Monday, March 17, 2008

The Land of Milk and Honey

(Sorry for the downtime; midterms caught up with me! Without further ado...)

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Well, I just spent a week in California. And let me first say that this is one impressive state! Of course, my reaction to California is largely conditioned by having spent a few months in the Minnesota winter. After single-digit weather, a full week of sun and 65 degrees was exceedingly pleasant.

But enough of this--let's get to the urban planning angle!

I've certainly heard about San Francisco's hills, but it was really amazing to see them for myself. The city fully occupies a peninsula with extremely steep hills. And when I say "fully occupies" I mean it--pretty much every available square foot on this space is used for streets and buildings. I have never before seen houses stacked so precipitously close to each other, up and down unbelievably steep hills.

It's very interesting to compare San Francisco to another hilly city: Pittsburgh. The curious difference between the two is that Pittsburgh is slightly less fully developed. Certainly, there are tens of thousands of Pittsburgh houses clinging to the sides of hills, ready to fall over at any moment. But nevertheless there are still trees and foliage. San Francisco, on the other hand, is almost completely built out (with the exception of dedicated parkland). Why this difference?

Of course, I would have to actually research this a bit to answer. My first guess is: weather. Pittsburgh has moderately heavy winters, which makes travel up and down hills fairly difficult. Northern California, on the other hand, doesn't really freeze over or get snow. I imagine the consequence of this is that it's easier to build there.

Ok, enough for now. More to come.


Blogger farside268 said...

I'll take beer and maple over milk and honey any day.

10:57 PM  
Blogger fester said...

I would also posit decay --- take a look at the SouthSide Slopes of Pittsburgh from say 1940 or 1942 (about when Pittsburgh's population was peaking) and the density of housing is very impressive. Since then Pittsburgh has lost half of its population so quite a few marginal homes have been demolished/allowed to decay.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Paz said...

I imagine weather has a lot to do with it. However, I think that proximity to the rivers is the other critical issue. If you look at pre-suburban development in SW PA, it was concentrated along the river, and housing naturally pushed forward onto the hillsides once the floodplains were filled. Three different rivers means development could snake further and still allow for relatively rapid transportation. San Francisco is basically the bay, and so you've got to concentrate as much development as you can into a relatively small spot.

11:21 AM  

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