This historical guidebook reveals new perspectives on San Francisco, and how it came to be the way it is.
Shaping San Francisco will change how you see the city, sending you into the streets to see the ghosts and remnants of a storied past still in plain view if you know where to look.
Historian and activist Chris Carlsson has been leading biking and walking tours of the San Francisco Bay Area for 25 years. He is steeped in the nitty-gritty of its history and ecology—the neighborhood lore, the flora, fauna and geography of its microclimates, the mixing and clashing of cultures, and the patterns of its history. Here, he draws from a quarter-century of research and investigation to tell the Bay Area's "history from below," the stories of everyday people often left out of the historical record. Instead of politicians, business moguls, and military leaders, here we find the streetcar workers, secretaries, waitresses, longshoremen, students and radicals who have repeatedly entered history to shape their own destinies.
Highlighting four essential themes of Ecology, Labor, Transit and Dissent, this book takes into account the long pre-history of the Bay and the people who lived here for millennia, and the deep underlying ecology that continues to shape the modern city. It foregrounds the work humans have done to radically alter the landscape, and the centrality of the clash between capital and labor that has shaped the course of the last 150 years.
Shaping San Francisco is a critical, political, sometimes whimsical excavation of San Francisco histories that are key to understanding the basic question: How did it turn out like this?
Praise for Shaping San Francisco:
"Every city needs and deserves a Chris Carlsson. San Francisco is fortunate to have him and Shaping San Francisco, not just because history from below is worth remembering, but more importantly because it is full of possibilities we should never forget for the present and future of The City."—Jon Christensen, Environmental Historian, University of California, Los Angeles
"An original, vividly-written people's history of the nation's 'Left Coast City.' Photos, maps, and self-guided tours of over one hundred of the most important and iconic historic places and spaces bring to life the authors' beautifully-crafted and well-informed San Francisco stories."—Bill Issel, Professor Emeritus of History, San Francisco State University, and co-author of San Francisco 1865-1932: Politics, Power, and Urban Development
"With the city awash these days with more and more newcomers, Chris Carlsson's Shaping San Francisco is more vital than ever for keeping us all connected to the wild, weird, and radical histories that make this place so special. Dig into it—it's full of gold."—Susan Stryker, Director, "Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria"
"Like San Francisco itself, this is an important and utterly charming piece of work. At a time when many fear Silicon Valley is encroaching on the last bastion of bohemia, this book reminds us that San Francisco has weathered wave after wave of change – and that it is change itself that has made the city what it is."—Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism
"It is gratifying to see Shaping San Francisco, an invaluable resource for local history and education, turned into a book. Scores of sparkling vignettes—from Mission Rock to the Haight, Balmy Alley to Telegraph Hill—illuminate the city with the torch of social criticism and the sharp lens of a local sage. This is history from below at its best and a guidebook through the byways of collective memory. No one knows San Francisco better than Chris Carlsson, who unearths stories across the city to use as stepping stones to the past. He, too, is one of the city's best kept secrets, in the trenches for decades—along with LisaRuth Elliott—digging up and archiving the city's history. And he's done it all on a shoestring—just a bike, laptop and insatiable curiosity. Best of all, he loves to share his wisdom with the people of the city through tours, events, media—and this delightful book."—Richard Walker, Prof. Emeritus, UC Berkeley, author of Pictures of a Gone City
"A historical guidebook and a call to action, Shaping San Francisco uncovers the histories of struggle hidden within San Francisco's buildings, alleyways, and open spaces. This crackling 'street history' arrives at an urgent moment. As longtime residents are displaced and their pasts erased, continued gentrification appears inevitable. But this book reminds us that wherever we stand in San Francisco, we are surrounded by spaces where residents once demanded and achieved a more inclusive city. This book inspires readers to rediscover San Francisco and find a city in which the future is not yet written."—Christopher Agee, The Streets of San Francisco: Policing and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Liberal Politics, 1950-1972
"Want to know about Nicaraguans in the Mission organizing in solidarity with the Sandanistas? Why Chinese fishermen were sailing boats made out of redwood into the Bay's mudflats? Who was involved in the ten-year protest against evicting elderly men from the I-Hotel in Manillatown? Look no further! Few people know the streets (and history) of San Francisco as well as Chris Carlsson, a co-founder of Critical Mass bike rides who guides readers through San Francisco's long, strange trip. Sadly, gentrification is fast ripping the heart out of a city that generations of artists, immigrants, and working-class radicals have made into a unique and wonderous place. However, Carlsson's a good enough historian to know that the current redevelopment wave wasn't the first. This book, thus, can be read as an obituary for his beloved home or, perhaps, a call to arms to renew the city again."—Peter Cole, Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area
"If you want to explore San Francisco in depth, this book will introduce you to Chris Carlsson, activist and guide extraordinaire. For three decades Carlsson has wandered through the city producing a prodigious flow of guided tours on foot and by bike, lectures, and books plus FoundSF.org, a wiki that 'invites history buffs, community leaders, and San Francisco citizens of all kinds to share their unique stories, images, and videos from past and present.' Unlike your conventional guide books with their emphasis on where to shop, eat, and be entertained, this is a dissenter's guidebook that invites you into a more holistic view of the city—bringing to life the stories of everyone from the hot politicians and their corporate paymasters to those tens of thousands of people—'the unsung and often ignored' streetcar conductors, secretaries, construction workers, organizers, musicians, cabbies, and longshoreman who actually built the city and keep it running. The story is a wild one and not always pretty given the City's long, sometimes violent history of class and racial conflict. Carlsson would like you to 'see your own participation in the City's life – whether as a resident or a visitor – in a new light.' The text and walking tours will help you do just that."—Peter Wiley, publisher