Case Studies in Urban Development: San Francisco

March 3, 2008

AAP focused on San Francisco at its third annual Case Studies in Urban Development (CSUD) conference, held Feb. 29-March 1.

At “Creating the Next San Francisco: From Conflict to Collaboration,” speakers discussed projects that have helped shape the future of San Francisco, and highlighted the necessity of interdisciplinary collaboration for successful planning, design, and development of great cities.

Projects discussed included major development catalysts in the revitalization of the city’s South of Market Street district. 

Matt Witte (B.Arch. ’79), a founder of the Yerba Buena Alliance and sponsor of CSUD 2008, presented his experience with a project near the Moscone Center, starting in 1988 and going through 13 years of changes and delays.

Retail and other commercial anchor tenants had fled the city for the suburbs, and new office building development in San Francisco was at a standstill throughout the 1990s, Witte said. The Paramount was eventually built and opened in 2001. The high-rise apartment building has retail, parking, and office space and 487 rental units, from affordable to luxury.

“There’s no way this project would work today, based on construction costs,” he said. “That is a major challenge with high-rise development in the State of California.”

He outlined several lessons he learned and rules for developers, including: “Passion trumps politics—at least in San Francisco—but real estate is a locals’ game. Knowing the local landscape is essential”; “Choose your design/development team very carefully” and “In the public realm, the developer’s mantra is: Make no enemies (you can never have too many friends).”

M.R.P. candidate Joann Winter said: “It has been very interesting to hear all the different perspectives on the development. They’re talking about the realities they faced and why the designs had to be that way.” Development in the city since the 1950s, she said, “went from a top-down process to one that had to involve the public.”

The public was key to development of AT&T Park, the city’s new Major League Baseball stadium, according to Amit Ghosh, chief planner with the San Francisco Planning Department, speaking March 1 in East Sibley. (Ghosh also gave a keynote talk Feb. 29 in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium.)

The park was built with private funding, after soliciting much public input. Also at the time, the Giants baseball organization was considering leaving the city. A proposal for a new park, needed since the early 1990s, was put to a referendum and approved by two-thirds of the voters.

After ‘an onerous public review process’ of environmental impact, noise, traffic, and other factors, the project gained corporate sponsor support and a 67-year lease from the Giants. The park was situated to maximize mass transit access (including the MUNI and BART systems), and has turned an unused waterfront area into a public space, and has revitalized the surrounding neighborhoods.

“The trains worked, the traffic flowed, folks walked from downtown—it was actually a transformation of San Francisco, in that the people believed MUNI could take them where they want to go,” Ghosh said.

Other presenters at CSUD 2008 included Helen Sause, former deputy executive director for program and project management with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency; and architects Todd Schliemann (B.Arch. ’79) of Polshek Partnership Architects and Mark Hornberger (B.Arch. ’72) of Hornberger + Worstell.

By Dan Aloi

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