Elements of Urbanism: San Francisco

August 31, 2009 42 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a trip to the west coast to explore San Francisco, CA.

Tale of the Tape:

San Francisco Population 2008: 808,976 (City); 4,274,531 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1850)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); San Francisco (775,357)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

San Francisco: +3.66%
Jacksonville: +15.86%


Urban Area Population (2000 census)

San Francisco: 3,228,605 (ranked 12 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)


Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

San Francisco: 6,130.4
Jacksonville: 2,149.2


City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

San Francisco: +32,243
Jacksonville: +72,312


Convention Center Exhibition Space:

San Francisco: Moscone Center (1981) - 900,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Adjacent to Convention Center:

San Francisco: The InterContinental San Francisco Hotel (550 guest rooms)
Jacksonville: N/A


Tallest Building:

San Francisco: Transamerica Pyramid - 853 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet


Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

San Francisco: Mckesson (15), Wells Fargo (41), PG&E Corp. (176), Gap (178), URS (264), Visa (394), Charles Schwab (440)
Jacksonville: CSX (240), Winn-Dixie (340)


Urban infill obstacles:

San Francisco: None
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

San Francisco: Downtown/Union Square, Mission District, SOMA, Castro District, North Beach, Portrero Hill
Jacksonville: East Bay Street, located between Main Street and Liberty Street.  


Common Downtown Albatross:


Who's Downtown is more walkable?

San Francisco: 98 out of 100, according to walkscore.com*
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

*- San Francisco is rated as the country's most walkable city by Walkscore.com.  Jacksonville is rated as the worst.

Unique San Francisco

- There are five skyscrapers in San Francisco that are taller than Jacksonville's BOA Tower.

- With over 17,000 people per square mile, San Francisco is the second-most densely populated major American city.

- San Francisco was originally named Yerba Buena.

- San Francisco's population exploded during the California Gold Rush, growing from 1,000 in 1848 to 25,000 in 1849.

- The city was destroyed by a major earthquake and fire in 1906.

- Not a single San Francisco bank failed in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash.

- The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed the Embarcadero Freeway, allowed the city to reclaim its historic waterfront.

- San Francisco was the center of the late 1990s dot-com boom, which resulted in the gentrification of many neighborhoods.

- There are more than 50 hills within city limits.

- Tourism is the backbone of the San Francisco economy.  More than 16 million visitors arrived in San Francisco in 2007, injecting nearly $8.2 billion into the economy.

- San Francisco is designated as one of the ten Beta World Cities.

- Cycling is a popular mode of transportation in San Francisco, with about 40,000 residents commuting to work regularly by bicycle.

- San Francisco is a consolidated city-county, a status it has held since 1856. It is the only such consolidation in California.

- Homelessness has been a chronic and controversial problem for San Francisco since the early 1980s. The city is believed to have the highest number of homeless inhabitants per capita of any major U.S. city.

- Because of its unique geography—making beltways somewhat impractical—and the results of the freeway revolts of the late 1950s, San Francisco is one of the few American cities that has opted for European-style arterial thoroughfares instead of a large network of freeways. This trend continued following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, when city leaders decided to demolish the Embarcadero Freeway, and voters approved demolition of a portion of the Central Freeway, converting them into street-level boulevards.

- The Port of San Francisco was once the largest and busiest seaport on the West Coast. The advent of container shipping made pier-based ports obsolete, and most commercial berths moved to the Port of Oakland. Many piers remained derelict for years until the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway reopened the downtown waterfront, allowing for redevelopment. The centerpiece of the port, the Ferry Building, while still receiving commuter ferry traffic, has been restored and redeveloped as a gourmet marketplace. The port's other activities now focus on developing waterside assets to support recreation and tourism.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco

South of Market (SoMa)

While most San Franciscans refer to the neighborhood by its full name, South of Market, there is a trend to shorten the name to SOMA or SoMa, probably in reference to SoHo (South of Houston) in New York City, and, in turn, Soho in London.

Before being called South of Market this area was called "South of the Slot", a reference to the cable cars that ran up and down Market along a slot through which they attached to the cables. While the cable cars have long since disappeared from Market Street, some "old timers" still refer to this area as "South of the Slot".

The neighborhood is a diverse stretch of warehouses, auto repair shops, nightclubs, residential hotels, art spaces, loft apartments, furniture showrooms, condominiums, and technology companies. Many major software and technology companies have headquarters here, including Wired, Sega of America Inc., CNET Networks, Twitter, BitTorrent Inc., and Advent Software.

Union Square

Today, Union Square retains its role as the ceremonial "heart" of San Francisco, serving as the site of many public concerts & events, art shows, impromptu protests, private parties and events, and the annual Christmas tree and Menorah lighting. Public views of the square can be seen from surrounding high places as the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, Macy's top floor, and the Grand Hyatt hotel.

Pacific Heights

Pacific Heights is located in one of the most scenic and park-like settings in Northern California, offering panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz and the Presidio.

It is home to young urban professionals and some of San Francisco's wealthiest citizens.


Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America and used to be "the largest Chinese community outside Asia" until being likely eclipsed by the Manhattan and Flushing, Queens Chinatowns in New York City. It is likely therefore now the third largest Chinatown in North America. Established in the 1850s, it has featured significantly in popular culture venues such as film, music, photography and literature, and is one of the largest and most prominent centers of Chinese activity outside of China.

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf is best known for being the location of Pier 39, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the Cannery Shopping Center, Ghirardelli Square, a Ripley's Believe it or Not museum, the Musée Mécanique, the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf, Forbes Island and restaurants and stands that serve fresh seafood, most notably dungeness crab and clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl.

Dungeness Crab is locally caught and served everywhere.

North Beach and The Embarcadero

The American Planning Association (APA) has named North Beach as one of ten 'Great Neighborhoods in America':

Mention North Beach and what comes to mind is a mix of images and contrasts: arts, crafts, and jazz festivals; and a storied history involving known writers and musicians, movie sets and nightclubs. Added to this are several historical landmarks; a compact layout that makes walking enjoyable and easy; and a strong commitment to keeping businesses and stores independently owned and operated. Residents have fought to keep North Beach this way, and will continue to play an essential role in preserving this character.

Russian Hill

Russian Hill is an affluent, largely residential neighborhood of San Francisco. Views from the top of the hill extend in several directions around the Bay Area, including the Bay Bridge, Marin County, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. Russian Hill is home to the prestigious San Francisco Art Institute.

Because of the steepness of the hill, many streets, portions of Vallejo and Green streets, for example, are staircases. Another famous feature of Russian Hill are the many pedestrian-only lanes such as Macondray Lane and Fallon Place, both with beautiful landscaping and views.

San Francisco is a city that truly values quality mass transit. Citizen efforts saved the cable cars from being removed, and has restored streetcar service in the form of the F Line.


MUNI Light Rail

San Francisco Municipal Railway - Cable Car

Market Street Railway - F Line Historic Streetcars


MUNI Electric Trolley Bus

Lombard Street

Lombard Street is best known for the one-way section on Russian Hill between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, in which the roadway has eight sharp turns (or switchbacks) that have earned the street the distinction of being "the crookedest  street in the world."

Photos by Daniel Herbin