The Resonance of City Names: What is “San Francisco?”


In a fine think-piece on “golden ages” of urban creativity, Aaron Renn of the Urbanophile mentions San Francisco as a place that isn’t having one:

If you want to enjoy the best a contemporary American city can offer, then San Francisco is your place. I’ll admit, it’s my favorite city in the US. But I don’t imagine that if I moved there (as opposed to Silicon Valley) that I’d get to witness any great historical happenings, or play any role in defining even that city’s urban future, much less creating America’s next great metropolis.

What does it mean to say that San Francisco “(as opposed to Silicon Valley)” is not likely to be a site of “great historical happenings”?  I don’t want to argue the truth of this statement, because I’m not sure of it’s meaning. What exactly do you mean by “San Francisco”?

In my recent post on the perils of average density, I noted how multiple meanings of a city name can undermine the apparent objectivity of facts.  If the Mayor of Toronto says “Toronto” he probably means the City of Toronto, but when Toronto’s airport authority uses the same word they clearly mean the “Toronto” that they serve, namely the entire urban area.

This is a fairly simple ambiguity, common to most big cities.  But California is much trickier, and the Bay Area is trickiest of all.  The name “San Francisco” is hard to apply to the entire Bay Area, because (a) the city is small compared to the region and (b) the city’s isolated peninsular position within the region means that it is at some distance from the cities around it, so “San Francisco-ness” can’t just flow across the city limits and into the surrounding suburbs, as “Toronto-ness” and “Chicago-ness” so easily do.

Yet if you say that “San Francisco” is strictly the small and distinctive City of San Francisco, you have deprived the name of much of its possible resonance.  This tightly bounded San Francisco is still a wonderful city, but it won’t bear comparison to “Chicago” or “Los Angeles,” because those names unfurl over large and amorphous space, both vertical and horizontal, without hard boundaries, and this unfurling is what gives these names their power, or more literally, their resonance.

Great city names are powerful, exciting, and motivating because they resonate: they set off an echo between different meanings of the name, especially the larger and smaller areas that it can connote.  The emotive power of the word “Chicago” lies in the way it can mean the entire metroplex, or the city of Chicago, or just the dramatic high rise skyline of the Loop.  Indeed, what is a downtown skyline but a symbol of the entire city, a symbolism that’s only possible because the skyline and the entire urban region can both be called  “Chicago”?  The relationship between the downtown skyline and the whole city is a resonance between these two possible meanings of the name.  Resonance conveys an impression of power and depth.

San Francisco is denied this kind of resonance because it’s so hard to identify the city’s name with a larger metro area.  Nobody within 100 miles would try to.  Instead, locals refer to the Bay Area, a term that warns us not to expect a central symbolic city, since water bodies are naturally settled around their edges and not in the center.

So if you’re going to talk about San Francisco “as opposed to” Silicon Valley or Berkeley or Skywalker Ranch any of the other centres of innovation nearby, you’re slipping on a language problem arising from the local geography — a pattern of settlement that prevents us from thinking of those nearby places as part of a greater, resonant, globally recognized “San Francisco.”  If you do this, you’re missing a lot of information about how the whole Bay Area operates as a place, a culture, an engine of innovation.

You could also say that if you use “San Francisco” to refer only to the fairly small legal city, you’re applying a tourist’s reduction, like the one we routinely apply to Venice.  You’re imagining a charming, historic, museum-like city conceived in isolation from its economic web.  Yes, once you define a city that way, it’s easy to tell yourself that the next great urban revolution won’t happen there.

In reality, San Francisco’s qualities are intrinsic to the success of Silicon Valley, Berkeley, and all the other centres of excellence nearby.  Why do so many of the leading creative tech firms run huge fleets of commuter buses from San Francisco to their suburban campuses?  Because they need to attract the smartest and most creative young employees, and many of these people insist on living in San Francisco!

It’s easy to imagine that you’re being generous when you lay out a manicured corporate campus with jogging trails and libraries and meditative wetlands where nobody will ever see a homeless person, but in fact, many of your most valuable employees would rather be stepping over homeless people to get to their urban lofts, and have more brilliant ideas amid live jazz in a seedy club than they do in the most well-designed campus offices.  That means, too, that a lot of Google’s great thinking actually happens inside San Francisco, feeding off of all that it offers, and further blurring the lines between the city and its surrounds.

