Jane Warner Plaza (JWP) has gone through many changes over the years, and opinions are divided as to what should become of the space. In May, new plans for the space were proposed, but many of them have not yet been implemented, and some of them, including "uncomfortable" seating and raising the existing planter beds, appear to have been axed.
In order to get a thorough update on what the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District (CBD) has planned for the space, we spoke with CBD executive director Andrea Aiello, who discussed some of the history behind the upcoming changes and the CBD's vision for the space. She says that the CBD's plans for the next year include adding new furniture, hiring a part-time employee to line up artists and entertainers, hiring at-risk youth to help with the space, and adding better lighting.
Many of the new plans arose after the CBD noted issues with last year's design changes. "While tables and chairs are necessary for a plaza to function and be inviting, the original red tables and chairs were much too heavy to put away each night and manage in general," Aiello told us. "That, coupled with some DPW construction and a rise in negative encounters in the plaza such as fights, theft, and people using abusive language, resulted in the tables and chairs being removed."
Aiello shares neighbors' frustration with the seating hiccup at JWP. "It doesn't work to have the space empty, and it has been unfortunate to go back to square one," she said.
Aiello is rethinking and reassessing JWP by studying other successful plazas, both in the city and around the world. The CBD was able to secure a grant of $125,000 per year for the next two years to implement new changes at Jane Warner and Harvey Milk Plazas.
One of the first issues it plans to tackle is seating. "Research brought up the benefits of easy-to-manage furniture that can be put away and folded up with minimal effort," Aiello explained. "As a result, we've already put out four tables and 12 chairs during the weekends. They are much lighter and manageable than before. We hope to double that amount of tables and chairs later this year."
In order to make the space more secure, the CBD is looking at a lockbox-type storage unit that would be tucked away on JWP, allowing volunteers to store the tables, chairs, and other items on-location.
A part-time CBD employee has been brought in to help with arts and entertainment at JWP's Live! In The Castro series, organizing "live music, arts and business events,
drawing classes, and other types of performances to help bring positive energy to the space," she said.
The current schedule of events includes live jazz musicians, country-western dance lessons, Brazilian percussionists, and a performance by Cheer San Francisco. "August and September will be busy," Aiello added.
The CBD is also working to set up a program that will hire at-risk youth to maintain the plaza and help during events. "They will be trained and employed to work [a combined total of] 50 hours a week," Aiello said. "This will be similar to what Larkin Street Youth Services provides in the Haight-Ashbury area. We are still looking into options for which organization to use."
The youth, most likely working in teams of two, would manage furniture, greet people, help with events, provide an official presence at the space, and maintain both JWP and Harvey Milk Plaza. "Additionally, they would get case management to help them," Aiello added. "We also have a concept for some type of shelter for the youth working on-site that would fit well with the space, while providing a good area for them during their work."
New lighting will also be added, in hopes of increasing safety and visibility at JWP. "We are researching ideas that may include decorative lighting," Aiello told us. "Outside of the grant, we've put in a request to DPW for additional street lighting down 17th Street."
Safety is certainly a concern for the plaza, with recent incidents of fighting, theft, and even a stabbing. Aiello hopes that the new plan, as well as the ongoing presence of Castro Cares, will improve JWP. "Our goal is to help the space to become inviting, and thriving with positive energy, as well as being safe and open to all kinds of people."
As for implementation, she said that things are moving along quickly. "The plan for using the first-year allotment is to start implementing it in September, but there are hopes to push that sooner if things like the secure storage can be brought in quicker," she said. "The second-year allotment will continue the youth program and the chairs, tables, and storage, but a lot will be re-evaluated, based on how the initial year goes."
Stay tuned for the changes as they roll out. In the meantime, Aiello welcomes emails from the community on the types of programming they'd like to see at JWP.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming changes? What programming would you like to see at the plaza?