Spotlight on Mission Bay, San Francisco, California

I had a number of meetings this week in San Francisco, a couple of which took me to Mission Bay. I had never spent any time in this neighborhood before, and it was a really great chance to explore a brand new neighborhood.

The first thing you see when you come into the neighborhood via the N or T train from Embarcadero is AT&T Park. This is a very well executed urban park, which meets the street well while creating plazas at its entrances. Today was a particularly interesting day, because it was game 1 of the World Series, and the streets were very busy with fans, scalpers, and people selling merchandise. The active uses across the King Street make sure that the street stays active despite a single large land user on one side. One thing that activated the street were the numerous sidewalk cafes, as well as a few small green spaces. The central transit lines create an opportunity for mid-block crossings, which allow pedestrians to shorten the fairly long walking distance of the blocks. Further transit activity could be found at the Caltrain station, the end of the line for that system in San Francisco. There were a handful of homeless people around the station. I texted Holly when I got there and told her that even the homeless people in San Francisco are better dressed than half the people in Philadelphia.

South of King Street is China Basin. It has a paved promenade along its northern boundary, and Mission Creek and China Basin parks to its south. It is crossed by two old drawbridges, preserved from its more industrial past. New buildings rise from the northern promenade, while new construction is underway to the south. There are a number of houseboats in the basin, which as far as I can tell predate the redevelopment of the area. The houseboats share a small dock and host a variety of sailing and power boats, as well as a number of kayaks.

One of the major land users in Mission Bay is a branch campus of the University of California, San Francisco, some of which is still under construction. The campus has a few really great semi-public plazas and streets, although there are also quite a few blank walls. Hopefully as it continues to expand there will be more active uses across the street from the blank walls to create a sense on continuity. The T train continues down from King Street through the campus at 3rd Street and beyond.

North of the UCSF campus is Mission Bay Commons Park, which anchors a series of residential buildings. They were a combination of live-work units and apartment towers, which did a great job of creating a streetscape with frequent openings, something Jan Gehl encourages to keep a street dynamic, even if it is mostly residential.

One thing I thought was interesting was that the work is far from done. Construction seemed to be going on in virtually every part of the neighborhood. This gives some hope for the worst part of the neighborhood, the nigh endless fields of parking supporting AT&T Park. While I rarely admit that parking is a necessity, this is a major regional entity which draws people in from all across the Bay Area. They could be improved by thin liner buildings such as those found around the parking fields of PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Mission Bay is a wonderful work in progress. It is transit accessible, has a number of great anchor institutions, and the standard of design is very high. If you find yourself in San Francisco, be sure to stop by and take a look.


About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

One Response to Spotlight on Mission Bay, San Francisco, California

  1. The viewpoint from a gondola in a tunel that’s only six feet below street level, let alone 20 feet below street level, would be nowhere near as eye-catching as in your reflection.

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