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Hans Hansson | February 13, 2007

Each great city has at least one street it is famous for: 5th Avenue in New York, Michigan Avenue in Chicago, the Champs Elysees in Paris. Market Street was supposed to be that street in San Francisco.

From the top of Twin Peaks, one can view the promising grandeur of Market Street, which cuts the city into visible sections. Unfortunately, numerous attempts over generations to make Market Street a world-renowned street have failed.

The biggest factor in the failure to realize the potential of Market Street has always been poor city planning. The most recent major renovation was in the late 1960s and 1970s, when BART and MUNI were installed, as were trees and brick sidewalks. Since then, minor renovations have included the re-introduction of the historical light rail, handicap islands for MUNI, and upgraded lighting. Although there are plans in the works to create new housing opportunities in the area, the city faces yet another hodgepodge renovation rather than a true master plan for development.

The definition of a great city street is one that is both beautiful and enjoyable to walk on. Market Street does not meet this definition. First, Market Street is dirty. All attempts to keep the street and sidewalks clean have been futile. Second, many blocks are dangerous. This in turn has lead to businesses leaving parts of Market Street open to blight and undesirable residents.

A walk down Market Street shows its problems. Market Street starts off at the Ferry Building with a business quarter that separates the north and south financial districts of the city. This area comprises large flat office towers with no style or grace. They were built in the 1970s and 1980s to accommodate back-office type tenants, not as headquarters buildings for companies or as retail outlets that could attract people to Market Street.

The new central shopping district starts on Market and Fourth at Bloomingdale's. Although this area is certainly an improvement over what it was, it still has an element of shabbiness. All too quickly, a pedestrian comes to Fifth Street; from here to Octavia Street is a "war zone": inconsistent architecture, severe homeless issues, and terrible filth.

It isn't until Noe Street that a walker enters a part of Market Street that shows the potential of the entire street. This area has interesting shops and restaurants up to the conclusion of the merchant part of Market at Castro.

A development battle is brewing over the area around Market and Seventh and Eighth streets; the result will have a major impact on how Market Street will be perceived in the future. A high-density residential project-one of the largest of its kind on the west coast-is being planned and was almost approved, before two Board of Supervisor members intervened at the last minute to demand more "below-market housing." The derailed project would bring much needed housing to Market Street and transform the neighborhood. But yet again, patchwork planning and backdoor politics appear to be winning out. These are the real reasons why the beautiful city of San Francisco is without a great street.
Posted 12 years, 11 months ago on February 13, 2007
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