Of course, I don’t buy the assumption that even if San Francisco were an island it would be bereft of creativity.  But fortunately, San Francisco is not an island, and even if the name “San Francisco” can’t unfurl over the whole Bay Area, the whole region still relies on San Francisco and can’t be separated from it, which is a very good thing.

38 Responses to The Resonance of City Names: What is “San Francisco?”

  1. M1EK October 1, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    I think you missed the point about consuming versus producing urbanism. San Francisco is hamstrung by NIMBYs and is not growing – not in any meaningful way; not good growth or bad growth. Because of that, there’s no urbanism-producing going on there, only urbanism-consuming.
    Urbanism-producing is happening mainly in places like Austin today. (A valid criticism of Aaron is that he relies too much on metro-area large-scale figures – and in that case he overvalues some cities with lots of suburban sprawl ‘growth’). A ton of residential development downtown = more urbanism-producing.

  2. Cascadian October 1, 2010 at 9:47 am #

    Cities are the central hubs of economy and culture, and the suburbs that revolve around them and often produce the most new things could not exist outside of that ecosystem. The suburbs (though not in their current form), rural areas, and wilderness that surround cities concentrically are just as necessary, but the city provides the focus and the identity.
    A major tragedy of the mid-20th century is that this focus was lost, and the differences between segments of civilization were conceived more starkly as barriers. I think the key to repairing the damage done by this is to see all of these areas as an integrated system, but with the city once again at its heart.
    That means that suburbanites have to give up their denial about their place in the world, but it also means that urbanites have to stop reacting to the suburbs in wholly dismissive and stereotypical terms.
    Though, to play Devil’s Advocate about the specific case of San Francisco: What about Oakland? Surely it’s secondary to San Francisco historically, but by now isn’t it an urban hub in its own right? And what about San Jose, which has more people than any other city in the region? Even if San Francisco is still The City, these other cities have an urban gravity of their own that affects everything in their orbit.

  3. MU October 1, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    I like that this in turning into a blog about “public transit planning” AND semiotics. Keep it up!

  4. jfruh October 1, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    I lived in the Bay Area for six years — the first year in Berkeley and the rest in Oakland — and obviously back then I never thought of myself as living in “San Francisco.” But now that I live in Baltimore, when describing my history I always tell people I lived in San Francisco, just because “Oakland” tends to garner blank stares. I don’t think most people realize how close they are together (though friends from New York I can usually explain it to with a “San Francisco:Oakland::Manhattan:Brooklyn” analogy). Berkeley’s even worse — when I first announced I was moving there (for grad school), my mother thought that I was going to Los Angeles!

  5. Steve October 1, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    While I don’t disagree with much of what you said, Jarrett, I think San Francisco is sort of unique in the extent to which it can be distinguished from the region (and vice versa). Other than Manhattan, is there any other U.S. city that suburbanites regularly refer to as “The City”? In San Francisco’s case, that’s not because of financial or political might (or not any more, anyway) — it’s simply because you have to cross a bridge, or go through a tunnel, or around a mountain, and when you get there, it looks and feels totally unlike wherever you just were (even the urban East Bay). There’s no transition zone.
    The Bay Area is also semi-unique in just how polycentric it is. It’s not so much that there are three large cities; it’s more that while San Francisco might remain the core in some ways, the financial and to a great extent the political center of gravity has shifted south. Googlers might commute from the city, but they commute to Mountain View — and that works both ways.

  6. The Dude October 1, 2010 at 10:56 am #

    I have often wondered why people in the Bay Area don’t identify themselves with San Francisco more. Going just with the geography argument, I would think that Seattle would have a similar condition, given the similar geography, but most people I know from the suburbs of Seattle identify strongly with the city.
    I think that there are three major cities in the Bay Area is much more of a factor.

  7. Zoltán October 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    There is mass transit from San Fransisco to the Silicon Valley area – Caltrain – and it is a shame that it isn’t more relevant to the reverse commuting that goes on. Sadly, the area is stuck with pretty spread out development so that even if it’s often not too unpleasant to walk, it’s too far to most places. Still, the low frequency and inconvenient station in San Fransisco doesn’t help either.

  8. Rob Simpson October 1, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    When I hear “San Francisco”, I always think of the county, not the city!

