On the cover of yesterday's Chron, architecture critic John King had a piece critiquing the San Francisco Downtown Plan, following on a recently released report detailing the plan's successes and failures over its 25 years. As some of you may know, it was this 1985 document that limited building heights across the Financial District, resulting in a couple decades worth of office boxes being built that are all the exact same height (the maximum allowable). And this is the document that attempted to make room for 90,000 new office workers who never arrived.
The most fascinating thing here is that, in 1985, nobody knew that the internet was coming, or just how much Silicon Valley and computers would come to dominate the workplace, and replace many low-level jobs. Rather than adding 90,000 workers, downtown S.F. has lost 42,000 since 1985, with many of those jobs moving elsewhere in the city (like Mission Bay), or onto the Peninsula -- if not off the continent or into peoples' home offices. The plan also didn't necessarily anticipate a growing desire for people to live in denser downtowns, with more than 20,000 housing units having been added to our downtown over those 25 years -- 18% of those are affordable, btw. (A commenter also adds that the Plan couldn't have foreseen the '89 earthquake and the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway.)
But King is critical of the way the plan tried to "micromanage social and cultural issues a goal of City Hall activists then and now," and that's where he feels like it overstepped. Planning should be about physical spaces and growth management, period. He gives it credit for making the new high-rise district near 2nd and Mission for feeling more human, with more open space. But he knocks City Hall for trying, then and now, to second-guess future economic conditions they can never hope to foresee.