Many thought the old-fashioned streetcars assigned to Geary looked more and more antiquated, almost like the cable cars on Powell.
Certainly that belief was shared by many merchants on Geary Boulevard, the wide section of the thoroughfare running westward from Masonic Avenue through the Richmond. They were lobbying City Hall for a ‘Great Wide Way’, replacing streetcars with buses … and more parking for automobiles.
Planners who were eying the part of Geary between the Richmond and Downtown echoed this pro-auto sentiment. The Western Addition had been a vibrant community of Victorian homes before World War II. The section along Geary was populated mainly by Japanese-Americans. When World War II started, they were infamously hauled away to internment camps. African-American newcomers, who had come west to work in war industries, largely took their place. By the mid-1950s, there was talk of ripping down the Victorians along that part of Geary to gouge out a broad expressway to get automobiles downtown more quickly.
What Might Have Been - Geary, a 2008 update of a story from the Market Street Railway’s newsletter in 2002.
This pretty much encapsulates the bad transport decisions of the 1940s and ’50s in the US: replacing streetcar (tram) tracks with widened roads served by buses (always subservient to private cars), a willingness (some would say eagerness) to demolishing houses in minority neighbourhoods in favour of freeways, and merchants demanding more parking.
At least the latter two arguments tend to have fallen out of favour, but business still seem to complain about parking all the time.
In the end the B Geary survived until the late 1950s, but the desired expressway was built in the early 1960s. Current plans for a “bus rapid transit” scheme seem to be as far away as they were in 2008.
When I shared my previous post on Twitter, I got this reply:
— Paul Hammond (@ph) November 25, 2012
OK, fair enough: it’s possible to choose places in London that look car-centric and places in San Francisco that don’t. Point taken.
I’d still defend my comparison. Firstly, Paul’s first location isn’t exactly in central London; it’s in Neasden, by the North Circular’s junction with the M1- a good ten kilometres from Charing Cross. By contrast, the AT&T car park is only two and a half kilometres from the Ferry Building.
Secondly, scroll just a little from the Brent Cross car parks, and you’ll find the two shopping centres, terraced housing, and playing fields. China Basin is close to the ball park (obviously) and there are buildings on the other side of the waterway, but the area to the south is remarkably sparse. Similarly, density drops rapidly from SF’s financial district (especially to the north), while Soho is pretty representative of central London.
San Francisco is a very different city to London. It’s newer, it’s less dense, and it’s much smaller. Maybe that makes my initial post a bit too obvious. That said, personally, I’m still amazed that something like twenty acres (to use the American measure) of land so close to the city’s centre can be turned over to a car park - moreover, one that mostly sits empty.
What’s the largest city in the world? This seemingly simple question is actually rather complicated to answer. In my post Concentric Londons, I noted how you can define the city in various ways (and I still missed a few), while my complaints about the interesting but flawed visualisation showing “how much room would you need for the world’s population if the city were as dense as…” noted that the cities picked were defined very differently.
It turns out that the BBC’s excellent More or Less tackled the issue in a special edition, which (thankfully) is also available as a BBC News Magazine article (for those of us who prefer reading words to hearing them). After noting some of the problems I’ve covered - is a city the same as the government region defining it, or is it a contiguous urban area, or perhaps a zone of influence? - they settle on Tokyo/Yokohama, at 30 million plus, as the most reasonable answer to the question.
Curiously, it turns out that there is no official UN (or other reliable worldwide) definition of a city. Where Paris excludes its periphery, London extends nearly to the M25; where New York excludes Jersey City, Greater London expanded in the 1960s to swallow chunks of Essex. That’s not even to consider cities such as Cairo, Nairobi, or Rio de Janeiro, where informal building means a density and sprawl that’s a laissez-faire economist’s dream.
However, that wasn’t the end of the show. The final section covered China’s cities, which, if you believe the numbers, are growing like nothing on earth. However, the numbers may not be that trustworthy. Official statistics, as noted by guest Professor Kam Wing Chan, conflate cities with provinces, which can be largely rural, inflating estimates by as much as a factor of five:
The largest city in China is actually Shanghai. It is commonly thought to have a population of 20 million, but Professor Chan thinks 16 million is a better estimate.
He says everyone just loves to think China’s cities are bigger than they actually are. He has even had to correct fellow experts at a world conference on global megacities of the future.
One thing’s for certain: you can’t take the numbers at face value.
Whether it’s a sign of that same desire to burrow under the surface of the city, or just because I have a lack of imagination, I’ve found myself visiting the same places repeatedly: New York five times, now (and more to come, I’m sure), Berlin twice (and, again, I’d love to return), Paris perhaps four times (with more yet to see), San Francisco (three times before I moved here), and of course London (multiple times before I moved, and then ten years of infatuation). I like Gibson’s justification, anyway.