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Part IX The Good City

Most people live in cities, and more will. People living in close proximity to

one another, in a given area, is one of the definitions of city or urban. Of course,

if you use one of the United States Census criteria for urban, 1,000 people liv-

ing in a square mile, you get about three people or one house per acre,

assuming that half of the square mile is for housing. I would hardly call that

urban or city. That’s closer to being a farm than a city, I think. I live in San

Francisco, and many people consider it to be a fine city, particularly people from

Europe, who rate it with New York and Boston as America’s best. Americans

seem to like it, too, particularly if one judges by all of those who seem to want

to live there, making housing prices insanely high, impossible for the likes of

school teachers, government employees, sales and service workers, blue-

collar workers (there still are some), and just plain folks to afford. But there is

a lot of “goodness” in San Francisco hills and trees, the water, lots of small

properties with modest-scaled buildings, a good climate, reasonably clear air,

a fair transit system, a diverse population, great eating, a public that partici-

pates in its governance, Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, an easily acces-

sible, productive, and beautiful hinterland, lots of cultural stuff, and more. At

the same time, the public rights-of-way, for the most part, leave a lot to be

desired. And, of late, the last 10 to 15 years, we have seen huge, out-of-scale

development that has paid no attention to adopted city plans. Bad new things

can outweigh good new things, like the new ball park and the Academy of

Science.