Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Changing the San Francisco Skyline

USA Today reported that several city officials and planners were interested in modernizing San Francisco's skyline to favor taller skyscrapers. Dean Macris, the city's planning director, was quoted, "What you're struck by is how flat our skyline is. So we think it could be visibly enhanced if we had some peaking."

The article reported that developers submitted a proposal to build four connected towers in San Francisco's SoMa district, two of which would be 1,200 feet tall. Only two other buildings in the USA are taller: New York City's Empire State Building and Chicago's Sears Tower. The four towers, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, would be positioned across from another proposed development project in SoMa, a $1 billion transit center, itself bearing a nearly 900-foot tower above a train station. The proposal submitted on Dec. 21 is a mix of residential, office and retail space.

When I polled my officemates about whether SF's skyline should be changed, they were aghast. "One of the most beautiful sights when you're on the ferry (heading from Embarcadero Center for North Bay communities like Tiburon or Sausalito) is the San Francisco skyline at dusk."

Why change it in favor of taller skyscrapers? The 'City on the Bay' has a cityscape that is already one of the most beautiful and recognizable in the world, the subject of romantic movie trailers and professional photographers for decades. The article in USA Today argues that there is a persistent shortage of residential dwellings in the city, but I would disagree (coming from New York City). I feel like this is an empty city, sometimes I am the only person on 3 or 4 city blocks on my walk to and from the office before I encounter another pedestrian. Many apartment buildings here have vacancies or are only half occupied, including condominiums in premium areas like SoMa. There is an attitude among some San Franciscans that they are in competition with cities like New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. I would hate to see San Francisco change its landscape because other cities have taller buildings.

For public safety, I would argue that taller is not better. A taller building in earthquake-prone San Francisco means more glass and debris and brick and metal can come crashing downwards from the sky if there are more and more floors above street level. *Also, in a disaster like an earthquake, imagine trying to get out of the building from a skyscraper's top floors? (Yes, I was in NYC September 11, 2001.)

Take a look at these views, what do you think?

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