Sign on, Root in, Branch Out

two_way_bike_traffic_Scott_1033.jpgImagine the Wiggle as fully green bikeway, with agriculture and an open creek instead of cars!

He skirted Market Pond and made his way up to the Wiggle. Passing through a green arching gate he rolled along next to a long aging wall that had seen better days. On the other side of the wall used to be some kind of warehouse or big store. Now it was a grassy knoll sloping down to Market Pond.

On the crumbling 110-meter long wall was an old mural from the late 20th century. A clever mural within the mural showed the city, starting from a pre-deluge downtown full of cars and bikes and heading past itself to show Hayes River turning into a path to the west to the beach where a huge snake became a bicycle tire track. The mural was considered a civic treasure from the time before and a lot of trouble had been taken to save it after successive quakes and major storms.

At the end of the wall he went over the rushing creek and the high-arching Sans Souci Bridge, steering clear of oncoming cyclists. The veloway followed the winding course of the Hayes River, willow and laurel trees studding the banks, along with impatiens and lupine bushes. Many spots along the creek were open to the surrounding homes, mostly old Victorians that had elegantly stood along this waterway since it had been buried in cement culverts long ago. The lush gardens that filled the small valley gave off a wild variety of sweet and organic smells in the moonlight.

–from After the Deluge, A Novel of Post-Economic San Francisco (Full Enjoyment Books: 2004)

I wrote that passage in my novel a few years ago, set in San Francisco 150 years in the future. Imagine my pleasure when I found out that an ornamental portal to the Wiggle is the first project envisioned by some activists along our much-loved route. A week ago I sat down on the Wiggle at Bean There Café with Morgan Fitzgibbons, one of the instigators behind the new Wigg Party, whose mission is to have the folks who live and ride and eat along this route “become the leading community in America in the transformation to sustainability.” Recognizing what more and more people are coming to grips with, that we’re on the cusp of a dramatic change in how we live in cities, and on earth, the Wigglers want to lead the way, taking action one community at a time, anchored in place. Given the high mobility and transience of so many young San Franciscans, a focus on a local neighborhood as a site of transformation is immediately encouraging.

The incipient Wigg Party doesn’t yet have a website or an office, but about 15 people have come together after Fitzgibbons started some sustainable business consulting, and the ideas snowballed. It started to become a more comprehensive vision just this past July, as the group is organizing more consulting, an educational effort they’re calling the “Great Re-skilling,” a “Gateway to the Wiggle,” and a local currency effort (wigg-bucks? Tender wiggles?).

cycling_west_on_panhandle_1038.jpgWhy not turn whole streets into a City of Panhandles?

Fitzgibbons has drawn his influences from the rising tide of permaculture, the Transition Towns movement, and the spreading idea of resilient communities.

"I’ve read the Transition Handbook, Rob Hopkins’ work. I’m familiar with the movement. We’re not connected with them even though I should… I kind of disagree that we have these twin peaks of peak oil and climate change and that’s where it all comes from. I took the Permaculture Design course in the fall with Kevin Bayuk… "

Imagine a transformed Wiggle:

“An edible foodway, sculpture gardens at some spots, see if we can get people on the Wiggle to participate in window box programs, and if we can get the Panhandle recognized as part of it. Then we can put all sorts of things there. If we can get the whole roadway opened up for art, maybe stencils…We’re going to take a lot of inspiration from City Repair (in Portland)… Maybe we could get the entire Wiggle closed during Rush Hour!”

wiggle_valley_1860s.jpgThe Wiggle Valley, 1860s.

Unlike a long tradition of San Francisco radicalism, Fitzgibbons, sees his own agenda as compatible with the business world. I pressed him on this, skeptical as I am of any future for the buying and selling of human time. Perhaps he is representative of his generation of post-Left, post-neoliberal activists, or maybe his youthful optimism hasn’t yet been tempered by years of frustration with the stupidity of the modern work-a-day world.

