As long as the water runs when we turn the tap, and the lights come on when we flip a switch, which is not always the case around the Bay Area, people will remain content in their surroundings, and the various call to action regarding saving the planet will continue to sound like white noise. This is unfortunate for so many reasons, such as allowing history to repeat itself. Poor hygiene conditions, for example, in the Dark Ages, lead to the propagation of many diseases, low birth rate, and a short life expectancy. Likewise, lack of environmental protection led to smoke-covered cities, such as Pittsburgh, and smog-choked Los Angeles for many decades.
Today, we are faced with many challenges such as the current pandemic and crime, homelessness, housing shortage, and unaffordability, to name a few, which are all linked together in one way or another. And yet, we are on the verge of repeating history by simply addressing one issue and hoping the rest will follow. One such issue is the introduction of new legislation to make it easier to build and build and a nod to affordability. Still, this term means different things to different people. For example, a few years ago, HUD defined “low-income limits” for San Francisco at $82,200 for an individual and $117,400 for a family of four, which are still substantial salaries that many service sector workers never reach. However, since we need these workers in the City, they have to find ways to work here by commuting long distances or living in cramped conditions, and so on.
Since these issues are too difficult to challenge in one article, I want to focus on one part. Building more and “taller” residential buildings with the hope of alleviating the housing crisis. However, there are several concerns: 1) aesthetically speaking, they are changing the look of the neighborhoods. We are seeing six-story multi-unit buildings next to two-story Italianate homes. 2) Every square inch left, whether it has a building on it or not, is being turned into a residential building. And even though we can all acknowledge we need more housing, there does not seem to be a master plan for current or future conditions. In other words, we are trying to address the housing crisis by building more homes but not addressing the potential risks that come with this process.
For me, there is the fear that we will develop every square inch we can and forego any new green and open spaces. I have already noticed that are many of the new building projects I have reviewed. Existing dirt and grassy areas next to alleyways are being paved over, which increases runoff and the heat island effect. In some cases, developers and their architects include “green roofs,” a great mitigation measure, but they are not mandatory. Therefore, it is up to the designers and owners to have them; and the problem lies. If “green” or “open” spaces are not mandatory for new residential buildings, then there is a good chance they will not be included.