Storyboard: Cityscapes Shows How Buildings Shape Culture

By Rachel Zurer

Think of a city — Chicago, Los Angeles, New York. What defines it? The climate? The people? The food?

Maybe it’s buildings. That’s the idea that John King, urban design critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, explores in this edition of the Storyboard podcast with host Adam Rogers.

The physical character of a city helps shape its culture, King says: “The kind of person who wants a city like San Francisco” — with its cafe culture and dense low-rises — “is very different than the person who wants a Los Angeles kind of life.” Not that one is better than the other, he’s quick to add.

Over generations, those different pulls can become self-perpetuating cycles, reinforcing the particular character of a city’s buildings, as new generations of people become architects and make zoning and investment decisions.

To help nonlocals navigate all the San Francisco talk, we’ve created an annotated Google map with all the landmarks Rogers and King discuss. The captions include excerpts from King’s new book,Cityscapes: San Francisco and Its Buildings.

The book is very local, King says, but the principles apply to all cities, and the Storyboard discussion ranges across the country, from Los Angeles to Chicago to Boston. First listen, then go see the buildings around you with new eyes. As King says, it’s all in the looking.




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