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View Poll Results: Best city by design?
Toronto 25 19.38%
Chicago 44 34.11%
San Francisco 24 18.60%
Washington DC 36 27.91%
Voters: 129. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 04-15-2014, 10:42 PM
 
Location: Tokyo, Japan
6,479 posts, read 7,732,352 times
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I've compared these four cities before but not in this sense and this IS for personal gain (as I look far and wide for a semi-permanent place to call home, I'm keeping all options open). So please, City-Data, don't mess this one up too.

This isn't a "most urban" thread or "highest density" thread or "oh my gosh, my city is better than your city twice on Sunday's" thread type of nonsense.

By design I mean which city integrates facets of design best? As in how easily transit stations flow/transfer to other lines, what's built around them, how walkable and urban the areas around them are, how these respective cities stack up for multi-use (bike, car, transit, pedestrian, scooter, moped) friendliness. How well they integrate urban park systems with essential neighborhoods, how free flow the retail corridors are from nightlife establishments (and no, I'm not talking about just bars), how easily accessible those nightlife establishments are from transit. How many grocery stores are integrated to the cores of major neighborhoods and how efficient their designs are. How integrated sports arenas and stadiums are into the urban fabric. So on.

Bonus question: which one best integrates recreational activities (and I'm a water person, not beach though) into it's urban design best?

You get the picture, the most efficiently designed city that integrates the essentials in life into it's urban fabric.

Make your case, give your support for one of the four, I'll be reading closely and taking notes. Will be spending a great deal of time in all four in the nearer future (San Francisco already saw in January, Toronto later this year, and Washington (obviously), Chicago perhaps summer next year).

Thank you in advance.

Last edited by Facts Kill Rhetoric; 04-15-2014 at 11:07 PM..
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Old 04-15-2014, 11:01 PM
 
Location: Upper West Side, Manhattan, NYC
14,304 posts, read 17,958,898 times
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This is going to be a heavy thread I can tell and will be hard to compare fully. Two of these cities, Toronto and Chicago, are a lot bigger than the others (DC and SF) and it's hard to put the entire things against one another. The north and northwest side of Chicago, for example, is larger than SF and more populated. It may be about the same size as DC and definitely more populated. You could very well live there and most of the south side, which in many areas due to depopulation might not be set up as well, might not even matter to your daily life (sad but true). The same could be said about Toronto where you could live in one part and another may not matter to your daily life entirely.

I will say that all of them definitely provide a great way to live while getting around in a variety of modes of transportation. I'd actually say that SF is probably last place on here for that because their public transit falls behind the other three. And while the hills are beautiful, they provide in many areas the hardest path for the person using their legs to get from point A to point B. DC and Toronto have some hills of course but nothing like SF. Chicago is as flat as a pancake and you don't have to put any extra effort into walking/biking.

For pubic transit coverage it's hard to say which of the three goes out in front - they all offer train and bus service that covers a good part of the city, though DC's bus system IMO lags behind Toronto and Chicago's. If you count Bike Share programs in this, then DC and Chicago may pull ahead and both are big systems. If you factor that in Chicago, then it depends on where you are - take into account what I said about northside above. Both the north and northwest sides as well as part of the west are just as covered, if not moreso, than DC in the bike share. If you don't factor in bike share, then IMO Toronto and Chicago have possibly the best overall coverage.

What kind of nightlife are you talking about? Music venues, theater, etc as well?
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Old 04-15-2014, 11:40 PM
 
Location: San Francisco
2,112 posts, read 5,133,485 times
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I have never been to Toronto, so it's almost cheating/unfair for me to vote. My ranking would go as follows:

SF
Chicago
DC

Quote:
Originally Posted by Red John View Post
As in how easily transit stations flow/transfer to other lines
Considering that fixed transit is limited in SF, especially route-wise, I would assume Chicago or DC. I've used both systems, but not to make transfers to other systems (a la commuter rail or bus).

