Saturday, November 15, 2008

They Paved Paradise

We have been in San Francisco almost a month. What a fabulous city to wander in. It reminds me of Sydney in so many ways – funky ethnic neighborhoods, a sprawling harbor with rivers leading deep into wine country from its basin, a classic skyscraper skyline with its landmark bridges and interesting architecture mixing old and new.

A visit to the Bay Model in Sausalito tells the story of how this once even greater harbor has silted up, to the point that much of it is no longer navigable and continual dredging is needed to ensure its viability. In the 1800s the gold rush dumped mountains of tailing into the waterway, then land reclamation altered the natural flows. The model itself was built in the 50s to assess the impact of a proposed dam - an acre and a half working model of the bay/delta area with water flowing through it, so tidal flow and current can be studied. Fresh water, too, is a diminishing resource as the ice fields in the Sierras are receding at ever increasing rates, and demand increases from agriculture and a growing population.

We also had to see the new California Academy of Sciences building ( – designed by Renzo Piano. We have been fascinated with this architect’s work in Noumea, Sydney, Amsterdam and Berlin. The Academy is the world’s largest eco-friendly building now, with a living roof, solar power, recycled water and other features. The exhibits have a common theme of sustainability. The planetarium show, entitled ‘Fragile Planet’ demonstrates how unique earth’s conditions for life are in the context of the universe. An aquarium complete with a coral reef tells the story of coral bleaching. There are exhibits showcasing endangered species, and a living rainforest thrives in a huge sphere that you can walk through. Ongoing education and research about climate change is displayed in a major interactive exhibit. It has been said that to ignore the facts does not change the facts, and I would be surprised if even the most hardened skeptics could ignore the evidence of melting ice and increased CO2 levels that is presented here.

Not far from there is the Haight-Ashbury district, the hub of the Love-in and quite a trip down memory lane for us aging hippies. I bet some of these shops have not changed one bit in 40 years. It’s like a museum of misspent youth. Remember the Joni Mitchel song – ‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…. They cut down the trees and put them in a tree museum.” I find it ironic that the Flower Power Generation has managed to consume more fossil fuels, and produce more carbon emissions than all of the preceding generations combined. And now we are turning to flowers for power in the form of bio-fuels. Go figure.