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Recent Free Public Talks and Outdoor Urban Forums
January 2020-2023

A place to meet and talk unmediated by corporations, official spokespeople, religion, political parties, or dogma.

All events are free.
At 518 Valencia Street, near 16th, in San Francisco (close to 16th Street BART)

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Thursday, November 16, 7:00 pm

North Beach History Night

at Savoy Tivoli, 1434 Grant Avenue

Telegraph Hill Dwellers join Shaping San Francisco for an informative excursion through neighborhood history, highlighting Italian roots, architectural preservation, Coit Tower on its 90th anniversary, and how San Francisco's grassroots environmentalism can trace its roots to the slopes of 19th century Telegraph Hill.

Sorry, no recording of this event.

Wednesday, November 15, 7:30 pm

Jenny Odell in the Archives

at 518 Valencia Street

In 2019, through the San Francisco Arts Commission, Jenny Odell was an artist in residence at the San Francisco Planning Department. During her time there, Odell happened across unfiled and minimally marked envelopes of snapshots of San Francisco from the late 1960s through the late 1990s. These images of storefronts and streetscapes depict an ever-changing San Francisco through seemingly arbitrary aspects of the city's distinctive neighborhoods. In this talk, Odell presents images from this archive and discusses the way they read differently through the lens of the present.

Video here.

Wednesday, November 8, 7:30 pm

Eric Porter's People's History of SFO

at 518 Valencia Street

Join Eric Porter, author of the recent A People’s History of SFO, for a deep look at SFO—San Francisco International Airport—which has come a long way from its muddy beginnings as Mills Field in the 1920s. Functioning as the center of the Bay Area’s modernizing transportation networks, SFO’s evolution illuminates fraught questions of access and employment discrimination, while becoming an “infrastructural manifestation of a succession of regional colonial presents, layered on top of sinking concrete, steel, and landfill upon mud.” And today’s airport, with rising bay waters lapping at its shores, confronts us with the implacable role of air travel in climate change, which no amount of berms and protective seawalls will solve.

Video here.

Saturday, October 28, noon

Lone Mountain Cemetery

Walking Tour (Cemetery Week!)

Join San Francisco history guy Woody LaBounty on a tour of the land once occupied by four big San Francisco cemeteries around Lone Mountain. Now the site of shopping centers, housing developments, and the University of San Francisco, the hills separating the Western Addition and the Richmond District were the final resting place (not!*) of more than 100,000 people from the 1850s to the early 1940s. There are slopes and stairs on this hike.

* Learn why!

Video here.

Tuesday, October 24

Mountain View Cemetery

at Oakland Public Library, 125 14th Street

In this talk co-presented by the Oakland History Center, Liam O'Donoghue, host of the incomparable podcast East Bay Yesterday, presents a humorous and rich tour of the illustrious Mountain View Cemetery which opened in Oakland in the 1860s. Featuring famous characters, interesting monuments, lost connections and curious overlapping histories, Liam's talk anchored Shaping San Francisco's "Cemetery Week" as well as being part of the Oakland History Center's Fall Programming.

Video here.

Wednesday, September 27

Emiliano Echeverria: Trains into the Outside Lands

At the Internet Archive, 300 Funston Street

As part of Shaping San Francisco's ongoing 25th anniversary celebration in 2023, long-time friends and collaborators at the Western Neighborhoods Project join us in this exploration of the deep transit history of the west side of San Francisco. Expect a lively evening featuring the inestimable Emiliano Echeverria, whose knowledge of San Francisco's transportation history is unmatched. Emiliano draws from his remarkable DVD publications on the Steam Railroads of San Francisco and the history of United Railroads to reveal the transit-driven process of "conquering" the outside lands.

Video here.

Friday, September 22

San Francisco Natural History with Greg Gaar

At 518 Valencia Street

Greg Gaar shows over 100 photos covering the history of San Francisco's natural features including the sand dunes, grasslands, trees, lakes, creeks, tidal marshes and rock formations. He discusses the efforts by government agencies and volunteers to preserve what remains of San Francisco's natural heritage.

