“My work – design and planning for climate adaptation – requires a more long-term perspective. Trying to understand our cities by looking farther back into the past and farther in the future, helps us to understand that some of the problems we’re facing now are connected to questions that people have been asking for a very long time. In this way, the challenge of housing in San Francisco presents a valuable opportunity to address the city’s present and future vulnerabilities head-on.”
Johanna Hoffman, a Resilient Design Associate with Urban Fabrick, will be a panelist at the upcoming AIASF Housing Forum, sponsored by the AIA in San Francisco to be held March 24, 2017 at the AIA-SF offices in downtown San Francisco.
What are your hopes for the symposium? Why are you here?
The issues I deal with in my work – climate change, global population growth – require a more long-term perspective, beyond one or two generations. This symposium is a good opportunity to take a broader view of our regional and statewide planning and design efforts – something that doesn’t happen enough. I would like to learn more about how others are approaching these same challenges.
I’m also very interested in how the challenge of housing in the future of San Francisco can take long-term potential future vulnerabilities into account. I’ve found that the process of trying to understand our cities by looking farther back into the past (what did San Francisco look like during the last Ice age?) and farther in the future (what might it look like in 150 years?) helps us understand that some of the problems we’re facing now are connected to questions that people have been asking for a long time. In this way, the challenge of housing in San Francisco presents a valuable opportunity to address the city’s present and future vulnerabilities head-on.
Do you think there’s a Bay Area housing crisis?
I do! I’m a Bay Area native, and I have noticed that it is much harder to live here now, more competitive, more stressful. People I’ve known for a long time have had to move. It used to be that you could live reasonably well here on a middle-class income, enjoy life with more flexibility and less stress. The crunch really intensified in the mid to late 90s but it’s even worse now. We have even more people and the housing stock has not increased to keep pace.
Is gentrification a good thing? Bad thing?
It’s a complicated question.There are serious negative sides to it – decline in housing affordability, conflicts between new arrivals and long-term residents. But there can also be benefits. Supermarkets with fresh produce, well-maintained parks. These are arguably positive amenities and they often come with gentrifying neighborhoods. The issue is whether different publics get to access them or if they’re relegated only to more affluent folks. It also begs the question of what kind of responsibilities newcomers in gentrifying areas might have to adjust their behavior or address issues of inequality.
What does “home” mean to you?
For me it’s connected to my sense of place. When I’m rooted in a location, when I understand some of its history, the reasons why it looks the way it does, where its resource networks come from, I feel a greater sense of home.
Having lived in the Bay Area off and on for the last three decades, I’ve learned more and more about it – what it was like at the end of the last Ice Age, how it’s changed since the Spanish first arrived in the 17th century, the impact of events like the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the fact that much of our drinking water is imported from the Sierras. All of that has made me feel more at home here, more connected to this place and other people who live here.
What role do you envision for tech companies regarding Bay Area housing, both responsibilities and opportunities?
It would be great to find ways to help tech companies become more engaged in larger issues, such as housing and transit. The turnover in the tech industry is high, creating situations where people who move here often don’t plan to stay that long. We need a framework for transitory people to become more connected. Tech companies have such talented and smart people. Sometimes I wonder whether they couldn’t try to push our bureaucracy a little more! But really, it’s a cultural shift that has to happen.
Where can we learn more about what it means to take a long-term view of adaptive urban design?
Here are few examples of my work and some general educational resources.
Audio piece “The Past Is Prologue”, exploring the long-term impact of the PPIE event on the city of San Francisco. The PPIE refers to the Panama Pacific International Exposition, a World’s Fair that took place in San Francisco in 1915, in what is now the Marina District.
The Stanford University Spatial History Project
Geologic Guidebook of the San Francisco Bay Counties, December 1951
About the author
Rebecca Firestone has been working in the Bay Area since 1998 as a technical writer, business content developer, architectural filing lady, marketing director, and sorcerer’s apprentice.