Architecture critic John King penned an interesting editorial today about the attitudes and anxiety we all feel over poor design, but he says that "vibrant cities roll with the punches as a matter of course. As long as the good outweighs the bad, the latter fades into the background." It's a good point to make as we're in the middle of a brand new construction boom, with neighborhoods like the Castro and mid-Market about to be totally transformed by several major building projects.
He points to vibrant corridors like Valencia Street, which is pretty much an architectural wasteland, but which is enlivened by a couple of parklets and active businesses that serve several different communities and economic niches. And he says that the point about the good outweighing the bad, or neighborhoods "roll[ing] with the punches," is "worth pointing out in today's Bay Area, where we fret over every imperfection as though it were the end of the world."
Nevertheless, we need to be careful about the mistakes of the past. Namely places like Hallidie Plaza, the barren, spooky, below-ground entrance to BART and Muni which is a prime example of poor urban design and an antiquated idea of how people react to urban environments. Or the horrible lost opportunity that is the Hotel Vitale, which looks the way it does in part because it couldn't cast a shadow on the park next to it.
In a related bit, Curbed just posted this Could Have Been piece about a 1966 proposed urban design plan for 16th and Mission, which would have made the place a much bigger center of activity with high-rises and parking, but which would have required the bulldozing of all the existing buildings. We're actually not sure which is worse, this 60s concrete monstrosity, or the sad and scary intersection we have now.