  9. John October 1, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

    When I read the title of the post, I was going to say, “Saint Francisco,” but I like your answer better.
    @Steve, people in suburban Chicago refer to the city-proper as “The City.” The also think “downtown” stretches as far north as Lakeview.

  10. Aaron M. Renn October 1, 2010 at 7:19 pm #

    New York and Chicago, like many big cities, dominate their regions demographically, culturally, intellectually, and most importantly economically as well. San Francisco does not. You can argue it is a cultural capital, but it is no longer the economic engine of the area, nor even the largest city.
    M1EK, I do think demographic and economic growth are important. But in this case, I was referring to cultural production such as music composition.

  11. Nicholas Barnard October 1, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

    @The Dude – I thought of Seattle too while reading the blog entry. One thing about the Seattle Metro region, is has the cascade mountains to hem things in on the east, and elliot bay/puget sound to hem things in on the west. (The hour ferry commute on the west really seems to reduce commutes to/from there.)
    The one thing is while the people who live in the suburbs of Seattle identify as Seattlites, those who live in Seattle don’t identify those who live in the suburbs as Seattlites. Speaking only for myself, I see those from the Eastside (Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, etc) as not-Seattlites. The north and south suburbs (Renton, Burien, Shoreline) don’t bring up as strong a not-Seattlite feeling for me. Its odd for me to really quantify why I feel this way, but thinking from a transit perspective, the Eastside looks a lot like a smaller city from a transportation perspective. People use park and rides to hop a bus and get to their jobs in Seattle, but for the most part the only people riding the intra-Eastside buses are the economically disadvantaged.
    Regarding the tree major cities in the bay area vs. the Puget Sound region. I would argue that Bellevue has very much become an economic force in the Puget Sound region, similar to Oakland or San Jose.

  12. rhywun October 2, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    I agree that San Francisco is somewhat different from the usual pattern seen in American cities. It’s an “east coast” city surrounded by California “sprawl” – with the two sharply divided by geography. I lived in “The City” for a year and the surrounding cities and towns seemed alien to me on the rare occasions I ventured across the bay. Most American metros aren’t nearly so… “varied”.
    And yet… I’ve noticed that some cities just seem to inexplicably “flow” more than others. My hometown of Rochester and its nearby bigger brother Buffalo are very similar, but after living in both I was surprised that Buffalonians will do anything possible to avoid saying they live in Buffalo, including inventing names not shown on any map; whereas Rochesterians – even in the distant exurbs – show little or no hesitation in saying they live “in Rochester”. I have no explanation for this – other than Buffalo being bigger and therefore more well-known and perhaps more susceptible to some sort of “wounded pride” after so many years as a sort of punching bag (like a smaller Pittsburgh or Detroit). Most people don’t know of Rochester so maybe it’s less “painful” to admit to living there? I don’t know.

  13. Paul C October 2, 2010 at 2:29 am #

    Just so you know. Manhattan is not a city. It is one of the 5 boroughs in the city of New York. And again that is for the city proper and not Metro New York. So when you see a population of around 8 Mil. That is only for the city proper of New York. The metro population is much higher than that.
    @The Dude
    I’m not sure where you live. But I find the people who live in the metro area of a city. Tend to associate themselves with the individual cities or in the case of the comment on NY above with one of the 5 boroughs.
    While someone who lives outside of the city will tend to lump it all under one name.
    As a example. Someone may live in Bellevue Washington. Now they are in Metro Seattle. So to an outsider that person lives in Seattle. But the person themselves they feel like they live in Bellevue. But will tell people they live in Seattle as it is easier.
    Another example would be. If I said I lived in Richmond or Surrey, or Maple Ridge, BC Canada. Would you have any idea what I’m talking about. Unless you’ve read about them or been there or had some kind of info on them. Most likely you’d draw a blank face. But if I said Vancouver you’d quickly know what I’m talking about. Yet when I say Vancouver you will immediately think of Metro Vancouver. Yet I could be talking about the actual city of.
    Which is why if I say Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, San Fran I’m always talking about the Metro itself. If I want to be more specific. I’ll say in the city proper of Vancouver or City of Vancouver or CoV. Seattle would be City of Seattle.