“I come from a social entrepreneurial world in a way. I try to overcome these distinctions between nonprofit and for-profit. There’s this new model emerging, and the idea is to be able to turn a profit on a business that is performing a social good. Then we can bring in money for some of these other good projects we have… the profit businesses are a backyard garden business and a home audit business…”

To be sure, we’re all compelled to make compromises with respect to surviving in a capitalist economy, and there’s nothing new (or wrong) with taking the money we DO make at work and channeling it towards something more humane and worthwhile. I’ve done as much throughout my life. But I balk at the notion of profiting from doing social good, the bedrock concept of “social entrepreneurialism.” In my opinion, profit is derived from one of two sources: squeezing the paid employees, or externalizing costs to the greater public. If you are in a new market niche where there is little or no competition, you can charge high enough prices to escape the iron hand of the market for a while… but once competition enters, the path towards profitability and survival is invariably lowering labor costs and lowering costs of materials, waste, distribution, etc.—what gets called “efficiency” in capitalism, but is as often as not a brutal process of reducing people’s standards of living, and/or dumping costs (transit, waste, etc.) on to an acquiescent public sphere.

The success of the Reagan/Thatcher neoliberal transformation going back well over a generation was to discredit government and the public sphere, to the point that a concept like “social entrepreneurialism” can sound progressive. But it reinforces a society that frames owners of wealth as social/historical agents and the rest of us as the silly putty with which they attempt to achieve their goals. In any case, Fitzgibbons and his cohort are very well-intentioned, and certainly in tune with a rising social movement towards Transition and Resilient Communities. I’ll give him the last word:

“That’s really the whole game, is to get people to reorient their priorities and change the world… I’m a philosopher, and I have a new world view that allows for a new kind of faith that makes sense, based on evolutionary metaphysics. I think we’re in an evolutionary process. The question is where is it going, and more specifically what are we to do? And the answer is we don’t really know what the telos is. We don’t know the ultimate answer, so all we know is we have to create sustainable cultures, so the people can come behind us and have a better answer than we do.  And that gives our lives meaning, to create that culture, that’s what we have to do.”

Wigg Party meetings on 2nd Wednesdays, next: February 10, at 1571 Fulton Street, the “Sunshine Castle,” social 8:30, meeting 9…

cyclng_west_across_Masonic_on_panhandle_1036.jpgBicycle traffic jams ahead on the Wiggle!

  • After the Deluge, A Novel of Post-Economic San Francisco (Full Enjoyment Books: 2004)

    I think the publisher’s name refers to an old motto of the shorter work time movement:

    “Our goal should be full enjoyment, not full employment.”

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    To learn more about the Wigg Party visit our fledgling blog – You can also get in on our online conversations by visiting

    Hope to see some new faces at our next meeting on February 10th!

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    We’ve organized a Walk of the Wiggle with the incomparable Joel Pomerantz (chief organizer of the Duboce Bikeway Mural) who will be recounting the great history of the Wiggle and the Lower Haight. You can register here (space limited):

    You can also follow some of the goings-on of The Wigg Party by following me on twitter:

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    I also wanted to see if we could get a conversation going about this issue Chris highlights regarding the potential virtues and vices of using market forces for social good.

    Since our conversation, I’ve had a chance to get into his most recent book Nowtopia and foresaw this issue being highlighted in the piece. Aside from this entry into Nowtopia and a few cursory conversations concerning Hegel, Marx, and the like, I’m really a novice in this arena. I simply don’t really think in these terms (which Chris recognizes in saying: “Perhaps he is representative of his generation of post-Left, post-neoliberal activists”). For me it’s about creating a resilient and sustainable community ASAP, and those conversations come after that original goal. However, I recognize that this classless society is ultimately a worthy and necessary goal, and I take great inspiration from people like Chris who have the ability to clearly envision such a world.

    While I don’t have much expertise on the matter, and I recognize that creating alternative societies that exist outside of the market economy is necessary and desirable (both because we can and because it’s important to provide people who wish to “drop out” a place to land), I do maintain the claim that we must engage with the market in order to temper its substantial contribution to the various planetary crises. The fact of the matter is that our market economy exists, and its existence is re-created every single day by individuals deciding to participate in it through our individual purchases (see Hegel: Master-Slave dialectic).

