Remembering Doug Wright, the man who helped tear down highways in San Francisco and Portland

Destruction of the Embarcadero Freeway (SF Chronicle)

Destruction of the Embarcadero Freeway (SF Chronicle)

San Francisco’s deputy mayor for transportation—who played an integral role in getting the city to tear down the Embarcadero Freeway after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake—passed away on July 30th. He was 68. After the earthquake struck the city, Wright convinced former San Francisco mayor, Art Agnos, to help lead the effort to remove the highway and replace it—not with another highway, but instead with a boulevard at street level.

Doug Wright (via the San Francisco Chronicle)

Doug Wright (San Francisco Chronicle)

In the 1970s, Wright worked as the planning director in Portland, Oregon. He set a major urban planning milestone in the United States: he got the city to take down a large portion of Harbor Drive, a highway along the Willamette River and build a park—the Tom McCall Waterfront Park (named after former Oregon governor, Tom McCall)—in its place. In many ways his actions were visionary, setting a precedent for large scale urban freeway removal projects.

In later decades, other cities let go of portions of their elevated highways, such as Boston, Milwaukee, and Seattle. Seattle is currently in the midst of boring the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel and planning a major redevelopment of the waterfront, designed by James Corner Field Operations.

“I hate the word ‘vision,’ but he had a vision as to how transportation should be part of larger efforts to sustain the urban environment,” Rudy Nothenberg told the San Francisco Chronicle. She was a colleague of Wright and San Francisco’s former chief administration officer. “More than anyone I worked with, he was the kind of person you would want as a fermenter of ideas and possibility.”

Field Operations' plan for the Seattle waterfront (Field Operations)

Field Operations’ plan for the Seattle waterfront. (Field Operations)

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