What’s Hot in Public Space highlights recent news from around the world about projects to reclaim public space for people. In this installment, we focus on San Francisco. An unprecedented number of neighborhoods are seeing serious proposals for new public spaces. These are exciting times.

A new Italian piazza in San Francisco?

Piazza Saint FrancisA proposed new piazza, named Poet’s Plaza (or officially Piazza Saint Francis), may become reality this year. The piazza would pedestrianize a block of Vallejo Street in the historically Italian North Beach neighborhood. North Beach is a fantastic place but, like the rest of San Francisco, is submerged below an ocean of traffic. Poet’s Plaza would add a much-needed and superbly-located public space to the neighborhood.

A community meeting was held to discuss the proposal on March 3rd. Unfortunately, many attendees’ behavior was disruptive, preventing what could have been a productive discussion. Supervisor Aaron Peskin committed to discussing more alternatives, such as the block being a plaza by day and vehicular through street by night. This isn’t an approach often used in public spaces, for good reason: it prohibits use at night and prevents the block being optimally redeveloped as a people-oriented space.

Several more stages of review by City departments will happen in the next couple of months, followed by another public meeting soon after. Let’s hope the meeting’s organizers are better able to facilitate the good behavior necessary for constructive dialog.


 Lower Stockton Street could become a transit-ped mall

During the 2014 and 2015 holiday seasons two blocks of Stockton Street, near Union Square, were temporarily transformed into a pedestrian mall. The inspiring results speak for themselves.

In January, the Union Square Business Improvement District began public discussions to make this initiative, which occurred while the street is undergoing underground infrastructural changes, permanent. Two preferred proposals have emerged from the meetings. The first features a transit-exclusive lane down the middle of the street surrounded by public space; the second is a similar design except it also includes a center-lane bike lane. Both designs remove car traffic from the street. So it looks like we won’t get a full pedestrian plaza, but these proposals are still an improvement over the current situation and could prompt pedestrianization calls for nearby streets.

SFMTA aims to complete the project by the end of 2018. Support for this proposal is high, which is rare for public space proposals that affect cars. Why the strong support? It’s likely because the proposal was piloted before it was discussed. If the public and local organizations had been consulted about the proposal without a pilot, would support have been at the same level? Most likely not.

Eagle Plaza is descending

Eagle PlazaA leather-themed plaza… only in San Francisco! Western South of Market (SoMa) has long been an important neighborhood for the LGBTQ community. In 2011, an initiative was launched to explore how the community’s heritage could be preserved and strengthen. Reflecting the need of all communities for common gathering space, the Eagle Plaza project was born. The proposed plaza would be located on 12th Street between Harrison and Bernice Streets (see the block on Google Streetview.)

And on February 11th, the project was approved for $1.5m funding. Things are ticking along.

This is certainly a project worth supporting. At the same time, the proposed plaza’s location poses difficulties: it’s in a relatively quiet and unattractive area of town, near a highway. The Plaza is surrounded by dead edges (parking lots and blank walls); a big no-no for great public spaces. And the current design could certainly be improved. If the design were upgraded and the edge of the parking lot running along 12th Street converted into houses and retail (unlikely), then Eagle Plaza would have a better chance of being a great place.