, having only 800k people and offering what it does. How many other places on that wiki list are as small, or close to as small?”
    I guess this is partially a quark of geography and many SFians like to think this way but really this is a region of what 5-6 million? One of the bigger in the US

  45. Posted by anon3

    “I guess this is partially a quark of geography and many SFians like to think this way but really this is a region of what 5-6 million? One of the bigger in the US”
    THANK YOU Zig! The manufacturing, warehouses, and smokestacks and many of the poor and ethnic of this city were pushed out long ago to the outer regions and now we all sit in cafes and tell eachother how European and unique little San Francisco is when it is not little at all. PLEASE look up how many Bay Areans drive huge distances to work every day. Not everyone in the Bay Area rides Muni trains reading Proust while sipping Blue Bottle coffee.

  46. Posted by anon4

    anon3 – what a stupid statement. is that you’re summation of sf and muni? you obviously don’t know either very well.

  47. Posted by REpornaddict

    and what?
    No one commutes to London? Or New York??
    I don’t really care how many are in SF in the day to be honest. I am at work myself then.
    At weekends/evenings it feels like a city of 800k.
    Not 5-6 million.
    The fact alot more than 800k support it in the day is a sign of its strength in my opinion.

  48. Posted by REpornaddict

    And yes, anon3s comment was priceless.
    talk about generalisations and sterotyping.
    part of it read like a communist manifesto.
    Down with the bourgeoisie!

  49. Posted by anon3

    Point Lost (Sigh) The point is that through geography this city has been able to turn a blind eye to the urban sprawl, poverty and pollution that exits in the outer areas. The fact is that the Bay Area has more in common with Los Angeles than Paris or Chicago. Tell someone in Belgravia, the Marais or Lincoln Park that their neighborhoods don’t feel rather quiet, charming and neighborhoody. That “small town” feel is not unique to San Francisco, but what is unique about San Francisco is thinking it is so unique.

  50. Posted by anon

    anon3 – you’re right that the Bay Area has more in common with the LA area than the Chicago area. Bay Area and LA sprawl is MUCH, MUCH, MUCH, MUCH more dense than Chicago sprawl. We tend to have medium density everywhere in CA, where Chicago is relatively high density in the core and then super-low density for miles and miles and miles in every direction. Chicago sprawl is MUCH worse than anything in the West.

  51. Posted by Eric in SF

    A little late to the discussion while on vacation visiting family. People in the suburbs go to bed early and I don’t go out to bars any longer, so here I am on Socketsite!
    Legacy Dude said:
    “Just because you love something doesn’t mean you can’t see its faults and imperfections. […] do the other family members disown you and tell you to go join a different family?”
    That struck a nerve with me. I personally know many people who have broken all family ties and moved to SF because they were no longer willing to put up with their dysfunctional families. And while I am here visiting family, I’m struck by a) how dysfunctional my extended family is and b) how unconditionally supportive of each other they are.
    I still think the root of all the problems we argue endlessly over is selfishness, but LegacyDude really made me think.

  52. Posted by Eric in SF

    anon@6:59pm – I seem to remember reading somewhere that LA is actually more dense than SF because their sprawl is, well, more dense, and the high cost of living means the average number of people per unit is also much much higher than many cities, including SF. Does that ring a bell with anyone else?

  53. Posted by anon

    Eric – yes, you’re correct. The LA metro is the most dense in the US, with the SF metro and SJ metro coming in at #2 and #3. New York is #4 and the rest of the top ten alternates between places in the west with medium density throughout (Vegas, Sacramento, Phoenix) and older cities in the east with a dense central city surrounded by extreme low density sprawl (Boston, Philly, DC).

  54. Posted by ex SF-er

    I have often compared SF to Chicago, although I think it’s a poor comparison for reasons that many have elucidated. SF is only 49 sq miles. Chicago is 200 sq miles. Chicago is significantly larger than SF is in both population and size… and has a very different setup. SF isn’t in the same league as NYC, so that comparison is rather silly IMO.
    I really think that the best comparison for SF is Boston. Sizes are roughly comparable. Both are tech centers. Both are very liberal, and very liveable. both are quite dense (althouth SF is more dense than Boston). both are extremely desireable. both are on the water. I’ve yet to hear a good reason why SF shouldn’t be compared to Boston. SF has Cal Berkeley and Stanford nearby. Boston has Harvard and MIT.
    European-wise, SF compares quite well to Amsterdam.
    I find it interesting when SF is compared to London or Paris or NYC. it’s way too small to compare to those metros. but when you stack SF against comparable sized/type of cities (boston and amsterdam) then SF pencils out quite well.
    I think SF is a world class city (technically I believe it’s a Beta City). Many many people love the city by the bay. It will never compare well to the megacities of the Earth (Moscow, Paris, Tokyo, London, NYC, etc) due to it’s very small size.
    but it will also not compare well to places like Milwaukee either, as it is so much bigger than Milwaukee (the SF Bay area is much larger than Milwaukee area ex-chicago).
    overall, the main issue I’ve found with SF since I left is that SF’s streetscape is quite ugly compared to most places I’ve been. this is partly due to the over-concretization (fake word) of the city, with very very little greenscape. that has been changing of late, and I’m really happy with it. Trees and shrubs really soften the harshness of the concrete.
    SF’s naturaly beauty is top notch. only a few other places may be better (Cape Town, Honolulu, Rio de Janeiro as example). the structures built on top of the natural beauty aren’t as nice… but as others have said it’s not like you can pick up Milwaukee and drop it on SF.
    when you take it all in, SF is a great city. IT has many problems, but so does everywhere. there are some people that are obsessed with SF being #1. there are others obsessed with it sucking. but most of us realize it’s a great city in a great locale that is highly desireable, with a lot of things that could be better. and it stacks up very nicely once one stops trying to make it #1…

