Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Parks & Nature
Published on February 13, 2017
Civic Center Revamp Kicks Off With Groundbreaking For New PlaygroundsPlans for the new Helen Diller Civic Center playground. | Renderings: Trust For Public Lands

The two playgrounds in front of SF City Hall are receiving a long-awaited facelift, with a project that will break ground this week. 

San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department is partnering with the Trust For Public Land to renovate the 20-year-old playgrounds—and the plans go far beyond the typical swing sets and teeter-totters.

Current play structures at Fulton and Larkin streets. | Photo: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline

When the new playgrounds are complete, kids will be able to scramble up to a treehouse set amid a "cloud forest" of nets, and tunnel through a collection of climbing structures.

The project is being funded through a $10 million grant from the Helen Diller Family Foundation, which also recently helped fund the renovation of the playground in Dolores Park and the Jules Kahn Playground in the Presidio. The Trust For Public Land has previously partnered with the city to transform parks in several other neighborhoods, including nearby Boeddeker Park.

The planned treehouse structure includes nets to simulate clouds and a slide. 

The city intends for the playground revamp to be the first effort in a broader transformation of the Civic Center area. While Civic Center Plaza provides a spacious meeting point for large protests and rallies, it currently offers little to a visitor on an average day, who might be looking for a seat in the sun or a place to let kids run around. 

There's a clear lack of seating—to discourage homeless people camping in front of City Hall—and the lawn areas are often blockaded off or completely soggy, due to improper drainage.

People sitting on the current Civic Center Plaza grounds. | Photo: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline

The city is currently seeking proposals from contractors willing to take on the planning process for a new Civic Center Public Realm Plan, initially focused on UN Plaza, Civic Center Plaza, and Fulton Street between Larkin and Hyde streets.

Plans for the plaza will need to incorporate aspects of several other existing city initiatives, such as the new playgrounds, multiple transportation improvement projects, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's Civic Center Sustainable Utilities District, which aims to conserve water and power in the area’s public spaces. Proposals from interested consultants are due to the city on February 17th.

As part of its initial planning efforts, the city will conduct a Civic Center Public Life Study, to collect and analyze data about how the space is used by people across the social and economic scale. Preparation for the study is starting this month, with data collection expected to begin in April, SF Planning spokeswoman Gina Simi told Hoodline. 

That study, along with the Civic Center Cultural Landscape Inventory and other city initiatives, will help inform the redesign. The city will also look at several never-implemented historical plans to revitalize the area, some of which may “remain relevant to the current needs and desires of the community,” Simi said.

“Some of the more recent plans, especially the 1998 plan, contain site analysis that is still very relevant to contemporary planning efforts,” Simi said. She said that previous plans were not implemented because other priorities emerged, such as retrofitting historic buildings after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. 

Civic Center Public Realm Plan boundaries and design focus areas. | Image: SF Planning 

The new plan is far more likely to be implemented, because the city already has so many investments and initiatives focused on improving the area. The new playgrounds are just one aspect of “a great deal of near-term investment and energy coming from both the city and the larger community," Simi said. 

But any changes will likely be a long haul. Once a consultant is selected, they will have a year to propose a conceptual plan, and another year to finalize it. After the design phase is complete, the plan has to undergo a full environmental review process, which could take up to two more years, according to SF Planning. That means the project might not break ground until mid-2021. 

But if you want to celebrate of the start of the area’s renovation, the playground’s groundbreaking ceremony will be held tomorrow morning, at the intersection of Larkin and Fulton streets.