Two stories from San Fran planning history: sunny plazas and small parcels for small builders. Details?
April 15, 2008 9:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to track down two stories about recent urban planning history in San Francisco: 1) making sure plazas stay sunny at lunchtime, 2) making sure small builders could help redevelop a large area. Do you know these stories? Do you know of good online sources for San Francisco urban planning history?

The first story, as I remember it, is that sometime (1970s? 1980s?), a researcher proved that people use San Francisco plazas that were sunny at lunchtime and did not use plazas in the shade. This research led to some guidelines about the height of new buildings to keep plazas sunny at lunchtime (via a citizen ballot campaign? a city law? a city planning document?).

This sounds obvious in retrospect, and is relatively standard planning practice now, but at the time it was fairly novel. Do you remember this happening? Have you seen it written up somewhere? I'd love to track down or confirm the details. My google searches have been confounded by a city law called the Sunshine Ordinance.

Another story I remember is that, as the area around the opera house (?) was being redeveloped, planners divided it into small parcels and would not allow anyone to buy more than two adjacent parcels, to ensure that small local builders did the construction rather than big developers.

If you recognize either of these stories, know any places that they might be written up, or know any other great online sources for San Francisco city planning history and lore, please let me know. Thanks!
posted by salvia to Law & Government (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read the book Imperial San Francisco? It has those types of stories, if not the exact one. I would try asking first the nice folks at the San Francisco Historical Society and then the people at SPUR. Between the two, they should be able to get you an answer, or at least find someone who does.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:50 PM on April 15, 2008

Best answer: I haven't heard specifcally of either one though I'm also familiar with the Sunshine Ordinance that you mention and thought it came from a specific ballot proposition. It also sounds a lot like the research that William Whyte did but his stuff was about NYC. Does this help?

Check with the fine folks at the history center of the SF Public Library. In my experience they know everything.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:20 AM on April 16, 2008

Could it have been Jane Jacobs? The Death and Life of Great American Citieshas a lot of urban planning stories similar to what you mentioned.
posted by dubold at 6:28 AM on April 16, 2008

Best answer: There was research done by Eve Liebermann (SF City Planning Comission) that showed that access to sun was a major consideration of plaza users. The research she did went into the 1985 Downtown Plan, of which I can find reference online, but not the plan itself. No links, because these are notes from a class. I'm going on a field trip of Downtown SF Plazas this Friday, I'll let you know if I find out anything more.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:33 PM on April 16, 2008

Sorry, Eva, not Eve.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:42 PM on April 16, 2008

Best answer: BTW, the current general plan is probably more or less the 1985 plan, with addendums and clarifications, I'd imagine. You can probably find out for sure by contacting the SF city planning department. They may even be able to get you a copy of Eva Liebermann's survey, which was probably originally published by the planning dept.

More here about the plan:

"Another objective of the plan was to preserve and enhance the amenity of downtown. The plan identified the sidewalks and public open spaces, which should be protected from shadowing, and set height rules to prevent buildings from casting shadows at certain hours and times of the year. (The Plan rules were expanded by a voter initiative to require sun access to public parks year round.) "
posted by oneirodynia at 5:16 PM on April 16, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, you guys are brilliant! I knew someone would know! Thanks for looking that up from your notes, oneirodynia. And thanks for the link to People Places, otherworldlyglow, I'd forgotten how great that book was.
posted by salvia at 10:19 PM on April 16, 2008

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