Make, do and vend— San Francisco


San Francisco may be small in size, but it has always had big ambition. Now it’s leading the way by putting small manufacturers and retailers at the heart of its urban agenda.

Kate Sofis, Mark Dwight, MatoCreative, San Francisco

After remarking on the charm of its steep streets, Pacific Ocean setting and ethereal foggy climate, first-time visitors to San Francisco are quick to point out how surprised they are by its scale. For a city that rivals New York and LA for brand appeal, it is comparatively small in size and population – around 800,000 inhabitants perch on more than 50 hills in a 121 sq km area.

For such a small city, a lot has happened here. It was the hub of the Californian Gold Rush – a plot of land that cost $16 in 1847 would sell for $45,000 two years later…

Life cycle

San Franciscans are committed cyclists. Following the end of a three-year injunction against connecting the cycle routes (bizarrely on the grounds that it would harm the environment as cars would have to drive further) a comprehensive expansion of cycle lanes is planned.

Rob Forbes, founder of Design Within Reach, last year launched Public Bikes, selling beautiful city bikes from his South Park studio. “It’s amazing to live in a city where the bike coalition has a space at the table for decisions made in City Hall about transportation in the city,” he says.

Three fixes

1. Homeless
One of the downsides of the city’s tolerant attitude and stable climate is that there is a large homeless community. “We don’t believe in heavy handedness that other American cities have taken,” says Ed Reiskin, director of public works. “But we do operate a ‘care not cash’ programme.”

2. Construction
Getting planning permission to build can take up to five years. “It’s the less favourable side of such a democratic city,” says Steven Weindel, principal at Gensler architecture and design firm. “Everyone has their say.” It explains why there is so little interesting or progressive architecture being built in the city.

3. Transport
Though the impetus is to get as many people on bikes, visitors and residents bemoan the lack of taxis. In a city of steep hills (and a shortage of topographical maps), if you’re not on a bike you can get caught out waiting for a taxi for up to 30 minutes during rush hour.

Cleaning up the streets

Director of public works Ed Reiskin is credited with improving the quality of life for the city’s inhabitants. His biggest achievement is the streets themselves. “Twenty five per cent of the city is made up of streets and sidewalks designed to move people through, not for people to enjoy,” Reiskin says. “Our goal is to widen sidewalks, add more lighting for pedestrians, plant trees and invest in street art and furniture to create a better environment.” Reiskin is developing ways to achieve small but significant changes to transform streets and public perception.

Green terminal

San Francisco’s domestic terminal (T2) and Virgin America’s new HQ opened on 14 April following a $383m (€269m) overhaul by Gensler. Spacious, and with an abundance of greenery, it’s a humane environment.

The green elements are impressive. The team wanted to ban selling bottled water but this proved impossible. Instead, passengers can empty their bottles pre-departures and re-fill them at “hydration stations” once past security. All the shops and restaurants must also use biodegradable tableware and compost all waste.


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