What Are You Smoking?

By Kevin Conger


I have recently had the pleasure of advancing some projects that I have been working on for over 10 years. It’s gratifying to see the promises I made to community members and clients becoming reality, and to see that the basic ideas and strategies about making social spaces, ecological landscapes and sculptural compositions are for the most part working well. It’s interesting to see how some of these just built landscapes, designed a decade ago, differ from what is being designed in the office today . . . and how they are similar.


01 Hunters Point wireframe 2006_2
Hunters Point Wireframe, 2006


02 Hunters Point composition 2009_2
Hunters Point Composition, 2009


03 Hunters Point overlook construction 2015_2
Hunters Point Overlook Construction, 2015


I would hope that the design strategies and concepts that remain constant in our work, from the past decade through today, are those which have been carefully articulated and developed as our “design manifesto,” while experiments that have not measured up to our intentions are critiqued and logged as an important layer of our body of work.


04 Headlands Center for the Arts Commons study 2015_2
Headlands Center for the Arts Commons study, 2015


It is not uncommon for a landscape project to take a long while to see built results. Designing landscapes often requires years, if not decades to get from ideas to construction, and then decades longer still to see if the ideas actually work as natural and cultural forces come to bear on the finished project, or should we say the “started” landscape. I liken this period of preparation, contemplation and negotiation to cooking a big rack of ribs in a smoker all day. It takes careful preparation, rubbing, discussion, drinking, and immense patience. If you’re in a hurry to just yank out the ribs and eat, you should order take out. The joy is in the ritual. There is a benefit to the extended ritual of landscape design, in that it allows us to think in terms longer than the fast paced trends of our culture. In fact, if a landscape design is trend-driven it’s likely that by the time the landscape is built, the trend will have come and gone.  Although some critics refer to good design as timeless, I really appreciate a design that reflects contemporary culture; a timely design. Somehow “timeless” sounds boring, or like you are using old ideas. I prefer to think of good design that can outlast trends as conceptually “durable design,” wherein the ideas and performance criteria will remain relevant for the lifespan of the landscape.


05 Bay Meadows Landing Green Park 2015_2
Bay Meadows Landing Green Park, 2015


Of course, not every project gets smoked.  Sometimes we get the chance to design and build a landscape in a just few years, or even a few months, and these circumstances provide the opportunity to test and critique our ideas on a much shorter timeline, and to learn and iterate faster. 


06 Crack Garden_landscape in a day 1999
Crack Garden, landscape in a day, 1999



07 Parkmobiles_landscape in a month 2011_2
Parkmobiles, landscape in a month, 2011



08 Annie Street experiment 2014_2
Annie Street Experiement, 2014


But at the same time, I wonder if there is some risk of being pushed too fast to deeply understand the context of the landscape or to develop the nuances of our designs.  As we just now are seeing some of our long term projects coming to fruition, we will have the opportunity to see how design duration relates to design durability.



CMG Monthly :: November


Governor Brown Signs Art + Culture Districts Bill
“This week, the National Organization of Minority Architects is holding its annual conference in New Orleans . . . exploring how design and place-based interventions can drive social change..”

Huffington Post :: California Launches Effort Promoting Art + Culture Districts1


Bay Area’s Young Creatives, Transient?
“74% of millennials surveyed said they are considering a move in the next five years, largely because of concerns over being able to eventually afford a home in their desired neighborhoods.”

What happens for SF’s economy if they leave is not pretty.
How to make them stay? Affordable housing + public realm improvements!

Next City :: Bay Area Warned: Millennials May Flee


Congratulations SPUR in regional scope!
CMG has been honored to support SPUR for over a decade. SPUR's been at it much longer. After over a century of service to San Francisco, SPUR’s important urban research and initiatives are now scaling up to do justice to the size + interconnectivity of our regional Bay Area. We’re excited to see how this milestone change in governance expands SPUR’s impact towards better cities.
SPUR :: Its Official Spur Regional Organization



SPUR’s Agenda For Change
“What’s wrong with the Bay Area, the report argues, is fixable, but it will require two main things: ‘Elegant density’ and diversity by design.”

Image curtesy of Pixabay


To Densify or Not, that is the question, or is it?
SF Chronicle :: SF Explores Housing Density Bonus If Affordable Units Added5


Affordability + Inclusion Through More Housing

CMG had the privilege of hearing Gabriel Metcalf’s speech firsthand at SPUR’s Silver Luncheon 2015. We commend his stronghearted and levelheaded dose of wisdom in the face of ever-polarizing affordability and density debates.

