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“When the Spanish laid out cities in the Americas, they began with the plaza. Every place had a center, and when a place has a center, you know where you are. What terrifies me about sprawl is the sense that there are no centers and no edges, just a random quilt of strip malls and subdivisions all the way to the horizon. Such places make me feel adrift, without a sense of meaning or direction. I’ve always thought that San Francisco’s livelier public life wasn’t about our virtue, just our geography, symbolic and practical. We’re full of centers and boulevards, starting points, destinations, and alluring routes between them. The place just seems to encourage marching and gathering and walking. This might be what people mean when they call San Francisco the country’s most European city…

“Cities are where people are citizens, where they coexist in public, generating that public life so vital to a democracy, which depends on our sense of connection and trust in strangers, who become less strange when we move among them every day. Too many American cities are just vast suburbs, with people segregated by race, income, and avocation, and by their dependence on private automobiles to get around. Even in true cities, democracy, citizenship, public life can be just words. But in UN Plaza, you can stand and look east at TRUTH or west past Bolivar to image the curve of the earth over the blue horizon toward Asia; or you can just look your fellow human beings in the eye and know that you’re a citizen, of a city, of a state, of the world.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Heart of the City”


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