Changes On The Way To Troubled Jane Warner Plaza

People out enjoying Jane Warner Plaza today (Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline)
By Steven Bracco - Published on July 20, 2016.

Yesterday, the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District (Castro CBD) announced more changes to the controversial Jane Warner Plaza, which include the return of tables and chairs and the addition of plaza "stewards" and a new light installation.

Jane Warner Plaza was created in the spring of 2009 as part of the Pavement to Parks initiative. “Creating Jane Warner Plaza in 2009 was an exciting idea. It transformed one of the city’s most dangerous intersections into a public space,” said Castro CBD Executive Director Andrea Aiello. “But to a great extent the space was left to manage itself.” As a result, the plaza developed a reputation as a purposeless and unkempt eyesore.

It's undergone many changes already, but problems with trash, crime and loitering have seen some neighborhood residents calling for the removal of the plaza and the return of street traffic through 17th Street. 

In order to figure out exactly how to address the problems of Jane Warner Plaza, the Castro CBD studied similar public spaces, including Mechanics Monument Plaza in downtown San Francisco, along with Flatiron Plaza in Manhattan. From this, the Castro CBD concluded that "in many cases, successful plazas are actively managed to encourage public use."

In order to make the changes necessary at Jane Warner Plaza, the Castro CBD enlisted the help of District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener to assist in applying for a city grant. Last August, it was announced that the Castro CBD had secured a $150,000 Invest in Neighborhoods Grant through the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. Now, the Castro CBD is ready to implement the changes, along with a couple new additions.

One of the biggest changes will be a new LED light installation. Called "The Seed," it was selected through a competitive public process, in consultation the MTA, DPW and SFPUC, plus input from local experts in LED lighting. The new installation is intended to be temporary, lasting anywhere between two to three years. Installation of the display is expected to begin in spring of 2017.

Rendering of The Seed by night. | IMAGE: CASTRO CBD
Rendering of The Seed by day. | IMAGE: CASTRO CBD

The LED installation comes from Aphidoidea, a multi-disciplinary design, architecture and art collective based out of Los Angeles. According to their website, they create site-specific art designed to "engage the user, and enhance the built environment in otherwise generic or marginalized spaces through the exploration of site, concept, materials, and interactivity."

Aiello told us via email that the competition was held last November. "The call for projects was sent to the Burning Man artist group and Illuminate the Arts, for them to distribute to their membership, and to a few local individuals," she said.

Live! in the Castro event earlier this month.

The grant includes funding in order to expand the Live! in the Castro program, which energizes the plaza with live performances on the weekends , along with other activities.

It also allows for 50 hours a week for "Plaza Stewards" and for landscaping. The stewards will be on site keeping an eye on the plaza from 11am to 6pm Wednesday through Sunday. According to a press release, Plaza Stewards will "manage the furniture, keep the plaza clean, remind people not to smoke, greet and assist performers and vendors, welcome visitors and generally be an extra set of eyes and ears on the plaza."

The Plaza Stewards are subcontracted through Larkin Street Youth Services and will be Larkin Street employees. Aiello says the Plaza Stewards will enable the Castro CBD "to have more activities scheduled in the plaza, even during the week. The idea behind these improvements is to have multiple uses of the space."

Tables and chairs out at Jane Warner Plaza | PHOTO: STEVEN BRACCO/HOODLINE

Other changes include the return of tables and chairs to the plaza. Aiello said "the first couple of days the chairs were out people kept thanking me." The tables and chairs were paid for by the Castro CBD and were returned in an effort to make the plaza more useful and enjoyable for the neighborhood.

The final improvement to the plaza will be pavement replacement. The original colored asphalt would break apart with pressure washing, and new durable pavement will be installed this summer at no cost to taxpayers as part of the terms of the original neighborhood sidewalk improvement contract. Aiello says we can expect to see the new pavement installation beginning in the next 60 days.

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