His message is simple : “Want to Promote Equity and Inclusion? Build More Housing”6


HUD Gives to Neighborhoods
“As part of HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods initiative, grants of up to $2 million will be given for projects like reclaiming vacant properties, attracting new business and engaging communities in transformation plans.”

“’HUD’s mission of expanding opportunity extends beyond a family’s front door to the neighborhoods where they live,’ HUD Secretary Julián Castro said.”

“The agency cites everything from improving Internet access to beautifying storefronts on its list for what the funding can help achieve.”

Next City :: HUD Brings "Action" to Choice Neighborhood Planning Grants Choice Neighborhoods7


Gentrification Slowed, “Just Green Enough”
Gentrification was all abuzz at the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago earlier this month. Some wisdom to balance environmental justice with skyrocketing property values . . . simplicity.

“Instead of creating “shiny new parks” that spur on redevelopment, they can work with existing communities to design public spaces that are “just green enough” and celebrate a community’s diversity.”

“The most damaging effect of gentrification is displacement, which can affect cultures, industries, and people alike, said Curran. ‘Ethnic communities and manufacturing factories can be pushed out, and low-income communities left out of the democratic process.’ Gentrification results in higher property values, eventual upgrading or homogenization of the environment, and the privatization of public spaces.”



Eco-District Abundance
Debunking myths of mutual exclusivity between the ecological and economic.

“. . . the data on both sides agreed: The eco-districts were valuable in fueling growth in the industry.”


CMG's first annual Studiosgiving was a delicious (if not stomach-expanding) potluck success. Three cheers to all the culinary creativity and YouTube fireside cracklin' . . .101112131415




Urban Odes
Literature flings ours doors open to the elusive unknowable. A welcome complement to the fact-seeking lines on our maps, diagrams + analytics in the making + remaking of cities.

A (personal) favorite to add to the author’s list:

“Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.” Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities



21st Century Colossus of Rhodes
Seven wonders of the ancient world is back in contemporary time. The 30-meters tall Greek God Helios once stood over the Rhodes port city as a conspicuous symbol of the people’s victory-over General Demetrius. In 2017, Dan Pearlman is bringing the idea back. With 20 different giants in 20 different cities. And, they’ll move. And, be lit up. And, be projected upon. And . . . just kidding. Hmm.

Coming to a city near you?

CLAD Global :: Giants are planned for 20 cities worldwide


Charismatic Fauna :: The Otter
This furry finned creature’s charisma quotient is a chart-topper, plus, they are intelligent (they use tools!)

Otter Facts :: Protect the Oceans

1. Sea Otters are one of the few animals that use tools. They mainly use rocks, but have been seen using glass soda bottles and cement blocks.

2. Sea Otters have built in pockets under their arms.

3. A group of Sea Otters resting together is called a raft.

4. Sea Otters’ fur has 10x # of hairs per square inch than we have on our entire head. (humans 100,000; otters 1,000,000)

5. Wild adult Sea Otters eat 25% or more of their body weight a day, or more than 12 pounds of seafood. A 150 lb human would need to eat 37 lbs of food a day!

Cute Pics :: Daily Otter


Home Is Where You Cave-Carve
“A mile deep in the wilderness of New Mexico, 70-year-old Ra Paulette is working alone on his ‘Magnum Opus’, an extraordinary livable artwork buried in the geology of a rare type of sandstone. Ra has been digging caves for 30 years, spending most of his time working in solitude, running only on passion, instinct and the company of his dog.”

buzzworthy :: Man Isolates Himself For 30 Years To Create Magnificent Underworld202122


Landscape Chimera
Artist J. Frede fuses time and space in his collages of found photographs.

“Arranging these into new landscapes that never existed speaks to the stitching together of human behavior and how we relate to time and the past: How many people have stopped at that rest stop and taken nearly the same photo of the plain hillside? All locking their own associations into the view, first road trip with a new love; last road trip to see grandma; one of many road trips alone.”

Visual News :: Fictional Landscapes Created From Old Flea Market Photos232425


Golden Gingko Rain
“This towering ginkgo tree is located within the walls of the Gu Guanyin Buddhist Temple in the Zhongnan Mountains in China. Every autumn the green leaves on the 1,400-year-old tree turn bright yellow and fall into a golden heap on the temple grounds drawing tourists from the surrounding area.”

ThisIsColossal :: Ancient Chinese Gingko Tree Drops An Ocean of Golden Leaves2627

CMG Monthly :: October



New Orleans Gets Radical

“This week, the National Organization of Minority Architects is holding its annual conference in New Orleans . . . exploring how design and place-based interventions can drive social change..”

