A century in the making of an iconic skyline

A century ago this year, a small group of people formed an organization that would help sculpt the most majestic city in the world. They did so under the most difficult of circumstances, since their collective dream would have to rise from the most devastated urban landscape in American history. The organization was the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco. Its members built and operate what is today an iconic downtown skyline recognized and appreciated all over the world.

And yet, their achievement has by no means been a sure thing. Nor is it written that it will always enjoy downtown’s enviable status. Decade by decade, BOMA members have confronted and usually overcome challenges that might have stunted The City’s prosperity, avoiding the fate of many of the rust belt towns that never quite reach their potential or are in decline.

Urban history teaches us that great cities are the result of many fortunate factors coming together in just the right way — over and again — to produce an ongoing success. One generation must take the torch from another. It is a shared dream; an unwritten understanding that you have a responsibility to continue to preserve and enhance the legacy. A winning coalition of groups working toward this common goal is absolutely vital to continue the dream. If this ever-volatile mix becomes unbalanced, a city can go into decline.

Are there challenges today that imperil our great City by the Bay? Unfortunately, yes.

Some powerful political and economic interest groups are convinced that the companies, organizations and people who work in downtown San Francisco represent an inexhaustible source of wealth that they can tap without consequences. These groups often have enough political clout to exact punitive taxes and fees, and impose regulations on those who create jobs and wealth that sustains San Francisco.

Yet others in The City fear and loathe change of any kind. They cling to past memories, real and imagined. Not in my backyard, they say. Not above my rooftop. But change is constant. We see it all around the Bay Area, in the Silicon Valley, the state, throughout the country and the world. San Francisco must stay abreast of these changes or fall out of step and lag behind global economic progress.

Fortunately, for every obstacle to progress, there are people who embrace it and work to make noble visions a reality. The roadmap to our future can be appreciated in our past. Look at what BOMA and its members have already accomplished over the years:
– Investing in more fireproof and earthquake-resistant buildings to withstand disaster
– Launching model environmental programs to reduce pollution and improve sustainability
– Supporting transportation initiatives that encourage carpooling and use of public transit
– Struggling against suburban sprawl that threatens The City’s prosperity
– Developing state-of-the-art building management procedures, and training professionals to implement them
– Working with officials to develop sensible codes
– Using new technology, architectural and engineering methods to modernize buildings
– Standardizing building dimensions and equipment to assure occupant safety and comfort
– Backing BART while supporting bridges and ferries to bring workers into The City
– Meeting the challenges of city officials’ increasing revenue and code demands
– Fostering an economic environment that attracts investors and commercial tenants
– Reaching accommodation with powerful labor unions.

We’ve come a long way, baby, but we’ve got a long way to go.

Marc Intermaggio is executive vice president of BOMA, San Francisco’s Building Owners and Managers Association.

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