  14. Dustin October 2, 2010 at 4:59 am #

    @ Jarrett:
    In reference to your comment about the “small and distinctive City of San Francisco”, the full name is actually the City and County of San Francisco. It’s California’s only consolidated city-county government, a fact that lends another layer of credence to what you’re saying here. There’s not even another level of government, as in most other places (Seattle is in much larger King County, for example), to help spread “San Francisconess” around.
    @ John:
    Actually, in English we call San Francisco (the person) Saint Francis, as in Saint Francis of Assisi. You know, the patron saint of animals.

  15. Jarrett at October 2, 2010 at 5:42 am #

    Dustin. Yes, I knew all that!

  16. anonymouse October 2, 2010 at 9:07 am #

    If Bellevue were really like San Jose, you’d have an Eastside with a population of 700,000 in a giant sprawlopolis. San Jose has a larger population than San Francisco, and is really an urban center in its own right. The problem is that, on the peninsula at least, there’s no break in the suburbs between the two: El Camino is pretty much 40 miles of continuous strip malls.

  17. SpyOne October 2, 2010 at 11:36 am #

    Jarret, your point about how the people who work in Silicon Valley choose to live in San Francisco in many ways reinforces the point I think Aaron Renn was making (I haven’t read his whole piece): that San Francisco is populated largely by people who like the city just the way it is. That makes it resistant to change.
    Further, my impression from 3000 miles away is that San Francisco became the kind of city most people want today decades ago. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but if I’m right then going to San Francisco to revolutionize it’s urban planning is a bit like … well Coals to Newcastle is the phrase, although it is terribly dated. It’s like a guy who got into building cell phone towers because he wants to revolutionize how the world communicates looking at Los Angeles: there are places where my abilities might help me achieve my goals, but this certainly isn’t one of them.
    Update: I have now read Aaron’s piece, and find it does seem to make the point I thought it did and more. It stuck a chord with me, as I have often lamented that it was easier to be an inventor in ages past, simply because so much less stuff had already been invented. In one sense, the production of any original work means it is harder to produce original work in that field, since one of the (presumably finite) options is gone. Even if the options are infinite, folks are presumably exhausting the easy ones.
    And if San Francisco is “the best a contemporary American city can offer” (an assertion I am ill equipped to evaluate, so I will take as an assumption for now), it is unlikely to be the site of much innovation in urban planning. For that, you should look for a city that is well and truly broken, and knows that, and see what they are willing to try to fix themselves. There you will see disastrous failures, but also possibly luminous success. Or to a new city, willing to experiment with new ideas (same likely results: failure or genius).
    I recall a religious speaker saying that Jesus preferred the company of sinners to that of virtuous men, because virtuous men didn’t need guidance to lead virtuous lives: he was going where he could do the most good.
    There might be a better way to do a pleasant city than what San Francisco has done, but it isn’t going to be tried in San Francisco because they are happy with the results they have. So if you want a pleasant city, move to SF, but if you want to make a pleasant city, especially if you want to try to make one better than SF is, try anywhere else.

