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Thoughts on San Francisco

jordanb

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I spent last week in San Francisco with my family (pictures will be forthcoming). I know that one week isn't nearly long enough to properly explore a city, and I was more interested in spending time with my family as we don't get together very often than actually exploring. At any rate, here are my thoughts based on what I did see. I know many of these may be way off base and constructive feedback is appreciated.

I was generally disappointed with the architecture in San Francisco. The city hall complex was quite nice and the financial districts had some wonderful skyscrapers like the Transamerica building, but the vernacular was not at all as I expected. I was under the impression that San Francisco consisted primarily of Victorians. In fact I was hard pressed to find any. The majority of buildings appeared to be flat roofed wood or stucco bungalows or walk-ups that haven't been maintained very well.

I noticed a complete lack of alleys, which necessitated front loaded garages. Nearly every building I saw had a front loaded garage. The majority only had the garage entrance and the front door on the bottom level, which gave a cold reception to a walker on the sidewalk. Suffice to say there were large numbers of curb cuts. Some streets were fronted by more cut than curb. Worse, on many streets built up hills, the sidewalk was superelevated so that the garage floor could be level. Pedestrians were required to walk over very bumpy sidewalks so cars could have a level ride into their garages. On the plus side, the sidewalks were almost without exception very wide. It seems San Francisco avoided the road widening hysteria that gripped most of the country in the '60s and '70s. Unfortunately, there weren't very many sidewalk trees, which made the street seem way too wide and unenclosed, especially when compounded with the relatively low buildings on both sides.

I wasn't too impressed with the MUNI. Headways were relatively poor (twenty minutes on the busses, fifteen on trams, with no apparent decrease during the day for rush hour). That's another thing, I didn't see any apparent rush hour, not in traffic, people movements, or transit loads. The number of people milling about in a particular area seemed remarkably constant throughout the day. I admit I didn't spend much time near the ferry docks or in the BART so perhaps I just happened to "miss" rush hour every day. The MUNI subway was pretty nice. The stations were very spacious, clean, and fresh looking. There was no urine smell, no water damage, and no more graffiti than on the L (the tunnels, on the other hand, like much of the city, had tons of graffiti in them). There were enough lines in it that even with poor headways on each line, there was almost always activity in the subway. I loved the arrival time announcements. I know the CTA has been working on them for some time but can't quite get it to work, but it worked brilliantly in the MUNI subway. They even had large LCD screens that printed the ETA for the next train on every line.

The MUNI trams were speedy and smooth in the subway, but were very slow once they got out onto the street. They kept on stopping seemingly inexplicably between stops until I realized that they were waiting for traffic! I can't believe they didn't have traffic signal preemption and dedicated ROW. I felt like I could be going faster in a bus. I did notice, however, that the MUNI seemed totally unconcerned with collection of fares. That significantly reduced stop dwell times for everything. I take it the MUNI doesn't have an asinine backwards-thinking requirement to recover a particular percentage of their operating expenses from the fare box. I thought their fare collection equipment was way behind the times though. My seven day pass was just a piece of paper with scratch off circles so I could scratch off seven of them and flash it at the driver or attendant (who usually didn't seem too interested in it). The subway turnstyles only accepted coins but there were quarter dispensers next to the BART pass dispensers. I bet that makes getting quarters for laundry pretty easy. If there wasn't an attendant, the only way to get past the turnstyles with anything but money was to jump them, which I saw happen a few times.

I did like the trolley busses quite a bit. They were quiet, they didn't stench of diesel fumes, they could handle the hills much better than the diesel busses. When I was walking with my family to Chinatown, we saw a diesel bus with a full load going up the hill at about twenty miles an hour. It was roaring and billowing black exhaust as it tried to climb the hill, stinking up the entire street. After it was past and we were still choking, my father and I looked at each other and he said, "that was ugly." A few streets later, we saw a trolley bus gliding up the hill at the same incline at about 30mph like it was on level ground. Unfortunately, the trolley wires were very ugly. Standard installation was to hang guy wires across the street and attach the trolley wires to them (two both ways for the busses). The guy wires were ether connected to vertical columns or the buildings on both sides of the street. Over intersections, especially ones with complicated trolley wire arrangements, there were a ton of guy wires criss-crossing each other, which made it look like there was a spider web above the intersection. This combined with the lack of alleys, which required all utility wires to be connected to the front of the building, meant that wires were hanging over the streets everywhere in San Francisco. It looked very third-worldish. I did see a few streets where, instead of having the guy wires, there was a horizontal boon attached to the top of a column with the trolley wires hung from it. That looked like a much nicer arrangement to me, and I wonder why it wasn't used very much. I think a trolley installation with those, or with solid bars extending all the way across the streetfor wires in both directions, would be better than the guy wires.

