How San Francisco reduced crime, protected workers and preserved a little urban space

San Francisco officials are trying to crack down on crime, encourage employment in the neighborhood and protect workers from wage theft. San Francisco’s tactics: shrink the city square inches, so as to better control crime, and limit development to the urban canyon it once was, so as to protect workers’ hours and better serve the disadvantaged.

The template for such strategies began more than a century ago. By 1905, it was an accepted fad: San Francisco had adopted the one-square-mile rule to limit development to the area’s northeast corner, ensuring that if jobs needed to be filled, there wouldn’t be hundreds of workers camped out.

Under the rule, which some still consider unfair, developers had to build on the one-block grid established in 1904 by San Francisco’s planners, including Ellis Island Mayor William John Williams, who declared, “If we don’t keep San Francisco that way and keep our foot on the development pedal, as a city, it’s not going to be long before somebody will tell us we can’t keep our toe on it.”

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