'Friends Of Harvey Milk Plaza' Hosts Community Meetings To Discuss Redesign

Photo: Amy/Flickr
By Shane Downing - Published on January 18, 2017.

We’re hesitant to say it'll be soon, but a major redesign is coming to Harvey Milk Plaza.

In order to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the city is required to redesign the plaza around the Castro Muni Station to make it more accessible.

Although the project, known as the Harvey Milk Plaza Accessibility Improvements Project, is scheduled to begin construction in 2020, the city has agreed to take the plaza’s historical significance into consideration during the project’s planning. Doing the construction and redesign projects at the same time is expected to greatly reduce overall expenses.

The first community meeting for neighbors to voice their thoughts and suggestions for Harvey Milk Plaza will be held tonight. It will be hosted by a group called Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza. A second meeting will be held next Wednesday.

Photo: miss_millions/flickr

According to Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro Community Benefit District, she first learned about MTA’s Accessibility Improvements Project last July.

“We scheduled a meeting with them in August and they told us they needed all of the drawings by December of 2016,” she said. “There was no way we were going to be able to do that.”

With the support of former District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener’s office, SFMTA was convinced to push the project’s timeline back a year.

“This redesign is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Aiello said, “and we needed more time to talk to the community.”

Photo: Shane Downing/Hoodline

The intersection of Castro and Market has always held significance to the larger LGBT community, and it has been a place to gather during times of mourning, protest, and celebration for decades.

However, for many in the Castro, Harvey Milk Plaza is a source of annoyance rather than a place of remembrance. Accessibility shortcomings aside, the plaza has been a source of contention with neighbors for years.

“We want to make this a space that honors Harvey Milk and the LGBT civil rights movement—we believe these meetings will get us closer to achieving that,” Aiello said.

The community gathers to honor the victims of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. | Photo: Shane Downing/Hoodline

The focus of each meeting will be to gather community members’ ideas of what Harvey Milk Plaza should look like.

According to Aiello, the meetings’ organizers will then take input from these community meetings and information from the City to put together a concept brief, similar to a request for proposal, to attract architectural and design firms.

The process will be similar to how other notable memorials have been developed in the past, including the Vietnam War and the Martin Luther King Jr. memorials.

Photo: Shane Downing/Hoodline

Although the competition will be open to international applicants, Aiello stressed that the initial ideas for a redesigned Harvey Milk Plaza will come from the people of San Francisco.

In the coming months, a jury—which will include neighbors, members of the San Francisco Arts Commission, and architects—will ultimately deliberate and decide the top three design applications for the plaza.

The community will once again have the chance to comment on the final three renderings, although the San Francisco Arts Commission has the authority to make the final decision on the space’s eventual redesign.

The eventual winning design for Harvey Milk Plaza will be sent to SFMTA by September so that the agency can move forward with the construction project, SFMTA’s Kelley McCoy told us. She added that construction project plans are “very early in the process.”

For The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza, however, time is ticking and a lot needs to be done before September.

“Please come to tonight’s meeting,” Aiello said. “Share your vision of Harvey Milk Plaza with us, because this is our opportunity to transform this space.”

Tonight’s community meeting, as well as the meeting next Wednesday, will be hosted from 6:30-8pm at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center.

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