Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ghost of The Produce District

Produce District SF [vintage], originally uploaded by deanv41.

Urban planning issues in any American city are fraught with hurdles, history, and conflicting visions. In San Francisco, a city once completely rebuilt without a single Environmental Impact Report after 1906 (granted such things didn't exist then) today is a morass of inertia around planning issues in which every possible player and constituent wants what is best for them in the short-term with little thought to the next generation of San Franciscans.
Above is a snapshot from 1945 of the once-vibrant Produce District around the city's Northeastern Waterfront. In the 1960s, urban renewal decimated the area, replaced with highrise living towers and semi-gated residential communities. After the '89 quake and removal of the Embarcadero Freeway, land opened up where once off ramps carried traffic to and from North Beach. In the interim, the residents of the highrise towers struck a deal with the city to install swimming & tennis facilities with the understanding that it was a temporary arrangement until developers continued with the area's regeneration.
Today, a pitched battle is taking place at the foot of Washington Street where a developer hopes to fashion more residential and mixed-use projects. The residents are furious that their semi-private facilities might disappear.
My frustration stems from the fact that the land is public, not private, that housing is critically-needed in the area, and that the very residents who occupy completely redeveloped land want now to close the door behind them, stopping any further changes from taking place.
This city is too young for this kind of obstruction. One look at the vibrancy of the site's former life and a person might wax nostalgic for a more vibrant district that is now so still with money and stasis as to be lifeless in the heart of the city.

Below is a view of the disrict as it was being redeveloped. The park in the center of the photo was the site of the Colombo Market, a nexus for trade in the district before the 1960s.

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