Although it can vary from culture to culture, instant gratification is a human trait. Another human trait is to meld needs and wants to the point where they are indistinguishable. I write this because as I get busier with new building projects, I find it more and more challenging to sift through the various competing interests and policies related to construction work. Yet since I have had the opportunity to live overseas in various countries, I can appreciate what works and what does not in the present and the future. For example, when we lived in both Berlin and Barcelona, you could readily observe the economic history of both cities and what their reactions were to building more to meet demand.
In Berlin, for instance, the government had to build quickly after the Second World War because most of the city lay in ruins. People needed housing, businesses needed commercial and industrial space, and the infrastructure had to be repaired and augmented. So, you see many rather unattractive buildings surrounding a beautiful art deco building because the latter was not destroyed. Yet, the former was and had to be replaced quickly and inexpensively. For some time now, though, the Berliners have been removing those blocks of buildings and replacing them with more attractive and eco-friendly structures. In Barcelona, on the other hand, the Civil War did cause some destruction, but the main drive to build more was the economic boom they experienced afterward. Spaniards from other parts of the country poured in, and there was a need to house them, and the textile industry kept expanding and needed factories and warehouses. Now, these post-War buildings contribute to Barcelona’s urban blight. So, there were immediate needs to be met in Barcelona and Berlin, but this decision has impacted the current landscape.
California and many other places around the country and the world are experiencing an immediate need to build quickly and cheaply because there is not enough housing. Yet, some of the decisions made will help alleviate an immediate need and impact cities for generations, yet that is rarely if ever, discussed in a sort of effective manner. In San Francisco, for example, and around the Bay Area, higher-end and luxury housing projects are planned everywhere. Yet, the real need exists at the lower end, which, since it is not being addressed, will exacerbate the hosing problem, not fix it. That said, we live in a free democracy where investors and property owners have the right to develop their projects as they see fit, especially if they are trying to make a profit.
The current situation in the construction industry is increasing community tensions, confusing as to what the best policies are, and, unfortunately, leading us into a path where we are just planning for now. I am spending an excessive amount of time sifting through public policies, the mission of community advocates, and property owners’ rights and limitations when it comes to new construction. Most of the recent projects planned, approved, or rejected in San Francisco in the past few months, in which I have been involved, ended in frustration for one party or the other; there was hard, if any, a collaboration between all the key stakeholders. Also, what I see as lacking, is not planning for the future and looking at the big picture, which begs the question, what will our City look like architecturally, culturally, racially, and humanistically?