The Golden City
By Walter Thompson
Join host Walter Thompson for The Golden City, a podcast that presents stories from San Francisco’s past, present and future. In each episode, Thompson and guests explore aspects of the city’s news, history and culture that often go overlooked. Whether you’re a native or a tourist, listen to the The Golden City, and you’ll learn something new about one of the most familiar cities on Earth.
13. Reopening Great Highway: neighborhood politics vs. climate change
In April 2020, about a month after San Francisco declared a state of emergency to slow the spread of COVID-19, city officials closed Great Highway, an expressway that runs along Ocean Beach. Over several months, it became the second-most popular recreation area in the city after Golden Gate Park. But some residents didn’t like it -- detours shunted traffic onto adjacent side streets and added a few minutes to commuting times. So, in August 2021, Mayor London Breed reopened Great Highway to vehicles, sparking an uproar among residents who took for granted that the experiment would be made permanent. Today, I want to give you a sense of what it’s like to experience a familiar space from a new perspective, what the controversy says about San Francisco's neighborhood-based politics, and also — how hard it is to reclaim public space from automobiles.
September 19, 2021
12. A historic tragedy: inside San Francisco's school renaming initiative
In May 2018, San Francisco’s Board of Education adopted a resolution to create a formal plan for renaming the city’s public schools. The resolution specified that the process should be led by a blue-ribbon committee. In January 2021, the board voted 6-1 to accept the committee’s recommendations to rename 44 schools, about a third of the city’s total. But after evidence emerged that the panel’s findings were based on poor methodology and historical inaccuracies, the controversy became national news. For this episode, I interviewed Joe Eskenazi, who covered this story for Mission Local where he’s the managing editor. To bring us inside the committee’s faulty decision-making process, you’ll also hear audio captured from their Zoom meetings, along with selections from a Google spreadsheet they created to justify their decisions.
February 16, 2021
11. Eight months into the pandemic, COVID-19 is surging in San Francisco
Eight months after San Francisco became the first U.S. city to order its residents to shelter in place to stem the spread of COVID-19, the number of new coronavirus infections spiked in the last month. The city is helping businesses ride out the pandemic’s economic impact by making it easier to operate outdoors, but more restrictions are likely in the coming weeks. And with many residents traveling for Thanksgiving despite the known risks, we may be looking at another surge just in time for Christmas.
November 26, 2020
10. From Matthew Johnson to George Floyd
In September 1966, a white San Francisco police officer shot and killed Matthew Johnson, an unarmed 16-year-old Black boy in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood whom he suspected of stealing a car. Within hours, outrage stirred the community to action, culminating in a three-day uprising that saw widespread looting, a citywide curfew and 2,000 National Guard soldiers dispatched to keep order. The Bayview-Hunters Point uprising is far too big a story to condense for a single episode, but the parallels between the killings of Matthew Johnson and George Floyd are so strong, I couldn’t leave it alone.
June 22, 2020
9. Early days of the coronavirus
As COVID-19 begins to spread via community contact in the Bay Area, San Francisco's government, businesses and residents are changing myriad aspects of daily life. From my perspective, this was the week the city really began to transform, so this episode examines some of the virus' early social, economic and emotional impacts. As I posted on Twitter, "while we cope with the novel coronavirus, let’s temporarily change #SanFrancisco’s motto from oro en Paz, Fierro en Guerra (gold in peace, iron in war) to Lavos las Manos (wash your hands)."
March 16, 2020
8. The Tuesday Noon Siren
For decades, every Tuesday at noon, San Francisco residents heard a siren followed by a public safety message via a network of loudspeakers. In a city that was forged in a crucible of earthquakes and fire, the 15-second message was a reminder to prepare for the worst — even if many residents ignored it. In December 2019, the city's Department of Emergency Management announced that it was taking the system offline for two years to improve reliability and security in an overhaul that could cost as much as $2.5 million. Now that the tradition has been interrupted, has the rhythm of city life lost a step? Also, who's likely to hear the Tuesday noon siren and what does it say about class and privilege? And finally, what's in your earthquake kit?
February 11, 2020
7. Murder in Golden Gate Park (Part 2 of 2)
In the conclusion to this two-part episode, crime reporter and author Vivian Ho reads the complete first chapter of Those Who Wander: America’s Lost Street Kids and talks about why she expanded her coverage of two murders that grabbed San Francisco's attention in October 2015 into a book. "It just felt like a tragedy on all fronts, it was absolutely heartbreaking from the victims' perspectives — here was a young girl who was cut down as she was trying to figure out her life, as she was just starting off, and here was a man who was here to support his wife through chemo, they loved each other so much." "You look at these three suspects and you just wonder what the hell happened, how did we get here, how did we get here as a society, where did we go wrong," she said.
November 26, 2019
6. Murder in Golden Gate Park (Part 1 of 2)
San Francisco’s street kids are highly visible and poorly understood. No one has a firm grasp on how many of them live on our streets, as a good number are transient and belong to the community of “Travelers” who congregate in Haight-Ashbury. Few residents view them as violent or a threat, however, which is why a 2015 crime spree committed by three young vagabonds in Golden Gate Park captured San Francisco’s attention. In this episode, crime reporter Vivian Ho discusses the case, which forms the basis for her book, Those Who Wander: America’s Lost Street Kids.
November 19, 2019
5. The Clinton Park Boulders
In September 2019, a group of residents on a quiet street placed enormous boulders on their sidewalk to discourage homeless encampments and drug sales. But when city officials and politicians sided with the people who installed the hostile architecture, it sparked a debate about how San Francisco treats its homeless residents, who number in the thousands. Guest Joe Eskenazi, Managing Editor of Mission Local, covered the story extensively. "There's a middle ground, and we have to find it," he said. "And our leaders have to take us there."
October 30, 2019
4. Eric Raymond
Thanks to a listener in Los Angeles, Eric Raymond dropped by to talk about his career as a writer and novelist in San Francisco. His first novel, "Confessions From A Dark Wood," is a satire based on his experiences working in global brand management. In this episode, Eric discusses his work and reads an excerpt from his upcoming novel, "Golden Gate," set to be released in March 2020 by Tyrant Books.
October 10, 2019
3. San Francisco to Little Rock
In May 2015, I interviewed Chris Dumas as he was preparing to return to his birthplace of Little Rock, Arkansas after living in San Francisco for 12 years. In September 2019, we spoke again about his experiences readjusting to life in his hometown, moving from a cramped apartment to owning a house, and how he looks back on his time in SF.
September 18, 2019
2. Tales From Mount Sutro
Mount Sutro's urban forest is the locus for several gripping tales, including a kidnapping, a forest fire, a rich man's greed, and a flock of hard-working professional goats. In this episode, journalist Eve Batey and artist Tim Ehhalt buckle in for multiple history lessons about one of the city's famed Seven Hills and bring listeners inside their Outer Sunset store, Avenues Dry Goods.
September 3, 2019
1. The Notes
After I shared a photo on Twitter of a mysterious note I found taped to a utility pole in the Central Sunset, resident Pete Mummert let me know that he's been collecting these messages for years -- and had a personal encounter with the elusive artist.
September 3, 2019
The Golden City - Introduction
Join host Walter Thompson for The Golden City, a podcast that presents stories from San Francisco’s past, present and future. Each episode explores unique aspects of the city’s news, history and culture that often go overlooked. Whether you’re a native or a tourist, listen to the The Golden City, and you’ll learn something new about one of the most familiar cities on Earth.
September 3, 2019