Say what you will about earthquakes, but one blessing to come out of the Loma Prieta 1989 earthquake was the end of the Embarcadero Skyway. I don’t mean to sound flip, and I’m not suggesting that the lives lost in the ’89 quake were a fair trade-off, because they weren’t. Life is short and precious, be careful out there and take care of the ones you love.
However, the Embarcadero skyway has to qualify as one of the worst ideas ever in San Francisco history. That’s an easy judgement to make in 2011 when the philosophy of urban planning has changed dramatically. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, waterfronts weren’t a tourist destination and the idea of building a freeway that cut off the city from its waterfront and slashed through neighborhoods really didn’t raise too many eyebrows.
However, one of the voices that spoke out against destroying San Francisco neighborhood with freeways was neighborhood activist Sue Bierman. Beyond Chron gives her a much better write up than I ever could, so I’ll quote just a bit of it:
San Francisco’s transient population means that many current residents are unaware of the historic contributions to the city by Sue Bierman, who died Monday at age 82. Bierman not only led the fight to stop a freeway from destroying the Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park, but from 1980-1987 she was the sole voice on the Planning Commission opposing unrestricted downtown office development. After Mayor Frank Jordan booted her off the Planning Commission in early 1992, Bierman ran for Supervisor and served two terms. Sue Bierman was respected by her strongest adversaries and left not a single political enemy. I observed Sue Bierman from the late 1970’s and worked closely with her when she was on the Board of Supervisors.
Today, at a site that was once nothing more than sterile freeway ramps, a park will be dedicated in her name. Coming in at just over 5 acres, the park will be an awesome oasis of green in the downtown financial district area. It has been fenced off for months while the grass has grown in from seed, but the fences come down and the opening festivities happen this morning at 11am.
I’m couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute to a neighborhood activist than a park where concrete freeway ramps once towered.