In San Francisco, the movement toward self-realization has reached such
heights of indulgence that it is leveling the creation of inspiring urban design.
Since the early 1980s, in a city that celebrates individualism, the collective
discipline of architecture has taken a pounding. Here on the western shores of
the North American continent, the American dream has taken a turn into
activism bred on afﬂuence and adversity. San Francisco’s public planning
process is lousy with naysayers. At the initial whiff of a new project, opponents
spring up like oxalis, a proliﬁc weed with yellow ﬂowers that carpets the
ground here after the ﬁrst winter rains. These not-so-laidback Californians, who
stymie architectural innovation in this once innovative city, defend a medley of
values premised on history, esthetics, cultural politics and, most of all, an
impossible-to-generalize set of self-interests. They ﬁght to keep precious vistas
and exclude new buildings – new building that add cars to the streets, new
buildings that look different, any structure of monolithic stature, steely mater-
ials, odd angles. Strange that in a place distinguished by progressive politics
and an artistic spirit, the reactionaries stand out when it comes to urban design.