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SF’s biggest mistakes and missed opportunities, according to Curbed readers

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There’s always room for improvement

Hallidie Plaza.
Photo by FHKE

We asked Curbed SF readers to nominate San Francisco’s biggest mistakes and missed opportunities, posing the question, “What could the city have done better?

Readers’ picks didn’t disappoint, from the Central Subway not going far enough to the city’s persistent dearth of housing. And we learned that few people out there like any of the public plazas.

And now, here are the biggest mistakes and missed opportunities, as chosen by Curbed SF readers.

Of course, this is by no means a complete list, so please keep the conversation going by sharing your candidates in the comments section. We will continue to update.

Golden Gate Park Music Concourse

The de Young and Academy of Sciences were both completely rebuilt but the plaza in the center still feels lost. Walking in the park on a Sunday is an absolute treat but this space always feels cold and like a valley that needs to be crossed between the museums.

I’m not into the artists setting up their easels on the weekends and selling their tacky stuff. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve been by but that’s on account of it being completely unremarkable.

Wendall M

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Anti-growth zoning

Creating a planning process that is making the city unlivable expensive due to persistent under-building of housing, and using a patchwork of well intentioned catastrophic measures to fight rent increases caused as a direct result of this planning process instead of fixing the actual problem.

Andreas Sæbjørnsen

An aerial photo of San Francisco’s west side, with Golden Gate Park as a long, rectangular strip of green in the center. Photo by Hispalois/Wikicommons

Lack of housing surrounding Golden Gate Park

We should shave off parts of Golden Gate park especially towards the beach. Unlike Central Park in NYC, which is a real and much needed oasis in the middle of a sea of giant skyscrapers and giant high rise apartments—Golden Gate [Park] is mostly wasted open space in a city with hundreds of parks and public gardens, and it’s surrounded mostly by single story or three-story tiny apartments/condos.

Why not ring the park especially near the beach with taller buildings to ease housing? Great selling point to overlook the beach and Golden Gate Park?

No, I’m not saying to dismantle the entire park but adding a block long towards the west side adds housing and changes nothing as hardly anyone goes to the northwest and southwest parts of GG Park.


Workers in hardhats and vests walking through a dark subway tunnel with flashlights. Photos by Robert Pierce

Central Subway’s lack of extension

Failure to build a station for the Central Subway at the corner of Powell and Columbus, where the digging machines were pulled out. They extended the tunnel to this point but could not manage to plan and fund a station there, so the subway will end in the middle of Chinatown instead of at this point.

Mark Pritchard

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The Castro’s most confounding public spot

“Jane Warner Plaza has been a complete disaster.”

Derek Castro

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The Third Street T line

“The Third Street T line project was—and remains—an unmitigated fail. There are far too many stops, which were presumably included to satisfy the demands of the very loud, very vocal, and very demanding neighborhood. Parking was preserved wherever possible on Third Street, making the street impassable in many sections (again, the residents feel it’s OK to double park on Third Street if they can’t find a parking place).

The lanes are so narrow that if you add a muni bus or a truck, you’ve reduced the street to single lane. Add the bike lane and now you’ve got yourself an ugly, un-navigable, slow, and dangerous thoroughfare.

Third Street remains forlorn and unappealing, and the T-line has remarkably made things worse than when it was served by a wheezing articulated diesel bus.”


Demolition of Candlestick Park, former home of the 49ers.
Demolition of Candlestick Park, former home of the 49ers.
Photo by Patricia Chang

No Niners

Not being able to come to terms with the Niners for building a new stadium in San Francisco.

Jesse Tom

Transportation, public space planning, future regrets, everything


• Not continuing Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina

• Not building rail transit on and under Geary

• Not building Caltrain Downtown extension years ago

Public Space Planning:

• Believing that any new design will somehow be immune from the effects of the homelessness crisis

• Being eager to destroy our public spaces because they’ve been degraded by lack of maintenance and the homelessness crisis

• Seeming to forget in many places that most public spaces require "activation" through programming, commerce, and beneficial urban adjacencies.

Specific Projects:

• Historically, Fillmore District Redevelopment was the single biggest thing this city did wrong and we continue to pay the price thanks to its NIMBY-empowering legacy strangling this city.

• Mission Bay is pretty soulless – most of the buildings look like parodies of modernism phoned in by big design firms

Future Regrets:

• Vandalizing BART and Muni’s excellent 1970s modern design

• Demolishing our well-designed modern public spaces in a futile attempt to address systematic societal problems

• Not creating a way to preserve more unique historic character in a way that rewards developers with higher density – The Pier 70 plan averts this, whereas several very cool and National Register-worthy buildings will be torn down * by Lamar at Hunters Point.

• Not building more affordable housing when it could have made a difference in keeping this city ethnically and economically diverse

All of that said, there have been a fair number of good projects too. Hayes Valley and the Embarcadero have been transformed for the better. The City’s lurching embrace of active transportation has a long ways to go still, but is ultimately a great thing too.


Map via Wikicommons

Daniel Burnham’s 1905 plan

The 1905 Burnham plan, which was scuttled after the 1906 earthquake.


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Hallidie Plaza

Add Hallidie Plaza to the list. A literal, wretched hole in the ground. In the words of Herb Caen: "Do you think if the city put a pack of hyenas in … it would warm things up a bit?"

Corey Manley