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Recent Free Public Talks
Video Archive
2023 (January-December)

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

All events are free.
Most of our events are outdoors in the form of "Urban Forum: Walk 'n' Talks" but we will occasionally host indoor discussions at 518 Valencia Street, near 16th, in San Francisco (close to 16th Street BART)

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Tuesday, December 5, 7:30 pm

Talking History with Gary Kamiya

at 518 Valencia Street

Local author, historian, and journalist Gary Kamiya joins Shaping San Francisco's co-directors LisaRuth Elliott and Chris Carlsson for a lively conversation about history, landscapes, sources, silences, research, story-telling, hidden treasures, and more. This is the culminating event of Shaping San Francisco's 25 year anniversary!

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.

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.

San Francisco's Natural Areas II

Saturday, September 30, 1:30-4 pm

Led by Peter Brastow and Bob Hall, “ride the dunes” with us down to Ocean Beach and learn about what’s happening naturally at the western edge of the continent. Then we ascend the Great Highway up to Lands End to explore lands the National Park Service restored over the last decade or so. Finally, we plot a course for the Presidio, where we’ll discover little known gems that embody the city’s status as a biodiversity hotspot within a hotspot within a hotspot! This ride builds on our Spring Natural Areas Bike Tour, but participation in our spring ride is not a prerequisite!

Video here.

Wednesday, September 27, 7 pm

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.

Saturday, September 23, 2-6 pm

Fall Equinox Picnic

at Precita Park, Folsom and Precita Streets

On September 23, 2023, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Planet Drum Foundation and the 25th anniversary of Shaping San Francisco, during a celebratory picnic, Chris Carlsson gave a presentation on the history of the Frisco Bay Mussel Group (1975-78). A seminal group that gave rise to countless common-sense ideas that have since been implemented (from curbside compost recycling to graywater systems to restoring wetlands and rare habitats), they are perhaps best remembered as the instigators of a massive public outcry against the plans to build a peripheral canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Video here.

Friday, September 22, 7:30 pm

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, 12 noon-3 pm

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

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, noon

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.

San Francisco's Natural Areas and Native Plants bike tour

Sunday, April 23

Peter Brastow, with help from Bob Hall, will share deep knowledge of San Francisco's remnant and flourishing natural areas as they lead us on bicycles to visit sites protected and managed by the Natural Resources Division of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (formerly the Natural Areas Program). Learn about the flora and fauna that comprised the original threads of our local web of life, and the urgent and often successful efforts to nurture and expand their presence in this dense urban environment. Nature IS in the city all around us!

Video here.

Sunday, March 26, 5-9pm

Oakland Tribune Tower

As part of Shaping San Francisco's ongoing 25th anniversary celebration in 2023, old friend John Law offered to host tours of the iconic Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland. John went the extra mile and dug up a bunch of history of the newspaper, the building, and Oakland more generally, and gave a delightfully entertaining tour of various nooks and crannies as well as taking up a series of steep century-old stairways to reach two ladders for the final ascent to the 307-foot high roof.

Video here.

Saturday, March 18, Noon

Journey to the Highest Peak, Mt. Davidson

This Urban Forum: Walk'n'Talk began at O'Shaughnessy and Portola and headed past a 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, Noon

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.