My Favourite Plan

San Francisco Plan

Leo Hammond


San Francisco Plan, 1905, Daniel H. Burnham


Growing up in grey London I often dreamed about going to San Francisco, seeing the Bay, the hills and the Golden Gate Bridge. Without the opportunity to visit it, I read and looked at pictures of the city. When I got to university, I was fascinated to discover Burnham’s 1905 plan in Sir Peter Hall’s Planning History class at the Bartlett and it inspired my love of urban design. Let me tell you why.

First, the plan was so carefully prepared. This was an age when the urban designer often drew up plans in isolation from the site and the local community. By contrast, Burnham set up camp at the top of Twin Peaks to study the city with his team and organised a conference where over 200 civic groups shared ideas for improving the city. Eventually the plan was circulated as a comprehensive book of 190 pages with maps, diagrams and drawings.

Secondly, the plan has a wonderful sense of order and imaginative reach. Here were majestic radiating boulevards punctuating the regular gridiron form of San Francisco. There was an extension to Golden Gate Park which made a continuous walking route from the Pacific through the city to the Bay on the other side. There were parks on top of the city’s hills making the most of its spectacular views.

Thirdly, the plan was for the people. San Francisco at that time had few public buildings or services. Burnham wanted the plan to improve and inspire the lives of all. There were sections on the settings of churches, principles for such public buildings as schools and hospitals, and initiatives to restrict heavy traffic.

Finally, the plan was flexible. It was not intended as a strict masterplan manual but rather an inspiring illustrated and practical guide for the city over the coming decades. Perhaps we could learn something in the preparation of local plans in the UK today.

Burnham hoped that his plan would be implemented after the 1906 earthquake and fire, but instead the city was rebuilt in its gridiron form for practical and legal reasons. Even so, many of his guiding ideas have influenced its later development.

Eventually I made it to San Francisco and got to walk in Burnham’s footsteps when I studied for an urban design masters at Berkeley. Our professor, Peter Bosselmann, took us on fascinating walking tours of San Francisco and we created our own plans for the beautification of the city.


  • Combine visionary ideas with the practical
  • Plan for improving and inspiring the lives of all
  • City plans work best as flexible guides, not manuals
  • Believe in your plan and think big; as Daniel H. Burnham said, ‘Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood’
URBAN DESIGN 151 Summer 2019 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 151 Summer 2019

Want to read more like this? If you're not already an Urban Design Group member, why don't you consider joining?

Urban Design Group Article - San Francisco Plan by Leo Hammond

Leo Hammond

Current Position
Urban Design Associate Director, Lambert Smith Hampton Urban Design Tutor, University College London Chair, Urban Design Group

MA in Advanced Urban Design, University of California, Berkeley MPhil in Town Planning specialising in Urban Design, University College London BA (Hons) Music, Anglia Ruskin University

Masterplannning, outline planning applications, planning briefs, design codes, and estate regeneration

To design and build places that have the lasting qualities of Georgian streets and squares; to continue to repair the worst of post-war planning; and to get the general public talking about urban design.