Discovering The Place Where You Live with Gary Kamiya

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Kamiya drove a cab for 7 years in San Francisco. But he says to truly know your town you must do some “systematic flitting.” He describes this as walking around and “letting the city come to you as you maintain a sense of discovery and wonderment…Then you are motivated to start doing some research.” You might start with the building you live in or some building that attracts your eye. He says, “The more you delve in, the more fascinating things you find.” Kamiya regales us with fascinating stories that inspired his urban exploration of San Francisco, such as the origins of William Richardson’s original general store on Grant Avenue in the heart of Chinatown, the most densely packed part of San Francisco. Or how one of the greatest U.S. migrations of all times brought men in their 20s to San Francisco in search of adventure to what is euphemistically called, “touching the elephant.” All towns, villages, and cities have a story of how they began in a particular place. Often there is some geographical reason that can be fascinating to discover, such as a bend in the river. Kamiya points out that often times the names of streets will give a clue as to the history of a place. Searching for the “soul” of a city is a never ending but deeply riveting quest. You’ll find many suggestions for how to burrow into your own spot on the planet. (hosted by Phil Cousineau)


Gary Kamiya was born in Oakland, California in 1953 and grew up in Berkeley. After dropping out of Yale, he earned his BA and MA in English literature from UC Berkeley, where he won the Mark Schorer Citation. He drove a taxi in San Francisco for 7 years while completing college and working as a freelance writer. He co-founded the website, where he was executive editor for 12 years. He is currently a columnist for Salon. Gary Kamiya’s books include:

To be in touch with Gary Kamiya you can email him at

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • What are some of the multiple realities of living in a city
  • How can we delve into the deep history of a place
  • What is systematic flitting
  • What is the difference between seeing a city from a car, on foot, or by bicycle
  • What was the main population that settled in San Francisco in the 1800s
  • How a place has to keep reinventing itself so it doesn’t wallow in nostalgia

Host: Phil Cousineau     Interview Date: 7/9/2014   Program Number: 3513

Music Playlist

From Album: American Acoustic (disc 1)
Artist: Nancy Rumbel and Eric Tingstad
1998 Narada #72438-45862-2-5

Opening Essay: Track 08 Secrets of the Big Sky
Music Break 1:Track 02 Alligator Alley
Music Break 2: Track 03 Give and Take
Music Break 3: Track 01 Shenandoah