A Green City Program for the San Francisco Bay Area and Beyond (1987)

In the 1980's Planet Drum Foundation held a series of community meetings in an effort to craft a vision for a greener Bay Area future. Their publication, A Green City Program for the San Francisco Bay Area and Beyond, written by Peter Berg, Beryl Magilavy, and Seth Zuckerman, may be of interest as additional information.

Excerpt from the Introduction by Peter Berg

There are dozens of sustainability-oriented groups in the Bay Area who, taken together, represent a sizable reservoir of good ideas and willing hands. Planet Drum Foundation has brought together representatives of these groups to develop proposals for an over-arching program of changes that could be supported by the general public in order to prevent further deterioration of the region and lead in the direction of greater self-reliance.

A series of “Green City” meetings, held at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center in 1986, brought together groups and individuals from specific fields of interest who were asked to contribute suggestions and visions. Over 150 representatives attended in person and an equal number added recommendations to written reports of the sessions. The range of participants was usually much broader than any one of them would have predicted, and for most it was a first opportunity to meet their fellow “greeners.” At the Recycling and Re-use meeting, for instance, there were not only representatives of some city and county recycling agencies but also a well-rounded showing from private re-use businesses, citizen groups opposed to waste, youth employment agencies, and professional scavenger companies. The Urban Wild Habitat meeting was one of the largest and included nature society members, urban gardeners, defenders of open space, native plant experts, animal-tenders, teachers, environmental writers, the founder of the citizens’ group that helped secure the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and even the director of Golden Gate Park. Other meetings were held on the subjects of transportation, urban planting, renewable energy, neighborhood character and empowerment, small businesses and cooperatives, sustainable planning, and celebrating life-place vitality.

Each session began with a description of the current situation from each participant’s point of view. Not surprisingly, these accounts portrayed more dismal overall conditions than are usually acknowledged in political rhetoric. Renewable energy advocates complained of no significant gains in using alternatives to fossil fuels since oil resumed a low price in the late 1970s. Neighborhood representatives related how high-rises and chain stores are crowding out the last remnants of unique small businesses and block-scaled social and family life. Community gardeners spoke of losing land to developers because city governments lacked the will to protect it or ensure the acquisition of substitute space. Sustainable planning proponents detailed the failure of residents’ influence on growth-dominated municipal planning processes. Transportation analysts unhappily forecast a doubling of the capacity of existing freeways and even the addition of another deck to the Golden Gate Bridge unless people began using alternatives to automobiles.

Next the attendees were asked what alternatives were possible, at which point the outlook brightened considerably. Practical examples of many positive choices already exist in communities scattered throughout the Bay Area. If all of the potential alternatives were happening at optimum levels in every city and town, the decline of the region could be halted and actually turned around.

* * *

A Green City Program for San Francisco Bay Area and Beyond is a full account of all the areas of sustainability that were covered in the meetings. To illustrate the way beneficial changes could occur, a “Fable,” usually based in some part on an actual occurrence, is related (these are set in San Francisco but transferable to anywhere else). Pictures of how urban areas could look and other outcomes that might result if the proposals were carried out are presented as “...in Green City: what’s possible?”

The real heart of the Green City Program lies in the section headed “What can cities do to promote...?” Here the values and practices of a new kind of urban resident are matched with needed alternations in municipal policies to create a more livable future. Transforming the outlooks of people alone won’t be enough to do the job; there must also be changes in city administrations to reflect self-reliant values. Cities and towns that are serious about sustainability can carry out significant large-scale public projects (refitting all municipal building to use some form of renewable energy, for instance) while also encouraging extra-governmental changes.

The popular will that can move governments in this direction can be generated through activist groups who organize Green City programs for their own communities. Invitations to join the program’s planning process shouldn’t be restricted to previously active veterans, but should include a wide range of interested people. These days most individuals, citizen organizations, businesses and labor groups are aware of urban decline and care strongly about some aspects of sustainability. Under a Green City umbrella, they can begin to care about all of them.

Green City groups can develop a platform for change that is most appropriate for their particular city or town. Once a platform is made public, it will become a powerful tool for influencing boards of supervisors, town councils, elected officials and candidates for office. (how can they explain not endorsing a Green City?) Local initiatives and bond issues could be drafted so that voters would have an opportunity to show their support and approve carrying out specific proposals. Eventually, Green City groups could link together to carry out bioregion-wide initiatives that aren’t currently possible because of the separation of county jurisdictions.

The San Francisco Bay Area has been a leader in arousing ecological consciousness. Its residents have rallied to preserve natural features and oppose despoliation of the earth in ways that inspire people in the rest of North America and throughout the world. If we will now begin to establish well-rooted Green City programs, by the twenty-first century we can create a model that will save this great Pacific Basin life-place and show a positive direction that others can follow to rescue their part of the planet.

Peter Berg
Director, Planet Drum Foundation





Note to the Revised Edition


1.  Urban Planting


2.  Smart Transportion


3.  Sustainable Planning


4.  Renewable Energy


5.  Neighborhood Character and


6.  Recycling and Reuse


7.  Celebrating Life-Place Vitality


8.  Urban Wild Habitat


9.  Socially Responsible Small
    Businesses and Cooperatives


10. Green City Realities




Opportunities for Action


Green City Organizations


-- From A Green City Program for the San Francisco Bay Area and Beyond
$6.95 (+ sales tax for CA residents) + $3 handling

Planet Drum Foundation
P.O. Box 3121
San Francisco, CA 94131
Shasta Bioregion
(415) 285-6556
(415) 285-6563 (fax)