Category Archives: Public Space

Are spikes the problem?

IMG_5280_scaledA South Park neighborhood character who insisted his real name was Elvis Presley died in this alcove in 2012. He was run over by an emerging car, whose driver was cleared of wrongdoing. Another man died the same way in December 2014.

Some transit and bike activists have taken the moral of the story to be that car drivers escape blame easily when they run people over. That may be true in general, but with respect to this doorway I agree with Streetsblog commenter “gneiss”, who wrote, “This is a design flaw not an ‘accident’.”

My old blog has some details about the design flaw that I posted after Elvis died. Also about Elvis himself, who was a skilled street mechanic before his addictions got all the way in the way.

In the meantime, the subject of “unfriendly architecture” has come up strongly in public debate about heartlessness in public spaces, mostly by way of some especially ugly-looking spikes placed by London property owners outside an apartment building and a Tesco’s. A little farther down in this blog is a link to a Storify about that with examples of anti-sitting/anti-sleeping design in San Francisco and elsewhere.

So the reason I mention spikes is, the picture above shows a recent addition to the rain-sheltered garage entry alcove where two men have been run over: they’ve added pebbling to the pavement to discourage sleeping.

And this is why it seems worth asking: are spikes the problem?


The taming of Pier 70’s ghosts

IMG_0357detailTwice I’ve had the thrill of crossing the Spanish-French border under European Union law. Once at Hendaye, once at Portbou. There are no border guards now. No papers to show. You just go on through. If you’ve read and heard about the history of border crossings there, it’s like undercounting stair steps in the dark: you reach out a toe, feeling for that one more step down, and instead you find bizarrely solid ground.

Without meaning to suggest equivalence, I had a distant echo of that feeling today at the gate shown here. It was, until recently, the gate to San Francisco’s main city car impound yard. For the last ten years it was run by the Auto Return company. Before then it was run by the legendary City Tow. Continue reading

San Francisco, blissfully unaware of the America’s Cup

IMG_0093detailOnly visible sign of the America’s Cup at Fort Point today was a sign warning people off a little triangle of beach. Maybe for the sake of the bird life? Earlier, while walking over Pacific Heights, we saw a couple of big sails moving smoothly on the water below, surrounded by escort boats and a helicopter. Almost as if they were under arrest.

Four more races left according to the Chron. And our city, wonderfully, has yet to pay any attention. This place is, wonderfully, not Newport.

Meanwhile, San Franciscans spent a perfectly normal beautiful Sunday minding their own business on the waterfront.

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Ou sont les neiges de Buena Vista Park? (Apologies to @pmadonna.)

These buried benches in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park cry out for a story-caption in the style of Paul Madonna’s All Over Coffee. I even have a dim feeling he drew these for one of his panels. (His picture would have been better — he’s a brilliant artist, I’m an indifferent photographer.) So I hope he won’t mind my borrowing his style to tell a story of my own about this place.IMG_0055detail

In the 1990s, which is already long ago, I met a man who came to San Francisco long before that, in 1970. He landed first where this picture is, in Buena Vista Park. He was there for three days —¬† good days — before someone told him he wasn’t in Golden Gate Park. He said it with remembered mischief in his voice. A welcome, I’m imagining. A party with hospitable strangers. Inadvisable states of mind that must have been pleasant at the time.

This man had problems at the time I knew him. For all I know his problems may have started right there and then. But he and others made Buena Vista Park something more than it is now. That’s worth remembering, good and bad together. Especially now they’re closing Golden Gate Park every night.

Maybe you know Buena Vista Park already. In case not: it’s the steep wooded oasis between the Upper Haight, known in legend as the Haight-Ashbury, and the Lower Haight, a less showy, tougher-rooted survival of San Francisco’s abused Western Addition and Fillmore districts.

Walking westward from the Transbay Terminal or the old Greyhound station on Seventh Street, the man who got here in 1970 would have climbed the tiring lower Haight Street hill to find Buena Vista Park at the top of the steepest slope. If he walked directly from Seventh to Market to Haight, and from there west along the whole length of Haight Street, then I suppose Buena Vista Park would have been the first big patch of greenery for him since the station. After that, if he’d ventured briefly farther west from Buena Vista Park, there would have been lots of distractions to keep him from finishing the busy mile or so of the Upper Haight business district before Haight Street’s dead-end at the main bulk of Golden Gate Park. I can see his mistake. Eh, Golden Gate Park is where you find it. Or anyway, reputedly, it was.

Buena Vista Park has been up and down, these past forty-fifty years. Bad drug-related things happened there for a while. It’s a contested space. It’s hard to police and nervous-making to walk in alone because of the same landscaping features that, security aside, would welcome the visitor with a sense of privacy. I guess that explains the unfriendly state of this space with the benches. Beautiful park, though. Lovely Edwardian and Deco buildings all around it.

IMG_0059detailI titled this post out of Villon, but with a slight blush I’ll admit thinking a Tolkien verse best conveys the feeling I got from those benches sitting unused and half buried in mulch. It’s from Treebeard’s lament for “the willow-meads of Tasarinan”. The old forest-guardian, looking back at past sunny days, speaks with resignation of his own dark, diminished, embattled woods: “Where the roots are long / and the years lie thicker than the leaves.”

Space-claiming signs #2: new vs old Valencia Street style

The signs here are within two blocks of each other on fast-changing Valencia Street. Both are nagging reminders to respect shared auditory space. Both have that San Francisco acerbity. But they’re reflecting and addressing different social styles. Dog Eared Books at left, Tacolicious at right. Would Dog Eared readers stand for the mock-parental tone of “use your inside voice”? (Click to enlarge either image.)