Next City :: Urban Design Activism Socially Engaged Art Design As Protest


DIY Urban Wayfinding

Can we discover anew in the familiar? Insider tips made public, in hopes to catalyze pedestrian discovery

Next City :: Civic Instigator




GOOD, BAD + the FUTURE at the Crosswalk

“African Americans may have to wait in a crosswalk about 32% longer than white people before drivers stop.”

"’That's what makes contemporary forms of bias so pernicious—we may not be aware that we have these biases,’ says Kimberly Kahn.”

Futurity :: Racial Bias at the Crosswalk



Improv Everywhere :: Ballroom Crosswalk



Coming To The Bay Area Near You . . .

“CCTA’s long-term goal is … autonomous vehicle service will serve as the first mile/last mile connection…”

Next City :: San Francisco Driverless Bus Text Pilot




Glacial Melt In Our Own Backyard 

This is no polar bear, far-flung tale, this is climate change at a stone’s throw (albeit a harrowing 30+ mile stone’s throw through treacherous terrain).

“The glacier has lost about 90 percent of its volume and 80 percent of its surface area from 1883 to 2015.

“‘I’m getting the feeling I may be the last geologist to study these glaciers,’ Stock [a naturalist + geologist] said. ‘Pretty soon, there won’t be any ice here at all, just a rubble-strewn basin. I’m starting to think like a biologist, somebody who is studying an endangered species, something that can disappear.’

“‘In just a week, you can see the difference,’ he said.”

SF Chronicle :: Glacier was once Yosemite's largest; now it's almost gone



Green Infrastructure Solves Our Carbon Budget

“As a planet, we can only risk emitting 1000 gigatons (Gt) of C02 into the atmosphere this century.”

“That means cities have a crucial choice: build green infrastructure instead of traditional, and avoid locking in 45 Gt C02 by 2030, eight times the US’s current annual emissions.

“Green infrastructure is also more economical in the long term. According to the C40 report, building low carbon infrastructure in the next five years will be four times less expensive for cities than building high carbon infrastructure that will need to be replaced in the future.”

Next City :: Can Cities Stop Runaway Climate Change

Image from Grosvenor Resilient Cities Research




Mashable :: Sea Level Rise Submerge US Cities





Love Letters Wrap Post Office

This Is Colossal :: Love Letters Building Ha Schult







Golden Gate Bridge Book

McSweeney's :: This Bridge Will Not be Gray, by Dave Eggers Illustrated by Tucker Nichols 



Oehme van Sweden Exhibition in DC

Wishing to switch coasts for an afternoon to pour over these luscious plant palettes at the National Museum’s newest exhibition . . . ah, the frustrating constraints of geography. Happily, we have our very own Northern CA treasure at Cornerstone

Huffington Post :: The New American Garden

The Cultural Landscape Foundation :: The New American Garden



VnA Museum for London Design Festival

Core 77 :: Highlights From The VnA Museum for London Design Festival




CMG HAPPENINGS                                                            

Public Art to Hunters Point  

Early sneak-peek to Hunters Point Parks! Public art stroll on our newly laid paths, overlook, seating and more. This weekend (Oct. 17-18)

SF Gate :: Sculpture Suitable For Framing At Hunters Point



We Launched Our New Website

Welcome to the new site! We are proud to have completed a comprehensive process in which we have improved they we communicate our identity and ideas, elevated the quality of our imagery, set new graphic standards, started a blog, and joined modern technology on WordPress. We are a firm that is proud to express our many voices, and we’re excited to use this new website as a tool to do so.

Three cheers and a huge thank you to Futurepruf, dstl, and Boon design.

Oyster Monitoring at Point Pinole


The Watershed Project focuses on driving grassroots action, education, and advocacy for developing healthy watersheds in the San Francisco Bay Area, from the upland to the Bay. In addition to leading multiple community education programs on watershed structure, health, human impacts, The Watershed Project manages the Living Shoreline Initiative, bringing together community members, students, and scientists to physically build a healthier Bay by constructing an artificial oyster reef. 


In 2013, The Watershed Project launched 100 reef balls into San Pablo Bay at Point Pinole Regional Shoreline.  These reef balls are hollow domes made out of oyster shells, bay sediment, and cement that form a craggy surface conducive to the growth of the Olympia Oyster, the only oyster native to the west coast of North America, which was nearly destroyed by over-harvesting, pollution, and sedimentation.  Working with scientists at the San Francisco Bay Native Oyster Working Group, The Watershed Project is using these reef balls to begin restoring the lost habitat of these oysters in hopes of eventually improving bay water quality and improving habitat for other species. 


