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How Street Design Affects Our Sense of Community: An Interview with Neighbor & Urban Designer Hugo Errazuriz

1 Dec 2021 3:33 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Hans Galland

DTNA has the privilege of working with UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design on exploring the nuances of our vision for a Slow Triangle. Part of this work was inspired by a conversation with Hugo Errazuriz, who researched the Duboce Triangle himself in 2002 while a student at Cal. We had a conversation with Hugo about this work then, and here’s what we learned.

DTNA: Hello Hugo. Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hugo: Well, I came to San Francisco in 2000 and after working for a couple of years as an architect, I went to UC Berkeley to get my masters degree in urban design. I went on to work in Asia for more than a decade in the development of complex urban projects, regions and even new cities, mostly in China. In 2019, I moved back to San Francisco and now live on Beaver Street. I work as an urban design principal at the San Francisco office of AECOM, a global engineering and design firm.

DTNA: What was your first impression of the Duboce Triangle?

Hugo: I had walked through the Duboce Triangle many times and found it a beautiful place, but I don’t remember knowing it as its own neighborhood. It was not until I was studying the urban grid of San Francisco at Berkeley that I started to pay attention to it, mostly because of its very unique location where multiple urban grids and communities intersect.

DTNA: We heard you did a project on the Duboce Triangle when you were at Berkeley in 2002. What was it about? 

Hugo: As part of our Urban Design Research Methods class, we studied the relationship between street design and resident satisfaction. We had selected the Duboce Triangle for the research. During that time, we literally went door-to-door to conduct questionnaire surveys and resident interviews. We wanted to see whether a street that was designed to accommodate more pedestrian activity contributed to a higher resident satisfaction and created a deeper sense of community. 

DTNA: What were the key things you learnt at that time?

Hugo: We found evidence that streets planned for people rather than cars (wider sidewalks, seating areas, green bulbouts) contributed to a greater sense of satisfaction. 

We learned, however, that other factors were also important. For instance, the cul-de-sac conditions, as you find them on Pierce Street or Carmelita Street, were critical for satisfaction and community. These streets did not have bulbouts or seating areas like Noe or Sanchez, yet they scored really high with residents: the fact they did not have vehicular through-traffic created much bigger resident satisfaction and a deeper sense of community. These streets benefitted from pedestrians through traffic. So, unlike traditional dead-end streets that tend to be empty and may feel unsafe, the cul-de-sacs north of Duboce Park had pedestrians, who activated them and made them feel safe. We also witnessed a stronger sense of community in that neighbors on those cul-de-sacs knew their neighbors by name much more commonly than in other streets in the Duboce Triangle. Put differently, even though people on Noe Street were very happy, they didn't necessarily know the names of their neighbors. In sum, the absence of vehicular through-traffic combined with the presence of pedestrian through traffic created a stronger sense of community

DTNA: Any parting thoughts you would like to pass on to neighbors in the Duboce Triangle and DTNA while working on the Vision for a Slow Triangle?

Hugo: The Duboce Triangle is so interesting because it has a small scale and thus potential for a strong sense of community. Yet, one should not forget that it plays an important role in the larger city because of its central location, connecting many different neighborhoods. Therefore, any decisions you make within the Triangle affect a much larger area outside the Triangle. 

It will therefore be important to balance the interests of Triangle residents with those of the larger community that may benefit from assets you find within or near the Duboce Triangle. You would want to be inclusive and not exclusive. Concretely, you can think of providing some areas that just cater primarily to the neighbors and others to visitors from neighboring areas.

DTNA: Thank you Hugo. These are very valuable insights. 

Hugo: Thank you for having me.

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