One thing I will say is that BART and Muni are super easily transferrable, especially since both operate a trunk/branch system and share a trunk. For $10 extra you can ride unlimited BART in the city of SF on top of Muni (Muni is LRT, bus/trolley bus, streetcars, and even the cable cars should you want to occasionally do that for fun/slow commute from Polk down California into the financial district...I sometimes do this if I have 45 minutes).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Red John View Post
what's built around them [i.e. transit stations] and how walkable and urban the areas around them are
For this I would say SF. See my response below, but overall I don't think you can beat SF for walkability. I find myself walking to so many random places across the city, frequently. I've walked from one end to the other. The infrastructure for walking is perhaps unbeatable in this country, save for NYC (and even in Queens/Brooklyn it can get choppy).

What you have with SF is a city with smaller lot sizes in general than the other two. There are fewer "big" buildings, and a greater mix of uses in any given space. This also stems from several things: western development styles in general, uniformly significant densities, amazing weather that pushes people outside more, and factors that increase cost of living to an extreme that forces less "big/new/grand" and more "use/improve what's existing". People are going to live in smaller square footages, walk more for errands, and demand more convenience for things because the cramped nature of living in SF and the expense of living in SF makes it easier to push uses together to make things more convenient and hassle free, perhaps cheaper, for people. There are a lot of cramped immigrant communities, as well, that thrive on having an appropriate mix of uses.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Red John View Post
how these respective cities stack up for multi-use (bike, car, transit, pedestrian, scooter, moped) friendliness
I would think DC is the most friendly to each use except for pedestrian/scooter. You won't find as many scooters in any given city as you'll find in SF. I think we've just grown to accept it, but it's weird (I'm assuming you mean Razr push scooter?). Given the climate and bike culture, I would be surprised if overall there were more bikers on the street on both weekday/weekend in DC than in SF, but I think for commuting DC is actually better for bikers, and the latest numbers reflect that. DC transit seems great, too, and I would rather be a car in central DC than in Chicago or SF, though DC suburban traffic is probably worse than the other two.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Red John View Post
How well they integrate urban park systems with essential neighborhoods
DC or Chicago. Their best parks are right in the parts of the city you want to be. SF has great parks, perhaps better, but they aren't central to where most people live. That being said, SF has a much more defined and year round "park culture". This is just part of SF history, but you can pick a day and any park in the city and you'll find it covered in beach towels, bottles of wine, and crowds of young people. This is not the case in the other two cities, so maybe it's what you want to get out of the park. San Franciscans cherish their greenspace, because frankly, while the city has the waterfront, there are large swaths that have no park/greenspace.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Red John View Post
how free flow the retail corridors are from nightlife establishments (and no, I'm not talking about just bars), how easily accessible those nightlife establishments are from transit.
My favorite bar areas in Chicago are easily accessible to the el (and 24 hour el at that bc Chicago has after hours bars/clubs). Can't comment on DC because I don't know its nightlife as well, though I've gotten to bars there by metro. Its metro is not 24 hour, though, except for night owl bus service.

SF fails pretty badly on nightlife-transit connection, but given how expensive rent is, to most people using a car service to get to and from a bar is a drop in the bucket (and no city has the concentration of Uber and other service providers that SF has).

That being said, mixed-use corridors are far more pervasive in SF than in the other two. Like everything else, everything in SF is geographically much closer and squished together. Let's take where I live: Polk St (a mile of bars, restaurants, shops, gyms, etc). Polk St flows right into Union St (Cow Hollow) and Chestnut St (Marina District). Both of those streets flow into Fillmore St (Pacific Heights). Fillmore flows into Sacramento St, which also bisects Divisadero St (Presidio Heights area each). Divis flows into Hayes St (Hayes Valley), Haight St (Haight Ashbury), and Castro St (Castro). Castro St flows into 24th (Noe Valley), which flows into Valencia and Mission St (Mission District, Bernal Heights, etc).

Point is, once you get into SF and explore, you realize how "tiny" it is, but how intense it is with what it has. For instance, all of those streets listed above have retailers that can be found in Union Square, or malls. They also contain a plethora of restaurants, many of which give SF its place in the world as a foodie capital. They also contain hundreds of bars. The nightclubs are never too far away, and like Chicago, SF has these gritty looking warehouse districts that contain warehouse clubs, and trendy galleries that can dual as clubs/bars/event space. Very rarely if ever do you get single-use areas.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Red John View Post
How many grocery stores are integrated to the cores of major neighborhoods and how efficient their designs are.
Chicago for sure. DC and SF are probably pretty similar. I find myself going to small grocers down the street from me that have Whole Foods prices and a less than Trader Joes selection. I'm also in one of the best areas of town for groceries, but I'm not easy walking distance to a mass mid-market grocer like Safeway (used to live atop one, which was convenient, but it was my only choice). Now I'm 4 blocks to both WF and TJ's, and within 2-3 blocks of ~4-5 grocers/convenient stores (more expensive that way).

