chapter  9
San Francisco – San Francisco in an Age of Reaction
Pages 17

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.