February 12 2013

From the Man Himself – Planning Director John Rahaim of San Francisco, California Speaks on the City’s Present State and Future

SPUR's Urban Center from the outsideOn the evening of January 29, 2013, roughly 150 people gathered in SPUR’s Urban Center to listen to San Francisco’s Planning Director speak about the city’s present state and future initiatives in an event contentiously titled “The Meanies and the War Mongers: Recent Planning Lessons from SF.” John Rahaim spoke in a direct manner that leveled with the audience, but his ideas were not nearly as in-your-face as the words in the event’s title.

This piece may already sound critical, but as Rahaim referenced a quote from a neighborhood activist whom he spoke to when he first took on this position, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Early on the speaker addressed San Francisco’s notorious reputation for extensively reviewing projects, which often halts new development. No, urban planners, developers and architects cannot please everyone, but there needs to be a process where neighborhood activists can voice their opinions while still allowing the professionals to do their jobs. Rahaim merely scratched the surface when addressing a solution.

While John Rahaim is speaking

Several interesting ideas were brought up:

  • Open up the streets and make the urban space more livable;
  • Architects need to design short, fat buildings (as opposed to tall and skinny) that are aesthetically pleasing;
  • Think differently on how to manage the historic building stock.

For the future, Rahaim proposed 6 initiatives that should be taken:

  1. Change the forum for debate so we discuss things that actually matter;
  2. Change the role of the planning department so there is more focus on public outreach and education;
  3. Create a more rational preservation program;
  4. Expand the work environment and make streets more livable;
  5. Greater focus on neighborhood commercial districts;
  6. Greater focus on transportation planning.

Urban planning should be a democratic process that advocates for community engagement, as this forum demonstrated. But the leader must express bold enthusiasm and innovation in order to spark public interest. Hear the entire meeting here.

By playing it safe, Rahaim avoided two things: offending his audience and addressing the solutions to San Francisco’s urban planning issues. Was this right, or should a city leader take a risk for the hope of greater progress in the future?

Credits: Photos copyright of Robert Poole. Data linked to sources.

Rob Poole

Rob Poole graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Anthropology and a minor in City and Regional Planning. He grew up in San Diego, but now resides in San Francisco. He currently works at a non-profit organization in San Francisco that advocates for new housing development for all income levels in the City. He also interns with Streetsblog San Francisco. Rob plans to pursue a career that promotes civic engagement in cities and improves the public process for local governments.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 at 9:22 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Environmental Non-Profit, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Land Use, Robert Poole, Social/Demographics, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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