San Francisco Carves a Park from the Midst of Its Pavement
The entire family of San Francisco city agencies responsible for maintaining its streets made an unconventional decision to close a portion of a street to cars and convert the new space into a simple, yet elegant, public plaza. The project combines all the important elements of plaza creation that have been successful in New York City and elsewhere: take space from cars, use simple treatments to convert the space into a pedestrian sanctuary, including movable furniture and leftover granite blocks from city salvage yards, and engage commercial interests around the plaza to help maintain and care for the new public realm.
Though some neighborhood constituents voiced skepticism that the plaza would be empty at best, or filled with miscreants and vagabonds at worst, the plaza's success is hard to dispute. In fact, so many people are using the new space and enjoying the tables and chairs, the businesses around the plaza have contemplated leaving the furniture out later than sunset, which was the initial closing time agreed upon between them and the Castro/Upper Market Community Betterment District. This film takes an in-depth look at the construction of the plaza with some of the agencies responsible for it, and includes some entertaining man-on-the-street interviews.
Andres Power: [0:05] This intersection, which is the intersection of Castro, 17th, and Market Street, is one of those crazy intersections where different grids come together.
Speaker: [0:13] This is an intersection that has had so much red light crossing, dangerous conditions.
Speaker: [0:18] This has basically felt like a freeway on this street.
Speaker: [0:21] There were lines everywhere, and crosswalks everywhere, and cars going everywhere.
Liz Ogbu: [0:25] This island that's over here, cars used to cut illegally between it. So actually, it was very dangerous for pedestrians crossing, and even bicyclists. There were actually quite a few accidents. There's also an active F Line track that kind of cuts around.
Andres Power: [0:37] For the many operators, one of the complaints that they had about this intersection was that they had cars basically coming at them in every single direction.
David Alumbaugh: [0:44] Here it is, the heart of the Castro. You would come here and you would expect some welcoming experience, and instead you're confronted by this ungodly intersection where nobody knew what to do and nobody felt safe doing what they were doing. And it was... [laughs] Hello! [laughter]
Andres Power: [1:04] The vision for recapturing the space for people has been floating around for over a decade.
David Alumbaugh: [1:09] The community, as I said, has pushed for 12 years. Just unceasingly pushed to improve the place. So they're kind of working on it from this end, and we're kind of observing it from the other end and thinking, "OK. We've really got to start thinking about rethinking our streets."
Andres Power: [1:24] We did an inventory of all of the existing ideas that we have in the city, which we have no shortage of ideas in this town. We're not great, always, at implementing them. And this project here came to the top of the list.
David Alumbaugh: [1:36] We just decided to try it. And I think there was an overwhelming community support for it, so why not?
Andres Power: [1:43] Public architecture provided their services pro-bono.
Liz Ogbu: [1:46] We've been involved in trying to do open space efforts in other sections of the city for a number of years, and through that have become familiar with various people in the city from planning, Department of Public Works, mayor's office, etc. Basically, we were invited to come, and they're closing off the street, but the F Line track is still going through. You have to figure out a way to block out the traffic, make it feel safe even though we're not necessarily diminishing the traffic capacity.
David Alumbaugh: [2:09] So the first thing we wanted to do is just sort of calm the space. We stopped the traffic; that was the first thing.
Liz Ogbu: [2:14] So, our main thing was really, "How do we create a safe space?" In some other places what they've done is a big, concrete bolllards. We really wanted to push the design agenda with this and do something unique and different. And was there something we could do other than those concrete planters? And so someone came up with the idea of doing the Sonitubes. We realize they're hollow, so you could plant them, and that a way to kill two birds with one stone.
David Alumbaugh: [2:35] And then we wanted to get a really nice surface here that would bring the colors together, and sort of define it as a space.
Liz Ogbu: [2:42] Originally, we really wanted to do a pattern, and just because of time and things that happened, we weren't quite able to do that. But I think it's still helps to articulate the difference between the regular street and this. And we had to keep the F Line track open to allow that to exist as a dynamic boundary for safety and risk reasons that you do when there's an active train line.
David Alumbaugh: [3:01] Then the most important thing for us was to get seating out into it.
Liz Ogbu: [3:04] The benches that you see are these granite benches that we got from the DPW supply yard. They were literally just lying around.
Andres Power: [3:10] We have a stack of these old granite curbs that we used to use throughout the city that are, at this point, being taken out and replaced with concrete.
Liz Ogbu: [3:18] But, you can see, they're really beautiful. I've heard that it's the one piece of furniture that people love the most.
Andres Power: [3:23] The chairs were donated by a local restaurant here in San Francisco, and the tables were actually purchased through donations by city staff. [crowd talking]
Bevan Dufty: [3:36] Good morning everybody. Welcome, welcome! I'm supervisor Bevin Dufty. I'm absolutely thrilled to be here with all of you to celebrate this trial, this fully reversible trial, to look at a new public realm in the Castro.
Gavin Newsom: [3:51] If we're successful here... If, over the course of the next 60 days you're willing to extend this for an additional 120 days... If the community that includes not just residents but includes the business owners and includes visitors, all agree that this works, and the transit riders and activists all agree that this works, then we look forward to bringing this to other parts of the city.
John Rahaim: [4:12] This is exactly the kind of thing that we could be doing; more places to reclaim excess street rights of way into public spaces, and to do it in a very simple way that can be changed and modified and grow over time. It's a really great thing.
Andrea Aiello: [4:25] I'm really confident that we're going to be able to activate this space, and that the community is really going to embrace it, and it's really going to bring more foot traffic to the neighborhood and all add to the economic vitality of the neighborhood.
Bill: [4:37] I think it's a great idea. I spent time in Spain and this is what they do a lot of time in Europe.
Marvelous: [4:42] I think it's fabulous. I love it. It's really beautiful. This should be permanent. This is what the city should be like.
Stewart Holland: [4:52] It makes it safer for the pedestrians walking across, and you have less accidents.
John Hiser: [4:57] I think it's wonderful. It looks great and seems obvious. Now that I see it, I can't believe they didn't do it 10 years ago. [laughs]
Cheryl Hiser: [5:06] Yeah. Yeah, it was inviting. We parked up the hill and when we came down, it was an eye grabber.
Cheryl Hiser: [5:13] You could see it.
Cheryl Hiser: [5:14] Right away we were like, "Oh, wow! Look, they're making that into pedestrian stuff."
Robynn Takayama: [5:18] I love it! I specifically came down here and this is the perfect day to be here with the rare San Francisco heat. And people are just chilling and it's really great people watching.
Speaker: [5:30] I approach this not that it has to succeed, I want it to succeed. I don't feel like I'm vested in this that no matter what happens or what people say, somehow I have to say it's working. I'm really open. But I do think it's going to be great.
John Rahaim: [5:43] This is a lesson in things that we can do simply and relatively quickly. And frankly, to test it out and to learn from each... Each case is a laboratory for the next case, so it's a great model for us.
Gavin Newsom: [5:54] Look, this took 72 hours. Took 17 years of planning, 72 hours to install. It's not that complex. We can be doing a lot more of this in a much quicker pattern and a quicker way if you, again, adopt and embrace this proposal. So we are counting on all of you. Thank you all very much for coming. [applause and cheering]
Speaker: [6:19] Thank you Mr. Mayor!