Wonderfully designed bilingual book by the French architect Lipsky that attempts to explain and make sense of the application of a street grid on SF’s delightfully hilly terrain. She classifies the deformations and provides examples of each: an elastic deformation is apparent in Nob Hill, where the grid overcomes the hill and alternates in uphill and downhill slopes; fractures (Russian/Potrero/Alamo Hills) are where the incline is too steep so streets break off and two sections of the same road are separated by an impassable change in level overcome by stairs; renunciations have a dramatic moment where the grid stops (Telegraph Hill).
Lipsky details the history of the grid, from Vioget to O’Farrell to Eddy/Hoadley (Hoadley acted as Eddy’s assistant and claimed Eddy drank more than he drafted). Vioget, designing for the small village of Yerba Buena, made some inaccurate calculations which led to an eleven-degree shift off geographic North that remains today. O’Farrell attempted to correct this, a rectification known as the “O’Farrell swing,” and drafted Market Street to connect the town with Mission Dolores. Coming onto the scene a few years later, Hoadley argued for lopping off the hills to define a maximum slope ratio for all the streets, which would have planed down Telegraph, Rincon, Russian & Nob Hills. Citizens who lived on affected streets mutinied and the plan was revised.
In the 1930s, Lewis Mumford denounced the tyranny of the grid on San Francisco, contrasting SF with Sienna where organic layout follows the slopes of the Tuscan town (see The City in History). I found out about Greenbelt towns that were proposed to help deal with burgeoning car use, the fruit of a city planning movement in the thirties aiming to promote garden towns, but only resulted in Greenbelt MD (1935), Greenhills OH (1936) and Greendale WI (1936).
The author tips her hat to earlier work done in this field by Anne Vernez-Moudon, and I’m looking forward to reading her study of the changes near Alamo Square.
The city’s obsession with its past borders on the outrageous, and some even accuse it of being trapped in the memory of a glorious era.
On certain hills, the sight of signposts that persist in indicating the straight continuation of streets that do not exist due to too rugged a terrain makes one ponder the limits of human reasoning. Perhaps the city owes practically nothing to man and nearly everything to the hills? The urban quality of San Francisco would then reside precisely in this incompatibility, an unthinkable defiance of nature.