An Autumnal Equinox co-presentation with Planet Drum Foundation who celebrates 50 years of actively recognizing and appreciating our life-places (bioregions).

This event is a collaboration with Shaping San Francisco's 25th year celebrations.

Video here.

Bicycle Messenger Crackdown Commemoration Ride

Saturday, August 26

Join longtime bike messengers along with cycling advocates for this journey through the lost history of city crackdowns, bike messenger hangouts, worker revolts, reclaiming of public space, and a reappraisal of the underground working-class subculture that provided a unique path to a type of autonomy and independence. Police crackdowns, especially in 1984 and 1989 helped forge a new unity among messengers of that era, and left a legacy of cultural cohesion and resistance that survives out of sight and recorded history… until now!

Tour ends in Western Addition.

Video here.

Wednesday, June 14 at 518 Valencia

The New Deal in San Francisco

Gray Brechin presents a far-ranging overview of the New Deal and its legacy in San Francisco. Public works include parks, public art, schools, the zoo, roads and bridges, and more. Speaking as the chief scholar of the Living New Deal project (, Brechin is uniquely capable of bringing context and insight to a retrospective analysis of the one time in U.S. history when the government actually put the needs and interests of the large part of the population ahead of the immediate needs of Capital and the owners of corporations. A lively discussion follows at the end.

Video here.

Saturday, May 20

Food and Sports History in SOMA and the Mission

The Last Urban Forum Walk'n'Talk of Spring 2023 season, this is on the twin themes of Food and Baseball! Billed originally as a Mission District walk, we actually began at 8th and Market on the site of the old 1890s Central Park, and later the site of the Crystal Palace Market. Our trek took us to 8th and Harrison for some baseball history sweetened by an earlier sugar factory, then a saga of offal and stench near the 1857 Brannan Street bridge, on to Seals Stadium and Hamms Beer brewery, a glance at American Can Co. and Best Foods factory, then across the Mission to end at 15th and Valencia, the site of Big Rec, original home of the Mission Reds AND the San Francisco Seals.

Video here.

Saturday, March 18

Journey to the Highest Peak, Mt. Davidson

This Urban Forum: Walk'n'Talk began at O'Shaughnessy and Portola and headed past the century-old reservoir to reach an old entry to Mt. Davidson. Up we went, spending some time at the top enjoying the views, as well as paying a visit to the old cement cross which has a large restoration project taking shape next to it. Down the the long steep street on the southwest side of the mountain, we eventually made our way to the Edgehill Mountain Open Space, walking through the forest where many trees fell in recent storms. The top of Edgehill features a number of remarkable homes, and after circumambulating the hill we made our way back to the beginning spot.

Video here.

Saturday, January 28

Bernal to Diamond Heights

Starting at the Richland Avenue overpass at the Bernal Cut, we ascended Fairmont Heights to Laidley Street to see the Poole-Bell Mansion and a number of whimsical architectural statements along that street. The Harry Steps took us to Beacon Street above Billy Goat Hill where we heard about the original Gray Bros. quarry that carved the hill that became a park. Traversing the new path to Haas Playground we continued up to the top of Diamond Heights before following a winding route through the west and southern edges of the neighborhood, along the rim of Glen Canyon at one point. Finally we returned to the starting point.

Video here.

Saturday, November 19, 12 noon

Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow

The final Urban Forum: Walk n Talk of Fall 2022 took us to Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow. Starting at the Spreckels Mansion at Washington on the north edge of Lafayette Park, we wandered west to visit Tucker Town, Captain Leale's 1853 farmhouse, the Bourn Mansion, and the cluster of Flood mansions near Broadway and Webster. Guest host Gail MacGowan gave great stories and background on the Casebolt Mansion, the churches on Steiner at Green and Union, and ending at the Russian Orthodox church at Green and Van Ness. In between we also stopped at the site of the first reading of "Howl" and passed the Vedanta Temple, discussed house moving, the Octagon House, Allyne Park, and Washerwoman's Lagoon.