The BART was everything rapid transit should be, except comprehensive. It was very fast, clean, comfortable, had the same arrival time announcements that the MUNI had, spacious stations, and excellent cars. The cars were very wide, carpeted, and had padded seats. I've always considered Amtrak to be the most comfortable way to travel, but I must admit that the BART cars were more comfortable than Amtrak's coach, and it's just rapid transit! Unfortunately, there was only one BART alignment in San Francisco. I wish they'd not bothered with all of the tram lines and used the money saved to build some more BART lines within the city.

The downtown was wonderfully integrated. It appears that most of the nightlife occurred right there in the CBD. Also, rather than having exciting club/bar/resturant streets surrounded by a bunch of quiet residential streets like in Chicago, they had whole blocks of it in every direction. It gave the area a great feeling of vitality, unlike the Chicago loop which is basically dead after seven and before six every night. The neighborhoods, on the other hand, from my experience, appeared to be poorly integrated. The Mission and the Castro were by far the best that I saw, but they were just on par with gentrifing Chicago neighborhoods like Rodger's Park or Uptown. My sister and I went to the Forest Hill MUNI station and walked all over the surrounding hills, actually we were lost for half the time so we covered the area pretty well. In all that time, I did not see one commercial establishment. The hills apparently consist entirely of houses. It was very suburban. One thing I did think was really neat were the staircase streets. My city map shows quite a few of them. They're one of those quirky things that makes the city unique. Too bad they're in such a crappy neighborhood though.

I also took the N-Judah line to the west coast. Again, I was surprised that a street like Judah didn't have more commercial establishments than it did, and Sunset seemed to be another poorly integrated neighborhood. More integrated than Forest Hill, but still rather poor. Also, both of the neighborhoods seemed quite dead. My sister and I counted exactly ten people on our walk on the hills, and I didn't see much more than that in Sunset. My sister noted that there wasn't even much car traffic or even lights on in the houses. I did eat at a cafè at the end of the N line that was pretty nice. I liked the choice in tea particularly. There aren't very many places in Chicago where I can have Darjeeling.

Again, Sunset was very quiet. More interesting is that it seemed like the crouds downtown almost entirely consisted of tourists. I didn't ever really see appreciable numbers of residents or commuters anywhere. San Francisco certanly seemed like a tourist town, and there were especially a large number of western european tourists, but I'd have expected that with 750k residents in 50 square miles that there'd be more of them around. The city did seem dense though. One thing I noticed and liked was the lack of empty lots. Almost all land had something on it. That goes for parking lots too, there were very few and those that were there were quite small. There were plenty of above ground parking garages though, so I don't know if the lack of paved lots was due to some government policy or just the result of land use economics in the city.

The bums were much more aggressive than I'm used to, and they don't back down as quickly when you get cheeky to them. On the other hand, they were quite clever. I especially liked their signs. One I saw read "I won't lie, it's for beer." The residents were incredibly friendly. When we got lost on forest hill, a couple in a car stopped when they saw me looking at my MUNI map and asked if we were lost. They then gave us directions to get to the N-Judah line and then actually drove us to the line. I got off the tram in the Castro because I saw some Victorians that I wanted to take pictures of, but then got my map out to figure out where I was. A man stopped when he saw me looking at the map, showed me where I was, then asked where I wanted to go. I had noticed that the fog had cleared so I said I'd like to go up on a hill with a vantage point over the city. He then told me which bus to get on, gave me detailed directions on how to get to the hill from the bus, then walked me to the bus stop. He had told me to ride the bus to the end of the line, so when we stopped I got up and asked the driver if it was the last stop. He said it was and asked me where I was going. When I told him, he said that he could take me closer, and drove the bus up the hill a ways while small taking about my digicam. When we got to a trail that went up the hill, he stopped, gave me directions from there, and told me where I could catch a bus back. Being from the "friendly Midwest," I'm still getting over my suprise at just how friendly people were in San Francisco.

