2012 Field School San Francisco Entry

The last stop on our journey was the City by the Bay, perhaps better known as San Francisco. This highly anticipated part of the program did not disappoint, and everyone had the time of their lives. Under blue skies, sun, wind, and fog we explored many aspects of the city and have left with a deep appreciation of the diversity, inclusiveness, and vibrancy of San Francisco.

     If, as they say, God spanked the town

     For being over frisky,

     Why did He burn the churches down

     And save Hotaling’s whiskey?

-          Charles Kellogg Field

May 30th, 2012 we arrived in the Bay Area on the Amtrak train at 9:30 in the morning, after 16 hours on the train.

 The San Francisco group (Laura Lajeunesse, Grant Diamond, Anthony Fotino and Mary McInnes) performed their presentation in Union Square as an introduction to the city. A day of full sun, the group had the day off, and most rented bikes, rode west down Market Street, through Castro, Haight-Ashbury, and Golden Gate Park then crossed the Golden Gate Bridge over to Sausalito. This mode of transportation was fun and allowed us to view the city at a slower pace and at a different perspective than in an automobile. It was a great antidote to the long train ride and we rewarded ourselves with dinner and a ferry ride back home.

May 31st, 2012. The mission: The Mission. We ventured on the BART system from Powell St. station to The Mission neighbourhood. We were treated to lunch at Gracias Madre, a Mexican Food restaurant owned by Matthew and Terces Englewood based on the principle of Sacred Economy that sources all of its food from within two hours of the Bay Area. Their goal as owners is to bring love into the workplace. The vegan food was superb. They acknowledge that sharing is scary but they see challenges as opportunities for awakening and that in order to endure as a species, we must learn to share and end our cultural emphasis on material possessions. In order to build community you have to think about how you are leaving other people feeling. “Belonging is better than belongings.”

 As we discovered on our journey, sustainability is a contested term that means something different to everyone. Matthew provided an interesting definition in the form of a question: “do you increase the carrying capacity of the Earth?” This definition puts the emphasis on the individual to make changes in their life and think about how their actions impact the greater system. Grasias Madres provided an example of how to balance the social, cultural, ecological, and economic aspects of sustainability and uses the acronym PASS in their business model (Profit, Awakening, Sustainability, Social Justice). Profit is used to grow their business and make healthy local food and education more accessible to the population. “Without it, you only have ASS.”

Our next stop was a tour with Chris Carlsson at the Embarcadero.

Carlsson is a historian and writer (seehttp://www.chriscarlsson.com/). He gave us a tour down by the Embarcadero on the East shoreline of the city. He gave us an historical overview of the processes that shaped the city focusing on labour movements, and an unfortunate shared racist history (depression, WW2) with other port cities on the coast such as Vancouver. He also gave us insights into how the city could be changed in the future. He asserts that life can be much more beautiful than it is, we just have to decide what is worth doing. In the end, Carlsson stated that while the city is considered to be forward thinking and radical, maybe it is not as unique as people think.

June 1st we took a ride on The BART system, traveling under the bay to Berkeley.  We met with Sean Esbj√∂rn-Hargens, Barrett Brown, and Gil Frenz who talked about the principle of Integral Ecology and green businesses.  Integral Ecology is recognizing that the environment is made of individual members, which have interiors that overlap and form horizons of meaning between and across species.  They spoke of the importance of uniting multiple perspectives on the natural world.  Just as Matthew from Gracias Madre did, Sean reminded us of the importance of sustainability being well rounded, using an acronym to describe it.  AQAL: All Quadrants, All Levels.  He emphasized that you must include all dimensions in decision making (all four quadrants) intentional, behavioural, cultural, and social; in order to be sustainable.  Barrett mentioned the fact that we need to shift our thinking from “me” to “us”.  We need to be aware of not only ourselves, but our environment and our world around us.  He spoke of the psychological challenges and barriers we humans face, that affect our ability to think beyond our lifetimes.  Gil spoke of the challenging but necessary ways of building sustainability into profit making companies.  We saw commonalities between them such as the importance and necessity of being well rounded and including multiple perspectives in order to be sustainable in the long run.  We were treated to lunch while we were in Berkeley listening to Sean, Barrett, and Gil.  Afterwards some of us chose to venture over to explore University of California, Berkeley’s campus.  We admired the history present in the buildings’ architecture as well as the beauty, and a good time was had by all. 

June 2nd we took an architectural tour of downtown San Francisco. San Francisco’s history is evident through its different architectural styles. The downtown’s architecture began around 1907 after the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed much of the city. Buildings were built in classic styles such as gothic revival or art deco. The beautiful Shell Oil company headquarters was the last building to be constructed in this era. Construction halted during the depression and Second World War, after which modern and post-modern skyscrapers began to pop up.

We visited a few of the POPOS in San Francisco: Privately Owned Public Open Spaces (http://www.spur.org/files/u7/POPOSGuide.pdf). These spaces are created and maintained by developers in exchange for increased density in their developments. These spaces are open to the public though developers make them difficult to find, making them more like private spaces. Our tour guide, Rick Evans, is working to spread the word about these spaces so they can be more accessible to the population. Highlights included the Hobart building; a building whose neighbor sold air rights, exposing a blank wall, the Wells Fargo bank building and the Halliddie building.

We ended this day by handing in our field notebooks and preparing for our final exam the following morning.

The field school closed with a free day and a magical night including a gala dinner on the Embarcadero, dancing in the Castro, and views of the city from a hilltop under the moon light.

Throughout this field experience we have learned that sustainability is a complicated subject and means something different to everyone. The Cascadian identity was evident to some, but proved elusive to others. However, the region does share an appreciation for the natural environment and each city has an identity that is unique from the dominant culture of its own country. We are all grateful for this transformative experience, the people we have learned from, and our great new friends. We return home with a new understanding of sustainability, the region of Cascadia, and tools to bring change to our communities.


San Francisco, CA
United States


Location type: