Friday, December 3, 2010

San Francisco In Stasis

UPDATE: Here's the reverse view of the photos discussed below, taken from the top of Bernal Heights with the radio tower directly behind me when I took the shot. The gas station mentioned is just to the left of the street in the center of the frame. Downtown San Francisco is in the distance.

A constant theme of Flint expatriates is the radical change Flint has experienced throughout its history. In addition to the boom and bust economic cycles, the place has physically changed so much that former residents who return after a long absence hardly recognize it.

Given the dynamic nature of San Francisco, where I've lived since 1996, I'm regularly surprised at how little certain parts of the city have changed over the years. It's hard to find places in Flint that don't look radically different than they did 20 years ago. That's not the case in SF.

Need an example? Check out these two identical views of the north side of the Bernal Heights neighborhood where I live. (My house is on the other side of the hill.) The shots are from the newly launched Bernalwood blog, which offers an excellent and often unexpected insider perspective on the neighborhood.

Bernal Heights in 1953. (Photo courtesy of the Cushman Collection at Indiana University)

Bernal Heights in 2008, which is pretty much how it looks today. The gas station is still there, as is the tile-roofed cleaners. The hill has a few more trees and a taller radio tower. Otherwise, the neighborhood has been amberized. (Photo by Todd Lapin)


  1. since 96? where your dotcom millions?

  2. I foolishly wrote about the dotcom boom instead of participating in it.

  3. really cool post. i love then & now pictures of places i know. sometimes i think if i had one magic power, i would want the ability to walk around in a neighborhood now, then snap back to 50 years ago, then 100, etc. so cool.

    also, i will be out in SF (staying in noe valley) the week between christmas and new year's if you have any blog/web/music thoughts and wanna chat!

  4. Urban planning/zoning done right.

  5. There are places in rural Michigan that haven't changed much since the 19th Century, except for old barns falling apart.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at