P80224KIn the autumn of 1989, small and temporary tent cities appeared in parks and other public spaces around the San Francisco Bay Area and the Monterey Bay Area, where many homes had been damaged or destroyed by the Loma Prieta Earthquake. They were necessary at the time, but were not intended to be permanent features of the landscapes. For a while, they were unpleasant reminders that some people could not go home until their homes were repaired or rebuilt.

In more recent history, ridiculously expensive real estate and rents have increased homelessness in the same regions. Even gainfully employed people are homeless because they can neither purchase nor rent a home, either because of expense or because of a lack of availability. Those who live in homes complain about the unsightliness and other problems associated with the homeless living in homeless encampments and small tent cities.

We get it. Tents are bad.

So then, what is this small tent city on one of the main roadways in town?

Good planning and bad planning.

First the good. Each of the shop spaces in the contemporary retail building behind this tent city needs its own water meter and valve manifold. Each of these meters and manifolds must be easily accessible. Because they are accessible, they are also exposed, so they need to be insulated so that they do not freeze during the very rare occasion (in our mild climate) that the weather gets cold enough to do so. This explains why the water meters are next to the sidewalks, and the upright valve manifolds behind them are covered with these billowed tents.

The bad? Good landscape design should have been considered with the location of these meters and manifolds. A water main line should have been routed so that this whole complex could have been constructed within a utility closet or shed, or even a small utility yard that could have been fenced in a less prominent location. If constructed inside a utility closet or shed, the insulating tents would not be necessary. Now that it is too late for that sort of planning, there is not even enough clearance from the sidewalk for hedging or low fencing to obscure the meters and manifolds without obstructing access. It really would not have taken much of a landscape modification to obscure the view of all this infrastructure, if only more space had been made available where it is needed.

Sadly, landscape design was not a priority on this building. Although the water meters and manifolds are completely exposed, shrubbery obscures window and more appealing features of the buildings, such as ornamental stonework. The view from inside many windows is of the unsightly backsides of pointlessly shorn shrubbery. Trees were crowded and planted directly in front of signs, even though there is plenty of frontage without signs where trees could have been planted. It is amazing what some landscape designers get away with.

11 thoughts on “Tent City

    1. You would not believe all the ‘planning’ that went into this site. It was back and forth for a very long time about the architecture, height, color, setback from the roadway, etc; and then they do something like this. I have actually used this site as an example for several landscape problems.

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      1. It is also cultural. Such landscapes are ‘expected’ in California. However, in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma, as well as many other places. they are not such a priority. Some places are landscaped just like here. Most are landscaped simply and in a more practical manner. Some are just mown grass. It is actually quite nice, and more horituculturally correct.

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  1. I would say the term “landscape designer” in many instances is used very loosely! I am amazed at how much money people will pay to have the most boring selection of plants put in, not to mention improperly placed. Can no one see into the future?? On a side note, that earthquake was the longest 15 seconds of my life!!

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    1. I can not believe that the management of the apartment building next door (in my former neighborhood) payed $30,000 of the owner’s money for a color consultant to tell them to paint the building a very soft off white with greenish black trim, but can not get a descent gardener.


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