Why more cities should be like San Francisco: A European’s opinion

Why more cities should be like San Francisco: A Europeans opinion

Tom Barysch, General Editor

Over the past 3-4 Months I’ve been to San Francisco 4 or 5 times, and I love it. Believe it or not San Francisco could also be a European city in Italy, Germany or England. When I went there I noticed a lot of things that I usually only see in European Cities, and it was really refreshing to see such things again, especially because it’s quite a contrast to Modesto, which is a really typical American, car-based City.

One thing I’ve noticed that is basically the same as most European cities is the walkability of San Francisco. When I was there I went nowhere with a car, I only walked or used public transportation like I did back in Germany 7 months ago. I like this better than for instance Modesto, where I am basically immobile because I don’t have a car. Sure I can get rides and I use my bike to get around but it does not compare.

What I really appreciate in San Francisco are the cafes on the streets, the stores on the streets, or the restaurants on the streets. They aren’t hidden in a strip mall behind a huge parking lot, and create nice charm, especially when there are people walking around outside – something that makes a city actually feel alive. We don’t really have this in Modesto; Sure there is a downtown area but it again just doesn’t feel alive because no one really cares for it. Here I see tons of empty parking lots, empty sidewalks and bad public transportation.

This is not the fault of the common citizen. It is more of a consequence of the young age of the USA. Since Most European cities were founded before the middle ages, walking was the only way of transportation and streets were planned accordingly. 

A good example of how cities were built in Germany is Heidelberg. Look up images and you can clearly see there was no car in mind when building the city, maybe a horse at most. Living in these streets is way cheaper and more comfortable than American streets, because you don’t have to find parking (you don’t have a car), so you also don’t pay for gas, you can usually walk to work or school, and at most you need a bike there which is easier and cheaper to maintain than a car. A big plus is also that there isn’t the constant smell of gas from all the cars around you that don’t exist in Heidelberg. 

The American equivalent of city planning mostly benefits cars, and not humans. Just look at McHenry Ave. Once you see the difference between this and the European example it’s almost sad to look at. Tons of drive-thrus, parking lots, and most importantly harsh asphalt that is only there for cars. Sure, there is a sidewalk but why on Earth would you use it? It’s just easier to use your car here.

But that’s where the issue lies. The American Society is massively overweight, and I think this plays a big role in this ongoing issue. We keep saying we need to get more active, we need to get more exercise, but when looking at American cities nothing makes you say “I should just walk there.” And this is what needs to change when building cities here. What’s built is built, but at least try to make a change in future projects and don’t just build after the same doctrine that hasn’t benefited the citizen but his car since the 1960s. Just look at the destruction of a neighborhood for a highway in Detroit for instance. To me this is just sad to see. We surrender our free room to roam and walk, to live and shop, for cars, one of the most expensive ways to travel.

This needs to be avoided when building future extensions of cities.  This also needs to be extended to Suburbs. Not even for the people that do have a car but for the teens and kids that “always stay in their room” when their only way of transportation is a ride from someone else that doesn’t have time all day, or riding a bike for more than 30 minutes on dangerous streets or patchy sidewalks. Hence the obesity rate in the USA. There is no space for kids to play soccer in the grass fields that in my home towns are always no further than 10 minutes away on foot from where you live.

There are no cafes or stores to casually hang out other than maybe a Target or a Strip-mall that is again only accessible by car. It’s a sad thing that most teenagers cannot wait for the moment they get a car at age 15/16 because then they are finally free to go wherever they want. But because this is so popular and the infrastructure motivates it they will also bite into the “with a car everything is better” mentality, which will only continue this nonsense of city planning. I bet that at least 75% of the teenagers in San Francisco do not have a dying wish for a car, because their whole life they had the option to get places themselves through walking or public transportation. 

America should go back to the old way of planning and building cities, putting human comfort at the priority, and citizen interactions and walkability at heart, rather than focusing on creating more parking lots than cars. Of course cars will never be banned from cities or communities but there can be an effort to at least attempt to create a more fun environment for everyone to use and encourage walking and less car usage. It’s not impossible, and San Francisco or Manhattan are a huge example for this. And where does everyone want to live? New York and San Francisco.