All in all, it was a good trip. I'm not overly impressed with the city, but it's a nice town just the same. I know some people who love the city and think it can do no wrong, so I think part of my disappointment had more to do with it being talked up too much. It's a place I wouldn't mind going back to some time. It did seem very small compared to Chicago, which is to be expected, but it had a great deal of vitality for its size. There aren't many cities with less than a million residents that can boast a cosmopolitan atmosphere, vitality, or public transit system on par with San Francisco.
 
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Cardinal

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I've been out there five times in total, four in the past year. I'll admit that I spent most of that time north of the city rather than in San Francisco itself. The cities and the neighborhoods I saw there were not inspiring, despite the rugged (hilly) setting. The nicest ones were near the coast, and the Presidio. The neighborhoods are not as well defined as in Chicago, Milwaukee, or other big cities. Maybe you are right in calling it "suburban," but it is more of Evanston than a Schaumburg.

I'll also comment that the highway system is confusing, particularly getting to the Oakland Bay Bridge from the airport. Traffic is always at least moderately heavy (perhaps not by Chicago standards, but certainly compared to Madison), even late at night.

Despite the city's reputation for crime, I felt perfectly comfortable walking perhaps a mile from my hotel to the wharf area for dinner, and returning at about midnight. On the other hand, the city's reputation for good food did not pan out either. I have eaten in several restaurants on my trips, and thought they were all mediocre. The exception may be in the Napa Valley, but I think that is an anomoly.
 

MontyP

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I attended college in the Chicago area and lived on the North Side for a time, and then moved out to the Bay Area for three wonderful years (just moved a short while ago).

That old saying about "leaving your heart in San Francisco"...it's true! I miss the place.

Yes, SF is considerably friendlier than Chicago. Chicago always seemed to me to be not that friendly at all...if anything, it felt like it had the NY attitude thing going on. Maybe it is the weather. When it is cloudy for two or three weeks on end, and snowing, everyone just keeps their heads down and shuffleson down the street to the El platform. I think the weather makes folks in California more friendly than you might expect.

Yes, the mass transit in SF is good, but needs help. I am not sure, but I am guessing that they didn't build BART in a lot of areas of the city proper because of the topography, etc. and risk of earthquakes. BART is good, but it was designed to bring suburbanites into SF for jobs, not for travel around the city. The bummer is that in the 60s, then-rural San Mateo and Santa Clara counties opted out of the BART system. This means that all of Silicon Valley and areas such as Palo Alto are out of the loop for the most part in terms of transit to SF and Oakland.

As far as architecture, sure you can find fault with cetain aspects of the city, but for the most part it is still one of the best cities around. I think it beats the heck out of Chicago (sorry).

The one major problem plaguing SF and the entire state of Calif. is the cost of living. It is outrageous. Sure, rents have come down from the boom-time levels of three years ago, but shack homes still cost $500K. You basically have to make $45-50K as a single person or have a household income well over $100K if you have kids to have any chance to have a standard of living comparable to that of the Midwest. But, the place is awesome, and a lot of folks make do on less in order to have the chance to live there....
 

Cardinal

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MontyP said:
As far as architecture, sure you can find fault with cetain aspects of the city, but for the most part it is still one of the best cities around. I think it beats the heck out of Chicago (sorry).
At the risk of turning this into a Chicago vs. San Francisco thread, I'll strongly disagree with this statement. Chicago has far more world-class architecture, as well as just better commercial and residential vernacular architecture. Many of the great architects called Chicago home and did the largest part of their work there, including Burnham and Root, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright. There is hardly a prominant architect of the last 100 years who does not have at least a representative building in Chicago.
 

BKM

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West Coast in the House

I have to defend my region :)

I'll split the difference with you, Michael. Chicago has the best RESIDENTIAL vernacular architecture in the country-bar none. Its easy, if you're use to that, to be disappointed in other cities.