Chicago just seems to have its grocery **** together, but maybe someone will prove me wrong.

All of these cities will have grocery stores integrated into the bases of buildings, especially new grocery stores.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Red John View Post
How integrated sports arenas and stadiums are into the urban fabric.
Chicago and the other two aren't even close.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Red John View Post
Bonus question: which one best integrates recreational activities (and I'm a water person) into it's urban design best?
This is what certainly made me vote SF for you. The feels of each city couldn't be more different, so a lot of your questions can go to each one depending on how you want to analyze each variable. For mix of uses and flow, like WATER activities, you can't beat SF.

I'm not saying the Bay isn't polluted (as if Lake Michigan isn't either), and I'm not saying being on the ocean or on the Bay will make you want to dive right in and swim, because the water is cold year round. However, boating in general is big (certainly much bigger than in DC...which is just not on any kind of level to be included in this discussion since Annapolis and Baltimore are different cities). People sail on the weekends, go to the beach to hangout and fly kites (though there is also a large surfing culture here from Santa Cruz up to Pacifica up to Ocean Beach and Stinson Beach), paddleboard up near Sausalito, etc etc. There is so much water surrounded by such great scenery and amazing conditions in and around the Bay Area that it's hard to ignore water's role in both the local economy and recreation. Seafood in SF is probably comparable in many ways to seafood in DC, and far better than in Chicago or Toronto. Crab is the big player in both DC (Blue Crab) and SF (Dungeness Crab), though SF is on the Pacific and reels in the fresh catch every day.

Even fog here is called "marine layer". Water is entrenched in SF and Bay Area culture moreso than most cities in this country. The "Save the Bay" movement and subsequent organization formed in the 1960s also sparked the environmental movement here in the US. People are really focused on it here. It's not as "active" as in FL (where I grew up, everyone surfed, everyone skiied, everyone wakeboarded, and everyone swam competitively...no other state is like that to the same extent). But it's still active and a cultural part of the region. Fisherman's Wharf is attrocious and filled with tourists, but it's a remnant of how this city came to be.

But for recreational activities besides water activities that can be found just outside of your front door, you still can't beat SF. This past weekend on a whim I went up to Napa (45 minute drive). On the way we stopped on that scenic, winding cliff road just on the other side of the GG Bridge, so some guys in from Spain could get their Kodak moment. 4 of the previous 5 weekends I went to Tahoe to ski. Usually a 3-4 hour drive depending on conditions. A couple months ago I drove with a friend over the Bay Bridge into Walnut Creek to hike Mount Diablo's summit for a clear winter day view (4,000' peak right in Alameda/Contra Costa County). Sometimes I choose Mt. Tam instead and the John Muir Woods (think redwoods) 20 minutes drive from my house over the GG Bridge. Let's not forget Big Sur is 2 hours south of the city. As well as Carmel/Pebble Beach. I don't think you can beat SF in the entire country for outdoor recreational activities. Denver/SLC may come close.

Of course, there are the traditional city activities, as well. You'll find the same concerts and events in all 4 cities. SF will offer what the others can't though in the way of year-round outdoor recreational activities right in the city. Our parks are geared for this (the Presidio especially is like a mini wilderness in the city). Land's End is also a nice migrating point for urban hikes or bike rides from the interior of the city out to the rocky point of the beach.

I could go on, but if you "love nature" and are outdoorsy, the other three cities basically suck in comparison. Like really suck.