  55. Posted by zig

    “Chicago sprawl is MUCH worse than anything in the West.”
    Not sure what “worse” means in this context but I disagree that uniform moderate density is desirable or livable or viable for good public transit. Chicago style sprawl to me is better.
    It seem to me having really good commuter rail and a very large dense central city with a very job dense downtown(and other dense secondary nodes) is best. Everything is about getting people to the loop in a work day (of course they have lots of job sprawl too)
    this allows people more choices IMO as well.
    Chicago appears to me to have many rather low density areas even in the city. Public transit between neighborhoods is even harder than in SF because the city is so large. Last point about Chicago suburbs (I have spent some time there lately) but the older towns seem to be building again in their old downtowns around their train stations

  56. Posted by David

    Chicago metro population density: 12,649 people/sq mile.
    Oak Park (typical close-in ‘burb): 11, 173 people/sq mile.
    Highland Park (typical far-out ‘burb >20 miles away): 2,537 people/sq mile.
    San Francisco metro population density: 17,323 people/sq mile
    Oakland (typical close-in ‘burb): 7126 people/sq mile
    Livermore (typical far-out ‘burb >20 miles away): 3379 people/sq mile (Redwood city: 3871 people/sq mile).
    So actually, and this is my experience, is that SF “proper” is denser than Chicago (I suspect this has to do more with lack of parks and the presence of actual industries in Chicago proper, but I haven’t quantified that), but the “inner ring” of Chicago is almost as dense, and much denser than the inner ring ‘burbs of the Bay Area. The far-out burbs of Chicago are less dense than the “outer Bay Area” but not by too much.

  57. Posted by anon

    David, your analysis seems pretty correct. The reason that the Bay Area is much more dense OVERALL though is because there is FAR more land used in both metros for the “far-out” burbs – so the average of 50% greater density in Bay Area far-out burbs makes a tremendous difference in overall stats. Not saying this is necessarily good or bad, but it does mean that overall we pack ’em in closer in the Bay Area compared to Chicago. (Our traffic becomes much more difficult to manage because of the natural chokepoints that the mountains create, though that should in theory make transit easier to manage and more attractive)

  58. Posted by kthnxybe

    ex-SF’er, very astute comment.
    As an aside, I have heard the Boston comparison several times, as in “if you’re from San Francisco, you’d love Boston.” Both are often described as “walking cities” which is what I love the best about SF, with the natural beauty a close second.

  59. Posted by REpornaddict

    I agree that Boston/SF have similarites.
    Boston has a smaller population than SF, but 9I think) a bigger metro area.
    So presumably the criticsms of Zig/anon3 must apply even more to Boston?
    It’s less dense, certainly, so probably even more
    “drive huge distances to work every day” while the Bostonians read Proust and sip Blue Bottle coffee.

  60. Posted by anon

    Boston has a smaller metro area than the entire Bay Area, but it doesn’t have a separate major center of employment at one end of the metro area (we’ve got SF and Oakland CBD’s within a few miles of each other, then Silicon Valley 50 miles away at the other end of the metro – Boston doesn’t really have that)

  61. Posted by anon

    Our geographic limitations work against us though (mountains in the way of sprawl – Boston can sprawl in three directions with no natural boundaries) and make traffic worse here.

  62. Posted by David

    Anon, I think I’d have to disagree.
    The far-out burbs for both locations don’t have very many people compared to the inner ring and city proper. Remember, Chicago has almost 3 million people living at 12,000+/sq mile. SF has 750,000 people living at 17000+/sq mile.
    Then SF has about 800,000-1,000,000 people living at Oakland densities in Oakland, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, Alameda, San Leandro and Hayward.
    Chicago has another 2M+ people living at inner-ring densities. So at the “dense level” Chicago has over 5M people and SF has about 2M. Then the rest (3-4M in Chicago, 3-4M in SF Bay Area) are at lower densities. So, Chicagoland actually has probably the majority of its people at 6000+ /sq mile, whereas the Bay Area has a majority of its people at around 3000-4000/sq mile (think: Peninsula, Livermore Valley, Marin)

  63. Posted by Average Joe

    Late to the party, but just wanted to say this is an oddly narrow conversation for the subject at hand. Denver is another “generic midwestern city” that benefits greatly from its location — snug against the picturesque mountains, with a river running through downtown. And it has many features similar to those identified as being part of the beauty of Milwaukee. There are probably a dozen similar cities.
    But the overall combination of SF is unique, and makes this a fairly unusual place:
    landscape
    density
    walk-ability
    cultural diversity
    distinct neighborhoods
    architecture
    politics
    And I think the complaints about “nimby-ism” are oddly lacking perspective. Virtually everyone on this board has expressed opinions about what SHOULD or SHOULD NOT be built. That’s the entire purpose of this site. Appreciate the irony of stuff like the Embarcadero freeway instead: if it wouldn’t have been built (and subsequently destroyed) the intervening decades would most certainly have seen scores of fugly individual buildings cluttering the waterfront.

  64. Posted by bk

    David: It is soemwhat unfair to use Oakland as a stand in for dense inner suburb Oak Park. Oakland is a city of 400,000 people with many dense neighborhoods but with miles of low density suburbs in the hills. Oak Park is pure suburb…Oakland is its own urban subcenter.
    As for the outer suburbs…the densities differ by almost 50%. That is a little more significant than you seem to believe. Overall, midwestern outer suburbs trickle away into exurbia to a lrger degree than out here

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