Then and now: Film clip captures San Francisco’s urban transformation
Two cyclists on Market Street in San Francisco, California. Photo by Sergio Ruiz/Flickr.

Two cyclists on Market Street in San Francisco, California. Market Street’s transformation over the last century reveals the central role transport planning has played in urban development. Photo by Sergio Ruiz/Flickr.

100 years ago, two out of 10 people lived in cities. Today, that figure has risen to five out of 10. As a result, urban landscapes and development have changed considerably over the past century. Two film clips shot on the same street in San Francisco, California one hundred years apart illustrate one such case of profound urban transformation.

“A Trip Down Market Street,” filmed on April 14, 1906, shows a first-hand account of daily urban life on San Francisco’s Market Street from a unique vantage point – the footage was shot just four days before the devastating 1906 earthquake by mounting a camera on the front of a cable car as it traveled from 8th Street to the Ferry Building. As you’ll see below, the clip features a diverse range of transport modes, including cable cars, automobiles, bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, and pedestrians all sharing the same space.

A new film builds on the original clip from 1906, overlaying it with present-day footage of Market Street, creating a rare and stimulating experience in which the two streetscapes can be viewed at the same time. And the contrast between the two corridors in terms of transport is stark – the contemporary scene has evolved to include priority bus lanes and a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station entrance, culminating in a seemingly more organized transport corridor than its predecessor. Check it out:

In San Francisco and elsewhere, the urban population boom has challenged city officials to provide the means to transport such large populations efficiently, and many have responded with innovative solutions. Priority bus lanes, for example, were developed to allow buses to move past ever increasing automobile traffic as the number of private vehicles skyrocketed. Metro systems have also been a common mass transport solution – BART opened in 1972 as a way to connect residents of the Bay Area to each other without the use of an automobile.

It comes as no surprise that Market Street’s urban form appears significantly different today than it did in 1906, but perhaps the most striking difference is the contrast between the transport network of then and now. The chaos of overlapping transport modes in the first clip is immediately evident when compared with the more organized flow of traffic, delineated lanes, and stop-lights along modern-day Market Street. While today’s streetscape still features diverse modes of transport, each mode operates in an allocated space, creating a safer environment for all road users. This comparison reveals how the rise of urban and transport planning has played a defining role in how our cities look and operate.

To recreate your own “Trip Down Market Street,” take a walk down your city’s main street and imagine what it looked like over one hundred years ago. Or since projections show that 6 out of 10 people will live in cities by 2030, you might also wonder what your city will look like in the not so distant future. Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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  • James Barrios

    Great Article!