The Oyster Monitoring and Restoration Program brings adult volunteers to the reef to help collect data on the oyster communities, and in August a few CMG-ers took part in the counting.  Volunteers perform a careful sample count to track the number of oysters and other species growing on each reef ball.  The monitoring process not only allows scientists to better understand role of oysters and their habitat, but also builds a civic ecology — a community of stewards that will support improving oyster habitat and watershed health over the long term.  


  IMG_4700 IMG_4702 IMG_6411 betternow 2015-08-16 08.17.52 2015-08-16 08.43.50-1

CMG Monthly :: August


Market Commons, selling for $990mil!

“That means it would be among the highest prices paid for an office complex in S.F.'s history.” 

BISNOW :: Twitter HQ Under Contract

Sure is a beauty; we're proud of the new plaza space.




3 Mules

Thanks to CMGer Rayna Deniord for sharing this profoundly poetic saga of a contemporary nomads. Mule and his pack are making a pilgrimage as a cautionary to contemporary culture. Check out their route + citations in Menu.


Last seen in Woodside, CA (peninsula), and it looks like the pack passed thru our fair city last week. They proceed south, and where to is anyone’s guess. So, if you have Monterey, Big Sur, or LA plans this Labor Day, keep your eyes peeled for these dusty heroes.



“This interstate system shall be developed for pedestrians, cyclists, and equestrians with freedom to stop and rest outdoors for the night.”



John King Critiques Berkeley's Latest Architectural Trials

“The problem isn’t the scale of what’s proposed, or the architectural mishmash in the mix. It’s the way that a confusing process encourages checklists over creativity, while opponents would rather fight to stop nearly all change, rather than find ways to make that change enrich downtown’s sense of place.” – John King


BAM:PFA. Photo- Paul Chinn, The Chronicle



CA gets drought relief, Boston gets hammered (again)

CITYLAB :: A Very Early Yet  Highly Accurate Guide To This Coming Winter

Image MISHELLA / Shutterstock






CITYLAB :: How to build a city on the moon


Image AP Photo/Julio Cortez



THE REGISTRY SF :: Bay Area Data Centers Move Quickly On Expansion Plans

How do these new, quick-to-erect, floating data centers integrate with SLR, intertidal wetlands, shoreline shadowing . . . we're curious where BCDC falls on this issue.



“For some firms concerned about Bay Area land costs for data center construction, a new option has recently emerged: floating data centers.”

“Magcale said that Nautilus’ patented cooling technology is 5x more efficient than conventional land-based data centers and is up to 70% cheaper to build. It also reduces annual energy costs by 35%, he said. According to the firm’s Web site, waterborne data centers can be configured and operated with up to 800 server racks and can be deployed in less than six months anywhere in the world.”



BISNOW :: 5 Ways Technology Is Going To Change A City's Infrastructure

Clearly, more research is needed and only time will tell, but the predictive future of infrastructure is still a fun musing. Surprised the driverless car didn’t make the list.


1. LinkNYC




Colossal :: Ella Pitr Nuart Mural



Jealous Curator


Penda: Soundwave Plaza


Dezeen :: The Sequence By Arne Quinze


Berlin’s Bike Storage

Bike Storage Building, Berlin: Bike Storage Building, Berlin


CITYLAB :: This Mexican Neighborhood Lives Inside a Huge Mural


Cousin to Kristin Jones' work on Rome’s Tiber

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/8d/d5/14/8dd51405ee5417014295e8e5a24f38c2.jpg http://www.andrewginzel.com/JONES/PROJECTS/installations/shewolves/Lupa-1.jpg


COLOSSAL :: Record-Breaking Quinquennial Sail Amsterdam 2015

(Time-lapse :: boats flood in around 1:20, pun unavoidable)



Happiness Is.

(If you can effectively ignore GoPro promotional)





Austin Charrettes

Welcome back to the mighty Austin team! Congrats on heroically surviving marathon public charrettes (inside for 12-hr days, they at least averted the 100-degree weather).





Treasure Island Arts Master Plan Visioning

Much of the public art in this edition’s Monthly is courtesy of TI’s Arts MP Visioning workshop, led by the San Francisco Arts Commission. CMG's Pamela Conrad pulled another miracle out of her back pocket this week to lead a successful first-round group brainstorm for making TI a world-class arts destination.  More public art wonders on our new Pinterest page.






Hunters Point Arts Installations

As TI begins to contemplate art, Hunters Point gets it in the ground! Feast your eyes on one of the Bay’s best kept secrets . . .