  18. SpyOne October 2, 2010 at 11:36 am #

    On the broader point of metro regions, I have noticed that it is a bit like zooming in from space on Google maps: what “New York” means depends on ones proximity to New York. Someone in California might say he’s going to “New York” when he’s flying to Newark to visit relatives near Trenton. People in New Jersey never lump New Jersey into “New York”.
    I think a big part of this is just the desire to use a generic landmark, and choosing a nearby city. People find it strange when you respond with a large amount of specificity. As a child, if a friend asked where my dentist was, I’d use the name of the state capitol 40 miles away, even though his office was another 5 miles beyond that in another suburb: they didn’t want to know how to find his office, they wanted general information, and I provided it. If you ask where my grandparents lived, I’ll say “Central New York”, and only if you express further interest will I narrow that down to “a little town north of Utica”.
    I guess what I’m saying is that grand unifying metro regions are, largely, and illusion. The people who live there certainly don’t think of them that way. From a distance the difference between White Plains and Brooklyn may seem unimportant, but from a distance most people think New Zealand is part of Australia: doesn’t make it so.
    And I’ll wager people from Oakland or Berkeley who have moved to other regions of the country, when telling friends they are flying home for the holidays and asked where home is, say “San Francisco”, not because it is the name of the region in any way, but because it is the closest nationally recognized landmark and therefore handy to give general information about where quickly.
    I currently live in Hampton Roads, which almost nobody knows where that is. We have been struggling to establish a collective identity, but it is an uphill battle: while some of the seven cities in the region have better name recognition than others, the fact that they rival each other with no clear leader means that nobody wants to give up any part of their identity. It’s funny, but they think that the name recognition thing is the main obstacle to a major league sports franchise: nobody knows where Hampton Roads is, and individually each city has only about 400,000 people (or less), so the fact that there are over 2 million folks in a 50 mile radius is lost on a lot of people.
    For the record, Hampton Roads consists of Hampton, Newport News, Suffolk, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Virgina Beach, Virginia.
    Steve: in my experience, anybody who lives close enough to a city to avoid pronoun confusion calls it “the city”. If someone in Waltham Mass says they are going into “the city” for a play, they mean Boston.
    And Waltham is a perfect example: it is a city itself, and is surrounded by other cities, but Boston is the big one in the region, so if you said “the city”, you must have meant that one.
    I find people only use the name of a city if there is likely to be confusion over which one they mean, like where I grew up an hour from the state capitol but in a rural area of farmland 10 minutes from a tiny city, so you needed to be clear which you meant, as either was a trade up in urbanization.
    rhywun: it may have to do with the main region having a bad name, but I think it has more to do with the reaction to regionalization. Some communities feel they have banded together to become stronger, while others feel that they are unfairly dominated by a nearby region.
    I can actually provide both examples from the place I grew up: a bunch of little villages bonded together a couple centuries ago to form a greater town. The village names survive, but if you ask anybody who’s from there where they are from, they give the name of the town, as the village name is only useful if you want to find the specific house. However, one of those villages has the state university grow up in it, and now people from that village never say it’s name, but instead say “near campus” to define where they live. Because that village is one of the ones that got a post office, so university addresses all have the village name in them, many people from outside think the village name is the name of the town, when it isn’t even similar, and I still feel resentment build up in me when I’m talking with someone and I say the town I’m from is where the university is and they say, “Oh, (village name).” And I grit my teeth and say, “Actually, the town is called (town name). (Village name) is just the part of town where the university is”.
    Which seems a bit silly. But imagine if, instead of New York City, people called the whole damned thing “Manhattan”: it’s not just imprecise, it’s actually wrong, because that region does have a name and it is “New York City”, and “Manhattan” is a specific region within that.
    What I’m saying is that people who insist that Buffalo (or Chicago, or even Rochester) is actually some other place, and the place where they live is called something else, may be showing resentment of the big city’s influence over their smaller home town. Which pairs with my point above to suggest that this is, in general, the default position of suburbs, and that the well-adjusted suburbs you describe in the greater Rochester area seem to be the exception.
    I mean, how many times has this scenario played out in your life: you meet a foreigner, and find out what country they are from, and they tell you and then you ask, “Anywhere near (largest city in that country)?” and you can practically see the bristles raise on their back and hear them thinking “stupid Americans always think we are all from (insert city name again)”.
    (I had a co-worker who had a great solution to that problem. He’d ask “What’s the nearest city to your home that I might have heard of?” 😉 )
    Dustin: just a quick note about there being another layer of government “in most places”: here in Virginia, Cities and counties are on the same level of government, although separate. Effectively, each city is a county. The five boroughs of New York City are each a county onto themselves, making the city actually a level above county. And I know of several states where the counties exist as an administrative distinction in the courts only, and the cities and towns answer directly to the state. So I’m not sure that cities being part of counties that are in turn part of states is exactly the norm in the US.

  19. John October 2, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    I thought of that later, thanks.

  20. rhywun October 2, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    @Paul C
    Your facts about New York are correct – but when we say “the city”, we do in fact usually mean “Manhattan”. Maybe because for most of its history, “New York” was in fact just Manhattan.
    Yes, wanting to step out from under the shadow of a dominant city is sometimes a reason for the phenomenon I described. However, having lived in Buffalo for 8 years, I am pretty sure that’s not the case there. For one thing, Buffalo is not particularly “dominant” in its region anymore, and hasn’t been for decades – not since losing half its population and most of its industry. The suburbs are far more dominant, economically at least. Most people who live in the suburbs also work and shop there, and have no occasion to visit “the city” at all – and that’s fine by them.