Video here.

Saturday, November 5, 12 noon

China Beach to Mountain Lake

A Walk n Talk through the misty drizzle, starting at 30th Avenue and California and walking over to China Beach. It was the first day of Dungeness Crab season and many small boats were offshore, west of the Golden Gate, and the beach was full of fishermen too. From there we walked through Seacliff and over to the Lobos Creek area and the huge dune restoration project. Following Anza Trail up and behind the former Marine Hospital we paused at the Marine Cemetery overlook, and then headed down the stairs to the underpass under the highway, and ending at a couple of spots overlooking Mountain Lake, including the original Anza campsite plaque.

Video here.

Saturday, October 15, 12 noon

New Parks: Tunnel Tops to Francisco

Starting at Battery Slaughter, recently opened to the public with its expansive views of the Golden Gate and the bay, we strolled through the restored landscape and old 1890s military installations. We made our way to the official "Tunnel Tops" park between the Main Post and Crissy Field, wandered past Quartermaster Reach, and eventually out to the long walk along the Marina Green. There we saw a few surprising monuments amidst the hundreds of tots battling it out in goalie-free soccer. We passed through Fort Mason and its spectacular community garden, before concluding our WalknTalk at the new Francisco Park built over San Francisco's first reservoir site after years of abandonment.

Video here.

Saturday, September 24, 12 noon

Chain o' Lakes/Western Golden Gate Park

Our first Walk n Talk Urban Forum of Fall 2022 season, started the north edge of the Northernmost of the Chain of Lakes in western Golden Gate Park. After traversing the width of the park we proceeded west and encounter a number of other stories related to trains, bicycles, feminism, shipwrecks and more!

Video here.

Saturday, May 28

City College to San Francisco State

Learn about the struggle for union rights and a Free City College, visit the Urbano Sundial, and end at the historic SF State University campus, where the 1968-69 student/faculty strikes led to the establishment of the first College of Ethnic Studies in the U.S.

Video here.

Saturdays, April 9 and April 16

San Bruno Mountain

A walk up Owl Canyon and then down Buckeye Canyon on San Bruno Mountain, led by David Schooley, long time organizer and defender of the remarkable Mountain. A home to endangered plants and butterflies, and the last intact remnant of the ecological niche that once covered most of the San Francisco peninsula, and a place with incredible views from dense oak forests, San Bruno Mountain is also home to some key environmental battles of the 1970s to the present.

Video here.

Saturday, March 26

Fort Funston to Pine Lake

A Shaping San Francisco "Urban Forum: Walk n Talk" going from Fort Funston in the southwest corner of the city through the old base, now a park, to Ocean Beach and north to Sloat Blvd., then east on Wawona to Pine Lake. Several stops along the way with semi-long presentations by Shaping San Francisco's Chris Carlsson covering military and economic history, wildflowers, sewage, urban farming, water, swales and graywater, and many other random things. Includes photos from, video from the Prelinger Archive, and a map from

Video here.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Visitacion Valley and Little Hollywood

A spirited urban meander starting at the foot of the Visitacion Valley Greenway, with a presentation on its evolution from activist Fran Martin, then looping back through the neighborhood and down Leland Avenue, the main shopping street, checking out historic architecture along the way with commentary from Visitacion Valley Historical Society members Cynthia Cox and Edie Eps. Once we emerged onto Bayshore Boulevard we went slightly north to cross over and enter Little Hollywood where we heard from VVHS member Russel Marine, along with Edie and Cynthia, and toured the unique residential neighborhood with a stop at its hilltop park next to the Recology facility. After all that we headed back onto Bayshore Blvd., stopping in front of the former Schlage Lock factory site to hear about the failed redevelopment of it, and ended south of the county line where we could peer through the fence to see the old Southern Pacific roundhouse.

Video here.