    Now we can either choose to drop out and attempt to construct alternative societies while the market economy as currently constructed systematically destroys the biosphere, or we can choose to attempt to re-orient the rules of the market economy – get individuals to spend their momentous dollars entirely on goods and services that are conscious of their impact on people and planet, not just profit. If we got everyone in America to only support all of the best companies, then all of the other companies will adopt these best practices in order to compete for market share. Yes, we maintain our existential identity as consumers, but it’s a kinder gentler consumer.

    It’s not the ultimate solution, but it’s what we call in the permaculture circle a “less-bad.” That’s why our slogan (and the title of this piece) is “Sign on, root in, branch out.” When our Hippie fore-bearers turned on and tuned in, they realized the machine was bogus and they wanted no part in it, so they dropped out. Unfortunately, we are not afforded such a choice. We can’t drop out because dropping out means the machine will go on unmolested. We must throw our bodies on the gears. Where the Hippies dropped out, we sign on (both metaphorically and digitally). Once signed on, we root in by learning about the state of the world (through sites like, teaching each other new (old) skills, using our market power to force our local businesses to adopt better practices in exchange for market share, and generally create community and meaning in our lives. Finally, we branch out by spreading the movement to other individuals, other parts of the city, country, and world.

    So, we think engaging with and affecting our local market economy is more likely to create what we’re looking for – a sustainable culture (absent of businesses who plunder natural capital and turn it into profit). I’m totally open to the possibility that we’re short-sighted in this approach, but I’m not convinced yet.

    What does everyone else think?

  • ZA

    Until I can give a more thoughtful response, I’ll just say, “Where’s my Vyne?”

  • Nick

    Turning streets into waterways pushes the imagination. It’s ideas like these that could make a politican world-famous.

    Just think what it could do for tourism…

  • Nick

    Forgot to add, the Great Highway from Lincoln to Skyline Blvd (3.5 miles) is expected to remain closed to cars on Saturday. Is anyone considering organizing a “Saturday Streets” style event?

    The street is flooded and part of it is falling into the sea. Puts a new twist to on-street waterways….

  • jeff gibson

    Regarding the 1860s photo: if Chris or anyone else would like to comment on the photo’s orientation and landmarks I’d be interested. Specifically, is this looking N,S,E, or W? What is the hill in the distance in the middle background? Ditto the slope on the left margin of the picture. And there is a long street going horizontally across the middle of the photo – anyone know what this street is? Thanks

  • Per Jeff’s request, the old photo has some amazing features and is one of the most exciting photos to me right now. I’m going to talk about it in more depth on my walking tour of the Wiggle. (The tour is now full, but let me know if you want to be alerted when I schedule the next one very soon.)

    The photo is looking NW into San Souci Valley. (Note correct spelling, named after a family living there whose name was a misspelling of ‘sans souci’, meaning ‘carefree’—close enough to make yet another misspelling into ‘carfree’ if you ask me!).

    The hill which the photographer was standing on no longer exists—at least not that part of it. It was called, at the time, Reservoir Hill. It was also called, for a while in the early 1900s, Clinton Mound (thus Clinton Park Street near the corner of Dolores and Market). And now it’s called Mint Hill because of the coin factory atop its remnant. At least 75% of the hill was removed. The photo was taken from a high-up spot just about at the middle of the roof of the apartment building now on the first block, east side of Church Street.

    The pointy hill in the middle, background, is Lone Mountain where USF is today. It was known at that time as ‘El Divisadero’ (meaning ‘the divide’—where the waters flow to the Bay on the east slope and the Pacific on the west slope).

    The right side of the photo is the slope up to what is now Alamo Square. The left side is the slope up to Buena Vista Hill.