I am now not impressed with the inhuman scale and coldness of The Loop, though, and the neighborhood shopping districts )bar Uptown, maybe) are not that appealing to me. Give me Union Street, Market Street in the Castro, Noe Valley's 24th Street, Russian Hill's Polk Street, and the inumerable suburban downtowns. City of Chicago's neweer commercial stuff is not that attractive-especially the awful new commercial boxes being built on the near Northwest side (Clybourn corridor-yuck). I did like the smaller side streets north of the Loop.

It takes a while to get used to a stucco and wood town if you are used to brick. Brick has a solidity and character that can't be beat. But, keep in mind the differences in seismic threat-we can't build much out of unreinforced brick. And, there are parts of the City that are fascinating. No matter how good the vernacular is, I can't think of anything in Chicago as fantastic as the staricase neighborhoods of Russian Hill (with flocks of wild parrots), Telegraph Hill, Bernal Heights, parts of The Castro, Noe Valley, or even (and here's where I disagree with jordanb) Forest Hills. Also, as pleasant as Evanston is, the sheer creativity in residential design in the hillside neighborhoods of Berkeley and Oakland across the Bay can't be beat. The North Shore is lovely, but its VERY traditional in style-overall. I'll take the great brown shingle houses of Maybeck and Julia Morgan and their disciples, the strange creativity in the fire zone of Oakland, and the pure wierdness of having to build in hillside neighborhoods in Marin County over yet another huge tudor mansion on a big lot. Especially when the wierd houses have such great views.


I much prefer SF's vernacular to Seattle, which to me looks like the blander stuff from the midwest. And, outside the core neighborhoods, I prefer the California vernacular to metropolitan New York, Washington DC (brick isn't a cure all) and even suburban Boston (boy, white painted poorly proportioned "Colonials" get tiresome quickly).

So, there's one transplanted Californian's opinion! Let the flames begin :)
 

jordanb

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Well, my beef with Forest Hill was lack of integration. It'd be awesome to live in for the view alone. San Francisco has more natural beauty than just about any city I've ever seen. Where do Forest Hill residents go to get milk though? I go down the street about half a block to my corner grocery. When I complain about integration in the neighborhoods, that's what I'm talking about. If you have to get in a car and drive down the hill to get a bottle of draino, well, that's suburban living.

Unfortunatly, I didn't have time to visit all of those neighborhoods while I was there so I probably don't have a complete picture of the city. Also, I spent nearly all my time in San Francisco so I can't speak about the rest of the bay area at all. We drove through Oakland on our way to Alemada to visit the USS Hornet. It looked like hell on earth. Seriously, I was expecting to see Neo fighting a bunch of Agent Smiths on a pile of shipping containers. Of course, that was just the waterfront. I assume the rest of the city is better.

I wanted to go to Berkley but it didn't work out. I was planning to take a ferry to it then take the BART back, but as it turns out you can't get a ferry to Berkley. At any rate, I only had one good day for exploring (I skipped nappa valley with the family) and a trip to Berkley would have sucked up most of it.

You are right about the loop though, it's not at a human scale. The Financial District dosen't seem much better though. ;) Still, there's some great skyscraper architecture there if you're into that sort of thing. Chicago does tend to have more big boxes, and more parking lots (I mentioned that). You're right that Clybourn is crap, but there are enough neighborhood establishments throughout the city that one rarely has to go to such a place.

I think a lot of the things I'm talking about will be more clear when I get my pictures up.
 

H

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I loved chinatown when I was there! ate at a very cool place and felt like I was in another country.

I also loved the area across the bridge which is where I actually stayed. it was suburban, but neat homes built on the hill looking back at the city, and there was they huge park at the golden gate bridge. My wife took a picture of myself there that resembled the GD cover of 'without a net', i will try and post it.
 

Greenescapist

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This is a nice discussion. I can't really contribute to the SF v. Chicago part since I've never been to Chicago. I have been to SF a few times, most recently in January. I guess I would agree with a lot of Jordan's observations, but one thing I would add that makes SF stand apart from all US cities is it's natural setting. The look across the Golden Gate bridge, all the wonderful hills and the way the city's buildings seem to meld with the sunny, undulating landscape, I think that part of SF's beauty.
 

Cardinal

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Greenescapist said:
This is a nice discussion. I can't really contribute to the SF v. Chicago part since I've never been to Chicago.
This sounds like a good excursion when you get out to the Greatest of the Great Lakes States. Maybe Pete or Jordan would guide?

