The Natures of San Francisco

20.  As much as that celebratory map urges us to investigate the urban space in new ways, the readiness to see nature as a sight of danger–even in a time when we are imperiled by global warming, climate change, food shortages, drought and the threat of war–is striking.  Rather than a range of soft greens, the start black and white background of a past disaster–suddenly presented as news–and the new imaging technologies tell as story about urban architecture.   The contrast of the  preservation and cultivation of local habitats with the image of seismic dangers remind us of the natural risks San Francisco faces–a front-cover story  the New York Times ran April 17, 2018 couldn’t be greater.

The two recent maps alternately combine different media to orient us by data about building or about habitat to orient us to the dependence of an urban region on nature; but if one alarmingly foreground the risks of a spate of downtown skyscrapers vulnerable to earthquake tremors, the other openly invites viewers to celebrate its landscape, and attend to the remaining open spaces that nourish a threatened, if expanding, urban habitat.  The denatured view of a building built by money, and threatened by nature, in the Times rather suggests a nightmare of the forces of nature and cyclical history that seems to chastise local residents, and suggest the continuity of seismic threats–casting the city as a sight of poor regulation and oversight.

Towers: Sales Force to TransamericaNew York Times (April 17, 2018)

The almost apocalyptic view of the proliferation of skyscrapers, set against the ruins of 1906, was elegantly crafted by the New York Times as a monitory image for readers on the anniversary of the 1906 devastating earthquake that destroyed much of the city.  By superimposing the size of the towers built downtown, built using new load-bearing technologies, against an aerial view of the 1906 earthquake left the city in ruins, the times alerted viewers to the danger of impending disaster in a city of a substantial liquefaction zone, as if to remind us of the huge lack of stability that the Bay Area faces, at a time when instability haunts our world as never before.

sl liwq

Liq Legend SFLiquefaction Hazard Maps/USGS

The maps were developed for land-use in urban areas, offering planners to assess the degree of local earthquake risk.  They were seized upon by the Times, to question the interests at stake in the spate of urban rebuilding that seems to have proceeded against their actual recommendations, as if to call out City Planning Commissioners, even if many of the buildings–as the Salesforce Tower–were built according to LEED specifications and pronounce themselves as “green.”  But as much as they present themselves as a “green” architecture of urban growth, are we so depowered to respond to the growth of building in the city as the post-modern bird’s eye view that tells a story of the hubris of building towers in danger of collapse?

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Filed under data visualization, data visualizations, environmental geography, map design, San Francisco, San Francisco Bay

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