Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek will be in SF to serve as the keynote speaker at the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards on Tuesday evening. We thought it’d be a good opportunity to look back on how Streetsblog San Francisco came to be, and get Naparstek’s take on what’s changed in the city since we launched at the start of 2009.
Naparstek founded Streetsblog in New York City in 2006 as a project of OpenPlans, our non-profit parent organization founded by Mark Gorton. Naparstek was the editor-in-chief until 2010, during which time he launched Streetsblog San Francisco, Los Angeles, Capitol Hill (now USA), and the Streetsblog Network. He recently completed a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and has been working as a Visiting Scholar at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
Naparstek was approached by a group of SF’s sustainable transportation advocates, led by SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum, in the summer of 2008 at the World Car-Free Cities Conference in Portland.
“They said, we think bringing Streetsblog here can really help energize the movement,” he said. “To me it said, there’s a community here that wants it, so let’s try to make it happen.”
With a four-year injunction on bicycle infrastructure in effect at the time, Naparstek said he’d been following SF’s issues for a while. “It seemed like there was all this pent-up demand,” he said. “I thought, San Francisco would be great for this.”
Naparstek and the SFBC worked together to organize Streetsblog SF, raising funds and interviewing candidates for editor. At one point in that process, Naparstek said Shahum recommended interviewing Bryan Goebel, who had volunteered for the SFBC and had nearly 20 years of experience in journalism, primarily in radio. Goebel was chosen to become the editor of Streetsblog SF, and was partnered with Matthew Roth, who moved from New York City after working in livable streets advocacy there. Ultimately, Goebel took me on as an intern and trained me on the job, and I was chosen to fill the position after he left.
Naparstek noted that he was impressed by Shahum’s commitment to helping launch a separate project in an environment where non-profits compete for scarce funds. “A lot of non-profit executive directors would be hesitant to bring us into their orbit because we’re another mouth to feed, looking for progressive transportation advocacy dollars, when it’s not that easy to raise money,” he said. “I was impressed that the Bike Coalition had a broad enough view of the movement as a whole that they recognized that we could help make the pie bigger.”
Streetsblog was formed around the idea of a media outlet that could cover issues around sustainable transportation and livable streets from an advocacy standpoint, highlighting stories not covered by traditional media. The aim is to promote the growing movement and shed light on the responsibility of government leaders and agencies to shape streets in ways that promote safer and more efficient ways of getting around.