Why SF’s City Planning Department doesn’t get it

The Mission District and the SF of the future that planners are endorsing is not what San Franciscans want. Spirit matters

There is no designated Sociologist position on the 200+ staff of San Francisco’s City Planning Department. And a bachelor/masters degree in Urban Planning can be received from many universities throughout the nation without any requirement to take even an Introduction to Sociology 101 course. This explains a lot.

The inculcated dismissal of human social behavior and how it shapes cities came to mind once again as I read the department’s quibbling on the question of whether new development causes community displacement in the Draft Mission 2020 Action Plan released last week:

“The forces of displacement are varied and complex and the key is to deploy strategies and investment now to stabilize the neighborhood for decades to come … The city acknowledges displacementis real but believes the causes of displacement are complex and tied to larger [unnamed] systemic issues beyond development.”

For the metrics-oriented approach that dominates much of the national urban planning community and our local department these days, the conceptual problem is – despite a litany of statistics that document the widespread low-income resident and small business displacement that is actually happening now in the Mission District – missing data:

“The city also feels research on effects of market rate development will be inconclusive but is nevertheless scoping out a way to further study the nexus between development and displacement to determine what it is, if one exists.”

The problem with relying on metrics is that they can show what is happening – retrospectively – but not intrinsically why. Adding economic analysis, which the department superficially attempts to do by relying on input from other city agencies, can explain the immediate motivations of economic actors – property owners, businesses, developers, and nowadays “investors” – but still fails to capture the overall cultural and social dynamics of how cities evolve and change due to the collective behavior of large discrete population groups. That’s Sociology. And over time it is most of all those cultural and social dynamics that actually drive and determine the course of events. Urban economics follow the values they reflect, not the other way around… (more)

Stealing the future is like stealing the soul: I reserve the right to plan my own future and I reserve the right to change my mind as I go along. A lot of people and circumstances change throughout our lifetimes and that is why living in the future is futile. Right about now there are a lot of people who are incredibly inconvenienced by a government that put off fixing a major problem that was pointed out over a decade ago. How many more of these are out there, ignored disasters, waiting to happen because fixing them did not fit the plan du jour?

The planning departments (every department has one) do nothing about solving current issues. SFMTA can’t figure out how to handle traffic work today or even count it, but they claim if we give them 10 or 20 years they will have it all worked out. They can tell you the traffic counts for 20 years from now. Really? Sorry, but I don’t believe the parties who destroyed a functioning traffic and transit system are the ones to fix it. We need a system that works for the residents who are here now. Not a future perfect plan for a future no one can predict and will probably never happen.


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