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Piazza Saint Francis: A Proposed Urban Park in San Francisco

One of San Francisco's cherished literary icons -- poet, painter and City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti -- is celebrating his 90th birthday today, and we thought it would be fitting to bring you his vision for transforming a small block of Vallejo Street in the city's historic North Beach into what would be called the Piazza Saint Francis.

The piazza would be built outside Caffe Trieste, a European-style coffeehouse that for many years has been the gathering place of poets, writers, artists, and filmmakers, including the Beat Generation writers.

Ferlinghetti founded the Piazza Saint Francis Foundation and is working with the San Francisco Planning Department, and many others, including film director Francis Ford Coppola, who worked on his screenplay for the "The Godfather" in Trieste, to create an Italian-style piazza, with inscriptions on the paving stones from up to 30 or 40 authors, mostly poets.

The biggest obstacle to realizing the project is the estimated $3.5 million price tag. The city can't afford to do it, so private funds will need to be raised to make it happen.

<blockquote class="_text"> [music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Lawrence Ferlinghetti:</cite> [0:08] North Beach is really unique in being the most like a European neighborhood. When I arrived in 1950 it was practically all Italian. You didn't even have to speak English. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Grant Miller:</cite> [0:20] There's a level of family here that doesn't exist any place else. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_3_text"> <cite class="speaker_3" >James Foy:</cite> [0:27] It's a great neighborhood. I grew up in the city. I came to North Beach first time when I was 18. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Lawrence Ferlinghetti:</cite> [0:34] Everyone is out on the streets night and day. There's cafe life. [music] </p><p>[0:38] The Trieste started two or three years after City Lights started. We started in June 1953 at City Lights. I think they started in '56. That was the first coffee house in the European style. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_4_text"> <cite class="speaker_4" >Grant Miller:</cite> [0:54] It's unlike any other cafe in the world that I've ever been to. I've tried to find other places in the world like it. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_5_text"> <cite class="speaker_5" >Philip Hackett:</cite> [1:01] It is the gathering place of the poets, the painters, the musicians, the sculptors, the film-makers, the moms and dads and kids. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_6_text"> <cite class="speaker_6" >Interviewer:</cite> [1:14] How long have you been coming here, sir? </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_7_text"> <cite class="speaker_7" >Gregory:</cite> [1:18] Longer than you've been alive. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Grant Miller:</cite> [1:21] You have all sorts of locals mixed in with all sorts of people who wander in... They're caught unawares. They don't know what they're getting themselves into, which is really kind of a wonderful thing to watch. I think you can find just about any opinion under the sun in there and if you're easily offended, it's not the place for you. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Lawrence Ferlinghetti:</cite> [1:43] I was walking through my father's home town in Italy, in Brescia. There were two or three very small public parks, plazas. They're not like American parks, they're totally paved. Each one was really a social center. There's no cars. I got back to San Francisco and sitting at the Cafe Trieste one day I just thought there would be a great thing to have that little block closed off. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_8_text"> <cite class="speaker_8" >Andres Power:</cite> [2:19] We're here now in front of the corner of Grant and Vallejo in front of Cafe Trieste. The idea would be to convert this block into a piazza, a public space where people can spend their time, have a seat. Basically preclude cars from coming into this space. That would invoke a more pedestrian-friendly space. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Lawrence Ferlinghetti:</cite> [2:44] I picked out quotations by about 30 or 40 famous authors, poets mostly. They'll be inscribed in the surface of the pavement, or in the marble. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_8_text"> <cite class="speaker_8" >Andres Power:</cite> [2:56] One of the challenges that we have at this point is finding the money to be able to build this. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Lawrence Ferlinghetti:</cite> [3:02] The City requires a lot of different studies and they all cost money. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_8_text"> <cite class="speaker_8" >Andres Power:</cite> [3:08] It's envisioned at this point as being roughly being three and a half-million dollars. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Lawrence Ferlinghetti:</cite> [3:14] The mayor is behind it and the Planning Department has been very cooperative and helpful. They've even foregone some of their fees. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_8_text"> <cite class="speaker_8" >Andres Power:</cite> [3:22] Given the current budget situation of this city and the state and the nation, finding money for these kinds of improvements is difficult. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Lawrence Ferlinghetti:</cite> [3:30] We urgently need money to make it go forward. Just to get past the City approval process. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_8_text"> <cite class="speaker_8" >Andres Power:</cite> [3:38] The Mayor's office has been working with the community group to identify both traditional and non-traditional sources of possible funding for this project. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Lawrence Ferlinghetti:</cite> [3:49] It seems everyone is for it. I hardly ever meet anyone that has anything to say against it. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_9_text"> <cite class="speaker_9" >Philip Hackett:</cite> [3:56] I think it's not only a good idea, but a timely idea. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_10_text"> <cite class="speaker_10" >Stephen:</cite> [4:03] If you really look for the metaphorical heart of this great city, it's literally that piece of street right outside. The reason that is the heart is because it's the heart of North Beach and because the church that was founded as St. Francis the Saint in 1849 sits right out there. There's no other place in San Francisco that could be as perfectly defined as being the heart of the city. And being as special as that-the heart of San Francisco-that street should be closed now. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_11_text"> <cite class="speaker_11" >Stephen:</cite> [4:34] Everywhere in the world where there's plazas, it makes for a nicer environment for people to hang out and to bond with each other and to socialize. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_12_text"> <cite class="speaker_12" >Gregory:</cite> [4:47] I think it's a great idea, but as all great ideas that go in this city as Feinstein used to say which is ruining the city, "San Francisco is the city that can." She just didn't finish the statement. It's "San Francisco is the city that can bitch." </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_13_text"> <cite class="speaker_13" >Gregory:</cite> [5:08] There's a good idea so everybody bitches and bitches... What? Let's do it. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Lawrence Ferlinghetti:</cite> [5:13] It's a pretty simple project. Simple conception. I thought it wouldn't be so hard to realize... But it's been three years, I think. Everything moves very slowly. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_8_text"> <cite class="speaker_8" >Andres Power:</cite> [5:32] These are the kind of improvements that we as a city should be moving down. We should be celebrating the act of life. We should be celebrating life on the streets. [music] </p><p>[5:43] </blockquote> <br/><br/>
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