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Fun with Planning: Renowned Urbanist Manhandles Fisherman's Wharf

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Planning wonks and architects have practically been frothing at the mouth over the past couple weeks in anticipation of "renowned urbanist" Jan Gehl's arrival. The much-heralded happening supposedly inducts San Francisco into a rather exclusive club of world-class cities that have prioritized people in urban design. Following a Tuesday night discussion about Gehl's philosophy, the Danish architect held forth again last night at Pier 39 on how some of those ideas might apply to our very own Fisherman's Wharf (and eventually Eastern SoMa, the Mission, and Inner Sunset).

Gehl is introduced as "an architect, urbanist, and, I dare say, humanist." Mission accomplished: We now feel like Apple fanboys at a Steve Jobs keynote. Gehl assures us that he's "not so stupid" as to arrive with blueprints drawn. For architects who "fly in, fly out" and drop their buildings on whatever longitude has the cash, he has a nice barb: "bird shit architects." That said, Gehl, comes off as a sweet man. His philosophy follows: "If you're sweet to the people in your city, the economy will improve." And as his slides prove, if you're sweet to your people, they follow suit by sunbathing everywhere and sipping lots of cappuccino. What's this mean for Fisherman's Wharf?

Gehl noticed that Jefferson Street gives the same amount of space to pedestrians as cars, even though there are 15 times as many of the former. The area, he says, can be "disorienting" and its "hierarchy of spaces is weak." Prescriptions: more street-level storefronts, places to sit, and room to walk.

Over the next few weeks and months, Gehl will help the city brainstorm on how to make Fisherman's Wharf friendlier to both visitors and— gasp!— locals. Locals who had their say last night, natch: They pointed out that the area is a major turn-off to anyone not properly equipped with shorts and a fanny-pack. Others wanted to put the "fish" back in Fisherman's Wharf: fish markets, fishing, fish fish fish! One man disliked the weak commercial diversity in "T-shirt heaven." (Surely he meant "hell"?)

Concerns varied, but the overarching mood was one toward sprucing up the "tired" area. Still, after Gehl's lengthy dissertation on the psychology of people and spaces, one commenter's question remains decidedly unanswered: How would Gehl "handle tsunamis here?" Tsunamis. We're sure the preeminent humanist is totally on it.