Surprising Advice for Peninsula Planners

San Francisco Chronicle urban design critic John King cautions against too much redevelopment and not enough preservation along El Camino Real in San Mateo County, where a major initiative is attempting to change much of the corridor's character.

August 8, 2011, 1:00 PM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


El Camino Real is the historic main thoroughfare from San Francisco to San Jose and continues to act as the key commercial corridor of activity linking all the 19 peninsula cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. While planners and civic leaders decry the auto-oriented, single-use nature that characterizes much of the road, John King sees it much differently. The Grand Blvd Initiative represents a regional planning attempt to revitalize the highway to make it more multi-modal and provide much needed housing opportunities for the two counties.

King sees El Camino Real as "a jumble of styles and scales, but the jumble is part of the allure" and "it's important that today's charismatic clutter be recognized for what it is: the Bay Area's best overview of mainstream American architecture of the past century."

King acknowledges that the initiative's "guiding principles...include a vow to 'preserve and accentuate unique and desirable community character', but believes that "the (Grand Blvd) initiative's underlying tone shows little appreciation for the energetic, if sometimes chaotic, architectural diversity that now exists."

Sunday, August 7, 2011 in San Francisco Chronicle

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