I wouldn't hesitate to agree that San Francisco has one of the best natural settings of any major US city. Chicago has Lake Michigan, but get in a block and you wouldn't know it was there. The city's newer large buildings are mundane, but isn't that true of glass boxes in any city? There may be a handful of exceptions, but most lack any real character or feeling. Fortunately, Chicago can offset that with buildings like the Rookery, Monadnock Building, and countless other buildings from the late 1800's and 1900's. Michigan Avenue, south of the river, is a string of outstanding buildings. The big boxes in and around the city, again, are no different from those in the SF metro. Oakland, in particular, was a depressing place.
 

BKM

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Forest Hill/West Portal is certainly one of the most suburban parts of the City, jordanb, so you are somewhat correct in your observations. I don't like a lot of the westernmost part of SF, myself. The Sunset is pretty dreary, overall, and while I roast out here in the suburbs in the summer, I'll take that over never-ending fog and 50 degrees.

At the same time, I don't think the Sunset has the sheer dreadful feeling of far northwestern corridors in Chicago like Harlem Avenue, Cicero Avenue, and their cross streets. (I'm not talking about the devastated areas on West or South sides but the demographically similar to the Sunset areas on the north side.) Those streets are BIG, and the truck traffic, huge signs, etc.

The housing stock is much nicer, of course, than the Sunset's dreary, treeless rows. :(

One thing Saint Francis Woods and Forest Hills have, though, is a very nice "downtown" located about a fifteen-twenty minute walk west. West Portal Avenue is pretty neat and it adjoins Stern Grove, a fantastic park set in a deep canyon. It also has a direct subway connection to downtown. There is also some neighborhood shopping along Portola Drive which you can walk to (every street in SF has sidewalks) but is scaled for the car, pretty much.

As long as it doesn't degenerate into "my city is better than yours" debates, I like comparing cities. Vive la difference! (Which is why I don't like Seattle-great setting, dreary midwestern architecture, imo)
 

jordanb

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You know, I've fogotten about the north west side. That is really a shitty area. I think the deal is that when the suburb in that area got absorbed by the city, a lot of people didn't get the memo. I remember riding through it from Schaumburg. We got to about 5000 W before I realized that we were actually driving through the city and not another suburb! I think that's really the worst part of the city, worse even than the "obliterated" areas of the west and south sides. They have way more character and will probably gentrify long before Jeff Park gets its act together.

On the other hand, the north west side has practically no crime...

Also, how does this thread keep on going back to Seattle? ;)
 
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BKM

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Why Seattle?

Its another big west coast city, and my personal disappointment.

When I was in planning school, Toronto and Seattle were the big success stories. So, I was let down when I saw them.

Toronto: Ugly commercial streetscapes (those featureless two story boxes that line the corridors for miles have to be the worse commercial vernacular I've seen. At least the Town Next Door had a certain redneck charm :)), dirty, boring downtown architecture overall.

Seattle: beautiful setting, kinda cool downtown, but the residential neighborhoods look like shabby second tier midwestern cities (say, Dayton) with no particular character. I mean, $375,000 for a crummy wood frame bungalow in Queen Ann on a treeless, dull street-I don't care how good the skyline views are.

Both cities of course offer fantastic urban lifestyles, and my dismissal of their visual character is pretty superficial.
 

craeg

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Michael Stumpf said:
I've been out there five times in total, four in the past year. I'll admit that I spent most of that time north of the city rather than in San Francisco itself. The cities and the neighborhoods I saw there were not inspiring, despite the rugged (hilly) setting. The nicest ones were near the coast, and the Presidio. The neighborhoods are not as well defined as in Chicago, Milwaukee, or other big cities. Maybe you are right in calling it "suburban," but it is more of Evanston than a Schaumburg.
San Francisco neighborhoods are not well defined and suburban? give me a break!

Despite the city's reputation for crime, I felt perfectly comfortable walking perhaps a mile from my hotel to the wharf area for dinner, and returning at about midnight.

I was not aware that SF had a reputation for crime ? Can you quote your source on this?

On the other hand, the city's reputation for good food did not pan out either. I have eaten in several restaurants on my trips, and thought they were all mediocre. The exception may be in the Napa Valley, but I think that is an anomoly.
So just that I am clear: You were here in SF and you went to the best restaurants all over town and found them to be only mediocre? I'm curious which you tried.
Additionally, while Napa had some good food, you believe that to be the exception to the rule.
Uh huh. And you are from where?
 

