Ron Blatman is a filmmaker with a background in real estate and local government. He is now working on a new production that will cover successful and unsuccessful case studies of urban development in cities throughout the country. We caught up with Ron to learn more about his goals for the film and his passion for cities.
What’s your background?
I spend most of my career in the real estate world (in San Francisco and New York) plus a stint in the San Francisco Mayor’s Office as Director of Business Development in the early 1990s. Now, I’m a documentary filmmaker working on my next project, Saving the City, which I’ll explain later. I have a BA in Architecture from UC Berkeley, an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School and a concurrent Master of City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. Lastly, I’m a native San Franciscan who grew up in the Lakeshore neighborhood and now live in Presidio Heights. I’m married with twin boys about to be college sophomores and my hobbies include reading, American history, travel and anything urban.
Why do you love cities?
I love everything about cities. Cities — when working well — are full of energy and excitement, great mixing zones of all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds offering a myriad of opportunities and experiences. What makes the city is the importance of the public realm, from streets and alleyways to parks, plazas and pathways. This is what distinguishes great urban centers from lesser ones or suburban areas from the city. Lewis Mumford said cities were “man’s greatest work of art,” a phrase later adopted by Woody Allen in Midnight in Paris — “no work of art can compare to a city.”
What’s special about San Francisco? And what do you see for its future.
San Francisco embodies much of what makes cities great plus unbeatable topography and incredible weather. Having watched the economic health of the city since the 1970s, San Francisco continues to be a hot international brand no matter how hard various factions seek to stop the city in time. We are a global city that punches way beyond our size but let’s not forget the greater Bay Area is really what most of the world refers to as San Francisco. What’s kept the city consistently economically vibrant is the strength of the regional economy that we in the city cannot control. Instead, we should do a better job of harnessing the incredible investment interest here to get a better city not just a bigger one.
Looking ahead, stopping time is not a viable option. People should focus on how to shape change because we are a city enamored with process at the expense of product. One way to foster common ground is to ensure the availability of good information so ideas and issues can be rationally debated. As a city, we suffer from an enormous lack of good information about the urban experience outside of our 47 square miles and sometimes even neighborhood to neighborhood. Cities are dynamic places with change being a constant.
Someone in Los Angeles once asked me when discussing the Saving the City film project if my goal was to make other cities more like San Francisco and I responded by asking, “Would that outcome would be so bad?”
Tell us about your filmmaking experiences.
My first film was Saving the Bay, a four-part national PBS series narrated by Robert Redford that tells the story of San Francisco Bay from its origins to the present and highlights three pioneering women who saved the Bay from becoming little more than a river in the 1960s.
I am now working on Saving the City: Remaking the American Metropolis. Saving the City is a 13-part national TV series highlighting successful and unsuccessful examples of urban development throughout the US and Canada focusing on downtowns and nearby neighborhoods. Telling stories through the eyes of people who use the city, the programs are arranged by theme, not city, so we can compare and contrast what works and what doesn’t in different places. The goal is to empower the public and professionals to demand better results as we continue to rebuild our urban centers.