  21. Bob Davis October 3, 2010 at 12:00 am #

    I live in Southern California, and used to visit San Francisco whenever I could because for many years, it was the only city on the West Coast with streetcars and commuter trains. Now we have these services in the Los Angeles area, so I’m not quite so compelled to head north, but when I do, and “where did you come from?” comes up, I usually say “Southern California, near Pasadena.” I identify more with the San Gabriel Valley, rather than downtown LA. Before the rail operations started in 1990, I rarely went to LA, finding just about anything I needed in “my” valley. One thing that helps in using Pasadena as a reference point is that just about everyone has seen the Rose Parade on TV, if not in person, and sports fans know where the Rose Bowl is.
    Regarding Rochester, NY–it used to be famous as the home of Eastman Kodak back in the days of chemically-based photography. Buffalo is mostly known for bitterly cold winters and a not very successful football team. Among rail-transit buffs, it’s the home of a light-rail line that’s never grown any longer since its opening day.

  22. Thad October 3, 2010 at 1:21 am #

    The same goes for Miami, where it is usually referring to all of Miami-Dade County with the “suburbs” and separate municipalities seen more as neighborhoods than municipalities though they will have separate police, fire, and garbage collection. Also a lot of Miami-Dade County is unincorporated like Kendall, where I live, and so our postal address will have “Miami,FL” even though we don’t technically live within the city of Miami.

  23. rhywun October 3, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    @Bob Davis
    Buffalo’s “MetroRail” is an interesting example of the city/suburb tensions that are so prominent in that area. It was originally supposed to lead to the new state university (itself the subject of another city/suburb battle when it was built miles outside the city rather than at a downtown site which was also under consideration), but the wealthy suburb adjacent to Buffalo raised a stink so it stopped at the city limits. Today there are hopeful plans to extend it in various directions, but while the “tensions” are perhaps less dramatic now than in the 70s or 80s, there’s no money to make it happen. The continuing slide in population doesn’t help, either.
    Rochester is interesting to transit fans for once having a “subway” of sorts, placed into the Erie Canal bed which had run through downtown until it was diverted to the outskirts of the city in the 1920’s. It managed to outlast the rest of the streetcar network by a decade or so but inevitably it went out of service in 1956. The west half was paved over and the east half became a freeway.
    Yeah, postal addresses are one I thing I had in mind when I was contrasting Rochester and Buffalo. The official designation for each city extends far beyond the city limits, and while in Rochester people write “Rochester” throughout this area, in Buffalo once you cross the city limits, all bets are off. People will use the town(ship) they live in, or a village name, or a neighborhood – anything but “Buffalo”.

  24. Morgan Wick October 3, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    @Nicholas Barnard: It may also have something to do with the role Lake Washington plays in defining “Seattle” (you only mentioned the Cascades and Puget Sound).

  25. Bob Davis October 4, 2010 at 12:41 am #

    rhywun: Thanks for the background on the Buffalo light rail and its lack of growth. It used to be considered somewhat of an anomaly because it’s a surface operation downtown and then goes into a subway. I was planning to visit the area en route to New England, and even printed out a map and schedule, and found a place to park the motorhome while riding the railway, but the trip will probably be next year. In 2007, I did visit the New York Museum of Transportation near Rochester, and rode one of their ex Red Arrow cars. As I recall, they have a car that ran it the Rochester Subway, but it’s not operable.

  26. Jarrett at October 4, 2010 at 1:43 am #


  27. Paul C October 4, 2010 at 3:35 am #

    Your post goes on the same idea that I had.
    The closer one lives to a metro region the more detailed they will be in breaking up the parts. But if that person is talking to someone else who doesn’t live there. They will most likely just say they live in the metro region name.
    Someone who lives in Anaheim and would probably say they live in Anaheim if talking to someone else who lives in the Metro LA area. But if that same person was on a vacation in Europe they would probably say they live in LA. As it is easier for other people to quickly understand it.

  28. Ted King October 4, 2010 at 6:17 am #

    @ SpyOne – May I suggest the “City of Merrimack’s Ghost” ? This may seem like the poking of an old wound to some but the location of the battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack) is nigh on to unforgettable for those with an interest in naval history.
    Also, you have the good fortune to be sited close to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. So give a Bronx cheer to those who say “Where’s that ?” and enjoy your environs (fishing, boating, hiking, history, structures, etc.).

  29. Ted King October 4, 2010 at 7:08 am #

    P.S. For those who are curious about “Hampton” (the name), Wikipedia has a link cluster on it (see below). It’s from Saxon words meaning homestead or enclosure. Also, don’t stop in the “H” section – check the variants as well (e.g. Southampton, POD for the RMS Titanic).