The Irish One

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I ate at the California Culinary Academy (somewhere on Polk)one time and it was freaking delicioso - those were student prepared meals.
For cheap good pizza I go to Escape From New York Pizza in the Haight Ashbury District -KICK ASS You say potato is all that.

San Francisco is the greatest city I've been to in the US. It is visualy spectacular from a lot of spots. There are a lot of great bars. The location is perfect.

Now if your in Berkeley got to go to Long Life Veggie House. They have great Vegetarian and sea food.
 

BKM

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More from the West Side!

rereading jordanb's posts, I would also echo Craeg's point by noting that the coastal neighborhoods are often the most disappointing one's architecturally speaking. It really doesn't sound like he explored much of the city at all. Let's see, distinctive neighborhoods:

Nob Hill
Russian Hill
Telegraph Hill
Union Square
Pacific Heights
Cow Hollow/Marina
SOMA/South Beach
Bernal Heights
The Mission
Noe Valley
The Castro
The Haight.

All have their own history, socioeconomics, distinct topographical features that clearly define them, in some cases a unique architectural character, and neighborhood main streets that are far more attractive than most Chicago neighborhood commercial districts. Even looking outside upscale neighborhoods, I would still argue that Third Street in Hunters Point is far more interesting than say, Stoney Island Avenue, State Street, 95th Street, or any of the devastated West Side comemrcial streets. Let alone Mission Street, which passes through several distinct neighborhoods and has different characters throughout its length.

Not to diss Chicago at all (Chicago remains one of my favorite cities in the country!), but at the risk of repeating myself, the "no distinct neighborhoods" comment deserved further razzing.

And, I'll still take Forest Hills and Saint Francis Woods over Winnetka anyday! Especially in August!
 

Cardinal

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True, San Francisco does have some distict neighborhoods, including suburban places as well. If you are going to compare it to a city like Chicago, though, I think you do have to acknowledge that Chicago has a far greater number of neighborhoods and that there is much greater variation between them than you find in San Francisco.
 

craeg

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Fair enough - but I would also like to point out that SF is a city of ~776k people while Chicago is a city of ~2.8 million.
The fact that we can even compare the two says something of the vitality of SF.
 

mezcal323

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a jaded angeleno in SF

I moved to the Bay Area last year, and eventually turned around and came home to Hollyweird ...

first off, as soon as anyone in the Bay hears youre from "down South" they almost immediately feel a need to compare the two, which I always respond to with the same statement I make when NY and LA are compared, two completely different wavelengths, apples and oranges, beyond comparison ...

coming from the massive urban cancer that is Los Angeles, I was amazed that I was able to drive the entire length of SF in about a half hour ... theres a cozy intimate feeling as youre wandering the streets, which in most neighborhoods have a good amount of street life ... I noticed SF, beyond neighborhood designations, seemed to have two very distinct regions ... the western half being very suburban with the area north of Golden Gate Park by the beach resembling your typical rambling CA beach town, while the eastern half or bayside being more urban with more diverse neighborhoods, the NE quarter of the city definitely holds most of its culture and legacy with all the neighborhoods you read about in SF history ... the hillside neighborhoods seem to experience the same Catch22 that most hillside CA neighborhoods have such as the Hollywood Hills - amazing views and settings but you have to drive down the hill for everything becoz commercial developments dont seem to rise above a certain elevation ...

although SF is known for its victorians, of which there are many, they were the proto-tract homes of their day, and the city cant seem to move from its storied past and embrace modern architecture ... I remember a huge controvery over the proposal to build a Prada store in Union Square (think Rodeo Drive a la SF) to be designed by Rems Koolhaus that consisted of a large metallic facade punctuated periodically with holes ... it DID resemble a cheese grater a bit but I thought SF shouldve seized onto it if for anything to create an architectural dialogue in the city ... the last great modern project was the pyramid ... Im surprised you werent impressed much with the residential vernacular ... the city speaks in a pseudo-victorian and classical dialect, unlike LA which is firmly rooted in
art-deco/mediterranean/spanish colonial/ultra modern, I completely agree in the treelessness of the citys streets, there were some streets that felt like concert halls and gave me a bit of agoraphobia ... which is why I dont think Id like the Midwest, too flat, too out in the open :p

I was also surprised by the lack of nightlife in the city ... bar life seemed to die around 2A at closing time and I didnt notice much of an afterhours scene and there werent many 3A dining options other than the usual suspects (Dennys, etc)

overall I think SF is a truly beautiful city and cosmopolitan corner of the world ... Im still wondering going to school there ... what frustrated me about the Bay was that, unlike LA, which has many different centers of activity, SF is the focal point for the whole region with the rest just being dead-end suburbia ...
 