    I’ve been digging deep into this photo recently, and though I’m not sure, I am reasonably certain that this photo shows some things I have never before heard nor read about:

    1. A 60’ high, narrow dune the entire length of what is now Page Street (covered with low shrubs or chaparral vegetation). It starts, with a jagged ridge-top, at the base of Buena Vista Hill. It was flattened to make a grid of streets very soon after this photo was taken

    2. A long, skinny pond, perhaps a remnant of the San Souci Creek itself, just above the large black black roof of the white building near the left side of the photo.

    I am trying to triangulate from maps of the time and current geography to figure out exactly where each thing is and whether these hypotheses make sense. If you are into that sort of thing (I have no software to make it simpler), then get in touch! (It’s easy to reach me through my new and not-ready-for-primetime

  • @Morgan: What happens if as a result of the Wigglifiabeautification property values go up even further? What measures would you consider to mitigate this? Perhaps “Mirror Wiggles” across the City in order to distribute the goodness?

    @Joel: As you know I lived very close to that photo P.O.V. for many years and it would be grand to eventually see some kind of superimposition between the now and the then.

    Indeed, when I lived on 14th St. – just a jackrabbit’s jump uphill from Guerrero – there was at one time a big sewer replacement project. I recall seeing a constant flow of water and noticed it contained not a recognizable piece of poo or toilet paper and then figured it must be some kind of buried creek (we pronounce that crik in these parts).

    This was therefore a kind of unintentional educational project about the stealth waterways of Frisco. My suggestion is that you coordinate with the Sewerage Council or whatever you Yanks call it and display sewer repair projects as Creekucation Opportunities.

  • @Todd

    Thanks! I’m working with them sewerage folkies on something like that, I hope. Been sharing info and slowly hatching a plan. Greg Braswell, the energetic and supremely knowledgeable guy who’s redesigning many of the sewers came on my Thinkwalks Water tour last week. Ideas are bubbling, some with poo and some poolessly.

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    That’s a good question Todd – if we are successful in our efforts to make our neighborhood a beautiful and exciting place to live, then it will become more competitive to live there and the rent will go up (that darn market again).

    I would say that you are pretty on point. The idea is to inspire other neighborhoods in the city and around the world to make similar changes in their place and lives. That would help
    mitigate the issue.

    Barring that, two words: rent strike 😉

  • @Joel: Glad to see the under-ness of 14th St. is not ze only dual flow goin’ on.

    @Morgan: What I am leanin’ towards is that your crew would identify five or ten “Wiggle Mirrors” in SF and do things like distributing your donations to all of the projects, ’cause it is my guess – please forgive any assumptions – that you might have greater capacity, connections… gigabytes-o-bandwidth (as it were) than many of the others. Solidarity, brother! A Wiggle is only as strong as its weakest giggle.

  • Is there a larger version of the 1860s photo that might make it easier to identify landmarks? Or is this the best copy there is?

  • So if I’m looking at this and the 1869 Coast Survey map right…

    The street in the foreground is Hermann, dead-ending at the left of the picture into Church, which runs almost the entire width of the picture, further north than it does today. Near the right edge, the main path jogs left to the Fillmore right of way. It runs into Haight, which has the houses on the north side of it, at the base of the ridge. The fence on the other side of the ridge is between Haight and Page. The fence at the north edge of what looks like water is Waller, turning north at Pierce.

    Does that make any sense?

  • jeff gibson

    Thanks Joel, that’s a lot of interesting insight into the details of the photo. I live about a block or so from the Mint and it makes perfect sense that it was from this vantage point the photo was taken. I too would love to see a larger, more detailed version of the pic if such exists, though my guess is what we see is the best we have. The apartment building you describe adjacent to the US Mint used to be a funeral home with rather large pine trees on the property. I concur with Eric Fischer that the street in the foreground is Hermann, though I wonder if it might be Fillmore that it dead-ends into rather than Church?

  • Yeah, see! Isn’t this old photo fascinating? I’m hoping to see the original at some point.

    As for the roads on this photo, here’s my opinion, after taking maps from that time (1857, 1859, 1869) and fitting them to a present day map.

    I believe that the road you’re trying to call ‘Fillmore’ or ‘Church’ is actually a road that no longer exists. That road curved a lot, and was the original path from the Mission to the Presidio, so I’m calling it “Old Mission Presidio Trail.”