Last edited by jsimms3; 04-15-2014 at 11:52 PM..
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Old 04-16-2014, 12:00 AM
 
Location: Southern California
3,455 posts, read 7,093,633 times
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One thing, biking in Chicago in winter can truly be hell on wheels
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Old 04-16-2014, 05:31 PM
 
Location: Maryland, The Original Catholic colony.
249 posts, read 308,585 times
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Chicago.
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Old 04-16-2014, 05:55 PM
 
Location: Seattle, Washington
1,875 posts, read 2,552,360 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by marothisu View Post
This is going to be a heavy thread I can tell and will be hard to compare fully. Two of these cities, Toronto and Chicago, are a lot bigger than the others (DC and SF) -?
Actually based on metro all are pretty similar in size with Toronto the smallest. I think DC and San Francisco actually of a leg up on the other to based on there historical past both being heavyweight cultural cities.
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Old 04-16-2014, 06:02 PM
 
Location: Upper West Side, Manhattan, NYC
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DevanXL View Post
Actually based on metro all are pretty similar in size with Toronto the smallest. I think DC and San Francisco actually of a leg up on the other to based on there historical past both being heavyweight cultural cities.
Yeah, except you left out the most important part of what I was saying with that statement and why it's important. He's talking about the cities, not the metro areas.
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Old 04-16-2014, 06:25 PM
 
Location: Tokyo, Japan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by marothisu View Post
What kind of nightlife are you talking about? Music venues, theater, etc as well?
Raves, concerts, bars, lounges, and clubs in that same order.

I like the synopsis' here so far, good information all around. Don't mind me, I have a few more questions.

Which of the four cities in each of your personal opinions best integrates (and in an efficient manner) a city where people that walk, bike, and drive co-exist without having anyone feeling like they're in the minority? As in, walkers wont feel like the entire city is ruled by drivers. Bikers wont feel the entire city is crammed with walkers. Where drivers wont feel the city is mapped with "targets" (bikers) everytime they push the pedal.

Would all of you describe your city's street grids and layouts as "user friendly"? How about where commercial retail is located, would you say it's easily accessible or is it quite a good walk/drive/bike from most of the prominent residential areas?
Quote:
Originally Posted by jsimms3 View Post
I have never been to Toronto, so it's almost cheating/unfair for me to vote. My ranking would go as follows:

SF
Chicago
DC
I have lived in Chicago and my city is Washington. I'm familiar with both cities. Have been to the other two, the Bay Area more times than I could care to ever count, Toronto not as much but in my childhood it was more often. Lately haven't been, so I'm in a "need to see Toronto again" drought. Will do so this year and saw the Bay Area in January. The four cities in this thread, I consider them a tier, and as a tier consider its my favorite "tier" of cities on this side of the planet. Bar none.

Love all four and I hate using the word "love". So that will speak for itself. In my belief aside from the megacities of New York, Mexico City, and Los Angeles, this is it. This is North America's boldest showcase (after the three larger megacities), these four right here. In my opinion though.
Quote:
Originally Posted by jsimms3 View Post
This is what certainly made me vote SF for you. The feels of each city couldn't be more different, so a lot of your questions can go to each one depending on how you want to analyze each variable. For mix of uses and flow, like WATER activities, you can't beat SF.

I'm not saying the Bay isn't polluted (as if Lake Michigan isn't either), and I'm not saying being on the ocean or on the Bay will make you want to dive right in and swim, because the water is cold year round. However, boating in general is big (certainly much bigger than in DC...which is just not on any kind of level to be included in this discussion since Annapolis and Baltimore are different cities). People sail on the weekends, go to the beach to hangout and fly kites (though there is also a large surfing culture here from Santa Cruz up to Pacifica up to Ocean Beach and Stinson Beach), paddleboard up near Sausalito, etc etc. There is so much water surrounded by such great scenery and amazing conditions in and around the Bay Area that it's hard to ignore water's role in both the local economy and recreation. Seafood in SF is probably comparable in many ways to seafood in DC, and far better than in Chicago or Toronto. Crab is the big player in both DC (Blue Crab) and SF (Dungeness Crab), though SF is on the Pacific and reels in the fresh catch every day.

Even fog here is called "marine layer". Water is entrenched in SF and Bay Area culture moreso than most cities in this country. The "Save the Bay" movement and subsequent organization formed in the 1960s also sparked the environmental movement here in the US. People are really focused on it here. It's not as "active" as in FL (where I grew up, everyone surfed, everyone skiied, everyone wakeboarded, and everyone swam competitively...no other state is like that to the same extent). But it's still active and a cultural part of the region. Fisherman's Wharf is attrocious and filled with tourists, but it's a remnant of how this city came to be.

