San Francisco’s secret public spaces revealed

March 23, 2008

San Francisco Chronicle urban-design writer John King has a great article in Sunday’s paper, examining the city’s privately owned public open spaces.openspace

What is a “privately owned public open space”? It could be a rooftop terrace, a courtyard garden, a street-level plaza or a completely enclosed space several floors up in a downtown skyscraper. But in general terms, it’s a space to which the property owner is legally required to allow public access, even though it remains private property.

San Francisco has a number of such spaces in the central city, built and maintained by the owners of commercial properties in accordance with requirements in the Planning Code. Although a few of these spaces are popular and highly visible, many of them are so well hidden — and access to them so tightly controlled — that most San Franciscans will never know they are there.

King’s article includes a great map of privately owned public open spaces, and runs with a sidebar on the Sky Terrace open space at Westfield San Francisco Centre.

Do take the opportunity to visit some of these open-space oases and savor the change of pace from the hurried world outside. After all, you have the right.


An event of the Young Urbanists group of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association will focus on privately owned public open spaces. Details are not available yet, but it is scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 23.

SPUR’s monthly publication, the Urbanist, published an article on this type of open space as part of its excellent regular feature “Urban Field Notes.” Check out page 30 of the November 2007 issue, available in PDF form at this link.

San Francisco urbanist performance-art group REBAR conducted a survey of privately owned public open spaces and has helped organize a series of performances and other events.


A great speech that may not matter

March 19, 2008

Barack Obama gave a great speech yesterday, addressing both the specific controversy that has arisen over comments made by his Chicago preacher and the broad issues of race relations in the United States. The problem for Obama, however, is that he may have been playing the wrong game.

Listening to the whole speech, or even to lengthy segments of it, reveals that Obama makes strong arguments and says a number of things that many Americans know to be true but are reluctant to say. But a speech like the one he gave requires subtle phrasing and the building of logical arguments that don’t translate well into headlines or sound bites, so most people will never absorb the nuance of what Obama said and instead will form their opinions about whether he supports his preacher’s statements based on only a handful of words from the speech.

Without getting into whether I agree with Obama’s reaction to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s statements, much less those statements themselves, I do think that it’s unreasonable to judge a person based on what his minister says. As a Catholic, I certainly know that it would be both unfair and grossly inaccurate to draw implications about my opinions based on every word that comes out of the mouth of the pope or my parish priest.