    You’re correct in calling the closest street (with the fancy fences) ‘Hermann’—but it was known as ‘Kate Street’ at that time.

    The exact spot in the photo where Kate Street forms a T from the east with Old Mission Presidio Trail seems to be approximately at the current Church and Hermann corner.

    The route of Old Mission Presidio Trail within the photo is hard to see, because of trees and the fact that the road isn’t paved or even smooth. Within 50 feet north of that T, Old Mission Presidio Trail bends left and continues at a 45 degree angle NW for half a block. That angled portion is essentially invisible nestled in the fuzz where there doesn’t appear to be any path at all. (It’s not that sharp dark line going toward the white tower-like object. That’s at the wrong angle to Lone Mountain.)

    When it hits the north-south line that is now Fillmore Street, the Trail then bends right, going due north through the gap in the dune. You can see a house sitting at the top of the dune, on the near side of the gap (with a white fenceline passing behind its roof peak).

    After the Trail goes through that gap, it again curves left.

    You can see a small cluster of buildings on what became Haight, in front of the dune and just west of Fillmore Gap (just left of what looks like a tall white tower, but probably isn’t). Continuing west on the line of Haight Street, there’s another house, barely visible, in front of the dune, a few blocks to the left. It’s between what are now Pierce and Scott. Of course, these streets only were built after the dune was flattened.

    Behind the Page Street Dune, another jagged-topped dune that’s parallel to Pgae Street Dune runs along what is now Hayes. That dune ends at what is now Hayes and Scott on the SW corner of present day Alamo Square. You can just barely see the Old Mission Presidio Trail there, going up and over the Hayes Dune.

  • Thanks for pointing out my anachronistic street naming. The reason I referred to the trail as Church is that in the 1869 map, only the part from 14th and Dolores to Haight and Fillmore still existed, and the portion at the south end of the picture seemed to occupy the line of Church Street. But you’re right, it did not actually connect to the built part of Church.

    I do think Scott may have existed at the same time as the dune, though. In the 1869 map it looks like the block between Haight and Page is there but the dune is still in place. I think you can also see this in the photo — there is a cleared line passing over the ridge that is otherwise covered in trees.

  • ryan holman

    Interesting article — about the creek and such, I love the concept of unearthing these buried waterways.

    However, I am a bit confused as to why there is an enormous tangent about the perils of capitalism and political maneuvering going on on Streetsblog which, last time I checked was not an affiliate of these obscure parties.

    Let’s stick to urban design and local politics, shall we?

  • @Eric: The 1869 map probably comes after this photo, which is imprecisely dated ‘1860s’. I interpret the “cleared line passing over the ridge” you’ve noted as a fence line at the Pierce-aligned property boundary shown on the 1869 map. Scott Street’s location is beyond that, left of the house, and I think not visible in the photo.

    @Ryan: I wonder if I can clear some confusion. Humans voicing and examining economics is a lot like fish examining water—it gets ignored because it surrounds us so completely, but it could save the species. If you find such discussion to be out of place in any aspect of life, then you’ve essentially agreed to accept without question whatever effect it has on that aspect. Intellectual curiosity, if not survival instinct, have a place in any streetsblog discussion, if you ask me.

    (Personally, I think the water in this society is low on oxygen. Let’s swim toward a more egalitarian model, please!)

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    Sorry Ryan. I thought that it would be a worthy conversation regarding the proper avenues to direct our energy in creating a more just, sustainable future. Is social entrepreneurship a worthy endeavor or is Chris correct to question its ultimate goals? I at least wanted to give some context to one of the major tenets of the article.

    I didn’t realize this site was solely devoted to urban design and local politics. I was under the impression that the comment section was a place to comment on relevant issues regarding the featured article.

    I appreciate your desire to keep a focused conversation but I think you should lighten up the police routine. It’s an interesting question, and one that does pertain to the values and goals of this site, whether you recognize it or not.

  • If it helps any, Calisphere has another picture taken from a nearby vantage point in 1905:


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