But for recreational activities besides water activities that can be found just outside of your front door, you still can't beat SF. This past weekend on a whim I went up to Napa (45 minute drive). On the way we stopped on that scenic, winding cliff road just on the other side of the GG Bridge, so some guys in from Spain could get their Kodak moment. 4 of the previous 5 weekends I went to Tahoe to ski. Usually a 3-4 hour drive depending on conditions. A couple months ago I drove with a friend over the Bay Bridge into Walnut Creek to hike Mount Diablo's summit for a clear winter day view (4,000' peak right in Alameda/Contra Costa County). Sometimes I choose Mt. Tam instead and the John Muir Woods (think redwoods) 20 minutes drive from my house over the GG Bridge. Let's not forget Big Sur is 2 hours south of the city. As well as Carmel/Pebble Beach. I don't think you can beat SF in the entire country for outdoor recreational activities. Denver/SLC may come close.

Of course, there are the traditional city activities, as well. You'll find the same concerts and events in all 4 cities. SF will offer what the others can't though in the way of year-round outdoor recreational activities right in the city. Our parks are geared for this (the Presidio especially is like a mini wilderness in the city). Land's End is also a nice migrating point for urban hikes or bike rides from the interior of the city out to the rocky point of the beach.

I could go on, but if you "love nature" and are outdoorsy, the other three cities basically suck in comparison. Like really suck.
You're right, I do love nature and you're right that San Francisco integrates it best into it's urban environment.

With Chicago you typically need to drive northwest about an hour and a half to the Driftless area to get hills and terrain to go hiking and it's not the same as what can be done in the Bay Area. Which works for me, I consider an hour and a half to be stone throwing distance in the grand scheme of things, especially for the weekends. Toronto and Washington have terrain within vicinity, cant speak further for Toronto as I haven't had the pleasure to live there, but in Washington go southwest of the suburbs in Northern Virginia and it gets quite gorgeous. This comes in handy for hiking and camping, all four will have that (all cities have camping). Hiking is definitely a massive win for San Francisco, the Twin Peaks in the middle of the city are breathtaking, gorgeous views of everything that personifies "San Francisco" and they're not even close to the best place to hike in the San Francisco Bay Area. To me, in the lower 48 American states (and only the American states, as I truly do think based off experience that Vancouver is more gorgeous) San Francisco and it's encompassing Bay Area (hell, all of Northern California for that matter) is about as beautiful as it gets.

However you're right, no matter how you slice it, San Francisco wins out here, as it rightfully should.

While I like the scenery, I actually love wildlife even more. How would you rank the four in that sense? I'm a bird watcher and avid Avian/bird fanatic (both real birds and airplanes ).

For water related activities, having lived right north of the Loop, I think you're underestimating Chicago though. The Chicago River and into Lake Michigan is wonderful for some activities I picked up (as hobbies) in college in Austin; such as wake boarding, jet skiing, kayaking, and even though I haven't tried it yet paddle boarding as well. The issue is that you cant use the lake in the winter months but in summer, quite packed and multi-use. My understanding is that Lake Ontario works much the same way for Toronto. Washington, you could do that in the Potomac but it's better to just drive to the Chesapeake Bay or straight to the Atlantic shoreline and take it up there.

Last edited by Facts Kill Rhetoric; 04-16-2014 at 06:42 PM..
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Old 04-16-2014, 08:50 PM
 
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I don't know if any city will have more full service 50k-80k square foot grocery stores than DC's core. I think DC will have Manhattan beat in that department because you can't get everything you need at the small markets.

DC is a test market for most large grocery store urban formats so they are everywhere under apartment buildings. I think the current number is 8 different large 50k-80k square foot grocery stores under construction. If there is one bright side to the height limit, it's large footprints which is the only reason DC can build these stores that large while most cities don't.

Giants
Whole Foods
Harris Teeter
Safeway
Trader Joes
Walmart Food
Target Food

There may not be a city right now anywhere with more large grocery stores under highrise apartment buildings than DC's core. It's actually ridiculous.

As for the question. I need to think about it. That's a lot.
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Old 04-16-2014, 09:20 PM
 
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Glad there aren't a bunch of huge grocery stores everywhere here.. that sounds terrible.
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