BKM

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I am one northern Californian who actually likes Los Angeles a lot- partly for what you imply-the sheer crazy, out-of-control energy of the place. There is a palpable feeling in the air when you drive down, say Wilshire Boulevard, that I really love. Not to forget the beach towns.


The website New Colonist always has little articles on Los Angeles that show theat there are pockets of pedestrian-friendliness and street life, too. Santa Monica is simply beautiful-if a little polished, Pasadena is an exemplary exampel of infill development, downtown revitalization, and arts and crafts architecture.

I've never been in Silver Lake, but I've heard its interesting. Maybe an LA version of Bernal Heights?

What I can't handle: the inland areas are awful. LA's equivalents to Solano County (the Inland Empire, the desert towns in Lancaster Valley) are to me unlivable. Can't handle the horrible air pollution (my asthma is bad enough). The sheer vastness of the area.
 

mezcal323

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I completely agree ...

I think many of the misconceptions about LA are formed by people who havent really seen all LA has to offer, its not easy in the sense that there isnt one 5x5 sq mile downtown in which to see everything, its literally a vast matrix with so many different lifestyles happening at once ... its like a chaotic symphony led by a conductor on acid ...

I just recently moved to Silverlake from Hollywood, Las Palmas and Hollywood Blvd, Silverlake has really turned around in that lots of ppl have moved in and renovated all the old homes on the hill (this is LA "old" ppl so dont think late 19th century, think 20s Cinema Glamor) and there are a lot of walkable "villages" on Hyperion, SilverLake Blvd, and Rowena ... most parts of LA are like that, walkable village type atmospheres surrounded by communities ... which is all punctuated by large thoroughfares such as Sunset and Wilshire, I think a drive down Sunset will give the most accurate view of LA since it goes through EVERYTHING, from the down-and-out to the hip and happening, Beverly Blvd and Third Streets have also emerged as major walking areas with tons of shops and restaurants ... I grew up in LA and have lived all over and even I still discover new spots all the time ... its part of what I like ...

I agree with you on the inland areas ... their major problem is that no amount of attractive landscaping will cover up the fact that the regions as a whole are poorly planned ... anywhere within 50 miles of LA is by default going to become dense, masquerading as a bedroom community with poor transit connections is a recipe for disaster ... the Metrolink does a fairly good job but the problem with LA is that it doesnt function like other more traditional regions that have a few established patterns while LA has a million going on, its a daunting task
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
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Michael Stumpf said:
This sounds like a good excursion when you get out to the Greatest of the Great Lakes States. Maybe Pete or Jordan would guide?
Wow! I have been asleep on this discussion, but it looks pretty good.

I've never been to the Bay Area, so I can't comment on the neighborhoods there, or the architectural vernacular, vitality, etc. But if you're talking about Chicago neighborhoods and their feel and vitality, I'd offer up several:

Little Village and Pilsen - Chicago's slice of Mexico

Hyde Park - the prototypical academic neighborhood

South Chicago and Pullman - Our Town's gritty, industrial heart

Rogers Park - the former Russian Jewish neighborhood being remade by Asian immigrants

Lincoln Square and Ravenswood - what Lincoln Park would be like without the Trixies and Chads

Chinatown - traditional Chinatown fare with a growing mix of new residential and commercial uses

And what makes Chicago's neighborhoods unique from most other cities I've been to is that there is a consistent residential architectural archetype that is carried out throughout the city, while being slightly modified to account for the new or predominant demographic that has settled there.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
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I actually lived in "West Rogers Park" (Ridge at Fargo/Touhy for a few months for an internship when under the delusion of being an electrical engineer :) Very attractive neighborhood. Three flats are great housing.
 
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