Taking a Stroll With a Guide to Understanding Cities

In his critique of "Urban Code: 100 Lessons for Understanding the City," San Francisco Chronicle Columnist John King says how the book's formula for a city doesn't do justice to its authenticity.

King takes out the book for a stroll during an afternoon in San Francisco to put the "100 Lessons" to the test.

"Many lessons were applicable as promised. People indeed walk in the sunshine (No. 1), often at a pace that shows they have a destination in mind (No. 87). I zigzagged a jaywalk through the perennial molasses of Third Street near Market, a variation of lesson No. 83, that 'pedestrians walk on a red signal, if traffic is slow.'"

Yet King was not in complete agreement with some lessons.

"Other lessons, though, are too New York-centric ('Wares are stored in the cellar,' No. 38), or too tied to the retail behemoth that SoHo has become. Almost two dozen dissect the behavior of shoppers and vendors, as if that is the key to neighborhood vitality."

Full Story: Guide to understanding cities takes a few detours



Will John King Learn This Lesson?

One of the principles of urbanism that John King quotes in this article is "No. 27: Each building has at least one entrance."

But he hasn't understood this basic principle in his recent writing.

On Sept. 15, John King wrote a glowing review of a zinc-coated avant-gardist building planned for the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, saying it would be a "sculptural presence."

I wrote a review of the building for a local newspaper saying that, because these two facilities have only one entrance on Center St., they have an unused space with lawn on Addison Street, which will probably turn into a homeless encampment. I pointed out that it would be much better urbanism to have separate entrances for the Museum on Center St. and for the Film Archive on Addison St., to attract pedestrians to Addison St. and bring some business to its underused storefronts.
see my review at http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2011-09-18/article/38406?headli...

I sent a link to my review to John King. He did not respond, but on Sept. 24, he wrote a second review of the proposed Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive. This is the only time I know of that he has written two reviews of a single building.

A major point of his second review is that it is wonderful that the two facilities have one entrance:

"In the new home, all users would enter the same portal off Center Street, beneath an eye-catching prow of cantilevered zinc that would also contain a cafe. That entrance would lead into a single pathway, the museum to the left and the film archive at the end. The reason I dwell on function and fit is simple: These details matter."

Now, just four days later, he reviews a book on urbanism and quotes the principle that every building should have at least one entrance.

Is he capable of applying this principle to the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive and seeing that it would be better urbanism if the Museum and the Film Archive each had its own entrance?

Charles Siegel

John King Update

Correction: John King wrote me saying "I have written about a number of buildings from more than one perspective - including, earlier this year, the proposed addition to SFMOMA."

I apologize to him for this error.

He also wrote: "this is conceived as being a single building for a single institution that, yes, plays different roles and serves different functions."

But I think he is missing the point of the rule, which is that is deadens the city to combine multiple uses into a single mega-building with just one entrance. We have all seen many examples of this error in urbanism.

The rule couldn't literally mean that you should not design a building without any entrance, so no one could get into it. Even Frank Gehry hasn't gone that far.

He also wrote: "you're certainly not the only person concerned that a plaza there could turn into 'a homeless encampment.' Personally, I don't see that having an
entrance there - one not used for much of the day, judging by the present experience of the PFA - would change this ...."

And I replied: I ran into one of Berkeley's assistant city managers a couple of days ago, and he immediately raised the subject of the museum and told me that he agreed with me that having an entrance for the PFA on Addison would bring more business to the vacant and underused storefronts on the street. Even if PFA users only walk up the street during certain times of day, they would combine with other users passing by on Shattuck to form a better pool of customers for these stores. This is basic urbanism, going back to Jane Jacobs' maxim that multiple primary uses help support diverse secondary uses.

You can keep away the homeless off that lawn by building a fence around it, but my criticism was not just about the homeless. It was about creating a lively, economically successful street.
Charles Siegel

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