  30. SpyOne October 4, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    Ted, we are fiercely proud that the battle between the Monitor and the CSS Virginia (as folks insist on calling it these days) was fought in Hampton Roads. In fact, some call it the Battle of Hampton Roads.
    And yes, the geography is lovely.
    Still, we are the largest metro area in North America that doesn’t have a major league sports franchise, and folks insist that the reason every attempt to secure one in the last 20 years has failed is that nobody knows where we are. “Hampton Roads” just doesn’t have the name recognition that, say “Cleveland” does.
    Some of that, no doubt, is due to Cleveland’s teams, so that any kid in America who follows baseball has heard of Cleveland, and when I was a kid the football fans too. So it’s a vicious circle: they won’t give us a team because nobody’s heard of us, and nobody’s heard of us because we’ve never had a team.

  31. Dexter Wong October 4, 2010 at 11:40 pm #

    I was born and raised in San Francisco, which is both a city and a county (smallest of all California counties). Areas outside the City typically are noted by where they are in the Bay Area, communities north of the Golden Gate Bridge are referred to as the North Bay, communities east of the Bay Bridge are the East Bay, communities south of the City are the Peninsula until you reach the San Jose area, which becomes the South Bay. North of the East Bay lies the Napa Valley and Solano County (to the northeast). However, people living in the Bay Area may refer to themselves as being from San Francisco when talking to outsiders, just as people living in Southern California near Los Angeles may say they’re from L.A.

  32. Ted King October 5, 2010 at 12:15 am #

    @ Dexter – I’m a former reverse commuter (SF to Walnut Creek / Pl. Hill). I tend to split the East Bay according to where it’s at in relation to the Caldecott Tunnels – East Bay (West side) vs. Far East Bay (East side). It sounds weird but the dichotomy is there.
    @ SpyOne – FYI – Connections to Virginia (grandmother) and the USNavy (dad + uncle) plus I enjoy reading books on naval history. Poorly done naval movies can be a real hoot.

  33. tomtakt October 5, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    I nominate this for best post ever.
    Although, maybe I’m biased because you’re discussing the area that I’m from and a topic that I actually consider often. I think that the ideas raised but this are actually really important in how we understand and manage urban areas.
    In Germany (or several other Germanic countries), for example, has the urban concept influenced the rather common decision to de-localize transit branding and organization in favor of efficiency and clarity of understanding? In the Bay Area, of course, it seems there are as many separate transportation agencies and services as there are jurisdictions and micro-climates. So is it urban form, geographic form, conceptual form, or unwavering Germanic reason that influences willingness to integrate for systemic improvement?

  34. Bob Davis October 5, 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    Someone who had visited Switzerland told me about buying a ticket from one city to another, and finding that it was good on trains, trams, buses, and even lake boats. Here in California, both northern and southern, we have a “crazy quilt” of transit providers. They probably could be combined into larger regional operators, but I think there’s a lot of bureaucratic “empire building”. Some entities are unionized, some are not, and there’s quite a discrepancy between the wages for driving the same kind of bus depending on whose bus it is. One could write a book on how transit systems get combined and then divided.

  35. anonymouse October 6, 2010 at 8:41 am #

    Bob: Switzerland is ridiculously federal, and they have a pretty “crazy quilt” of agencies and operators too, although maybe not as crazy as the Bay Area. But they still have coordinated fares and schedules. I’ve been meaning to start lobbying the local transit agencies to at least have some sort of all-purpose annual pass, like the abonnement général in Switzerland, which is good on all buses, trains, boats, cable cars, etc. etc. in the country for a year.

  36. Daniel Sparing January 11, 2011 at 6:23 am #

    Jarrett, you were right:
    “your most valuable employees would rather be stepping over homeless people to get to their urban lofts, and have more brilliant ideas amid live jazz in a seedy club than they do in the most well-designed campus offices.”
    see here:

  37. Daniel Sparing April 23, 2011 at 1:34 am #

    One more example, Twitter stays in central San Francisco (instead of a suburban “Twitterplex”):

  38. Dexter Wong May 28, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

    “One could write a book on how transit, systems get combined and then divided.” – Bob Davis
    Well, Bob, why don’t you write one on Southern California? You seem to know enough on the subject.