Join our list:

Recent Free Public Talks and Outdoor Urban Forums
January 2023-2024

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)

podcast subscription To subscribe to our Talks as a podcast, paste the link into your favorite podcast software (iTunes, Podcast Addict, etc.)

Wednesday, April 10, 7:30 pm

Life and Death in a Great American City

at 518 Valencia

Cities grow, cities change. Some businesses and institutions thrive, while others die off and are replaced. In this joint presentation of words and images, Lorri Ungaretti (Vanished San Francisco), and Alec Scott (Oldest San Francisco) speak to the history of our great, sometimes troubled city, what's been lost over the years, what's stuck around. Expect the discussion to range widely, from science to religion, from food to drink, from sports to shopping, from sex to death.

Video here.

Tuesday, March 26, 6:30-8:30 pm

Cultivating Food Resilience and
Combating Global Challenges

at 518 Valencia, Talk and Conversation with Punk Gardener Eric Lenoir – co-presented by Villa Albertine

Meet Punk Gardener Eric Lenoir and other figures in the urban agriculture and local rewilding community for a discussion on territorial food resilience, combating biodiversity collapse, and addressing global warming effects.

Video here.

Thursday, March 7, 5:30 pm

UN Plaza: The TL’s Front Porch

at the Tenderloin Museum, 398 Eddy Street

Survey the design and activist history of United Nations Plaza, the high-concept public space at the foot of the TL, with presentations by Dr. Linda Day (emeritus professor of city planning), LisaRuth Elliott and Chris Carlsson (co-directors, Shaping San Francisco) and Emily Smith Beitiks (Interim Director, SFSU’s Longmore Institute). Home to dramatic protests from the 1977 occupation of the Federal Building on behalf of Disability Rights, to the epic decade-long AIDS/ARC Vigil, and countless others that have passed through its prominent public space, to its ongoing life as the home to the Heart of the City Farmers' Market since the early 1980s, UN Plaza has seen it all.Come discuss the role of this important "front porch" to the adjacent Tenderloin neighborhood.

Sorry, no recording of this event is available.

Tuesday, December 5, 7:30 pm

Talking History with Gary Kamiya

at 518 Valencia Street

Gary Kamiya, author of Cool Grey City of Love, in addition to writing the "Portals of the Past" column in the SF Chronicle and now the SF Examiner, has been a longtime inspiration and friend to Shaping San Francisco. In this last event of our 25th anniversary celebration, Gary joins Chris and LisaRuth for a 3-way conversation/interview about writing history, choosing sources, the value of archives, the role of history in an amnesiac culture, and other fun topics. Come with your thoughts, insights, and questions!

Video here.

Thinkwalk: 1862 Flood

Saturday, December 2, Noon

Walking Tour

With Joel Pomerantz, The 30-something inches of rain that hit San Francisco this recent rain season made a mess to remember. On this Thinkwalk, we’ll visit the site of devastating floods from a winter much worse than the one we had last year. Learn about local climate history and see your city with new eyes. The storms 162 years back will be our focus but climate history also presents a chance to look into dune dynamics, the history of photography and the arrival of the Spanish.

Video here.

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.