City Seeks Public Input On Making Civic Center More Inviting

Civic Center. | Photo: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline
By Carrie Sisto - Published on November 03, 2017.

The city is seeking community input on how to make the Civic Center feel like more of a neighborhood. 

Among many uses, the area is a gathering place for rallies, the site of a bi-weekly farmers market and a music and community events space, but's rare to see people engaging with the public space on a day-to-day basis.

The city is looking to change that by creating a unified plan for the public spaces that includes elements to make them more comfortable and residential. 

Musicians performing at UN Plaza. | Photo: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline

The last Civic Center Public Realm Plan was adopted in 1998, a few years before benches were removed to discourage loitering by homeless people and drug dealing.

An overview by the Planning Department released this year found that the area has lacked any unified planning and has devolved into mismatched streetscapes and a growing number of competing uses.

“As the years have gone by, there’s been a growing interest in revisiting the plan and updating it to meet contemporary needs and aspirations for Civic Center’s public spaces,” Planning spokeswoman Gina Simi told us. 

Boundaries of the Civic Center Public Realm Plan. | Via SF Planning

City Hall and Civic Center celebrated centennials in 2015, and it kicked off an effort to re-evaluate how the space is and could be used, Simi said. The department partnered with other agencies and neighborhood groups to find ways to optimize use.

As we’ve previously reported, the Civic Center Commons Initiative aims to unify three public spaces—UN Plaza, Civic Center Plaza, and Fulton Street between the Main Library and the Asian Art Museum—through activities and more cohesive management.

Kids from nearby schools use Civic Center Plaza for soccer matches, monthly gatherings bring out local bands and food vendors, and there was recently an effort to 'knit' the area together. 

Artists yarn-bombed trees in the three areas this summer to give them a more unified theme. | Photo: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline

The area that spans City Hall and UN Plaza is managed by as many as nine city agencies, and the different areas have largely operated separately in recent years. The Commons initiative, and the Civic Center Public Realm Plan, has combined those agencies’ efforts and aims to leverage other neighborhood expertise to improve the area.

Prior to the 1998 plan, several designs and redesigns were proposed but left unimplemented due to lack of funding and a fractured vision of the best use for the space. Recent studies are being combined with those historical ideas to develop the new plan for the space, Simi said. 

The plan will build off of momentum created by the new Helen Diller playgrounds at Civic Center Plaza, and work to incorporate concepts from the Civic Center Sustainable Utilities District Plan and the history uncovered during the Civic Center Historic District Cultural Landscape Inventory, she said. 

Renderings of Helen Diller Playgrounds | VIA Trust For Public Lands

Some of the historical proposals that are being dusted off include turning the block of Fulton Street between the Asian Art Museum and the Main Library into a park or plaza, or adding new water and landscape features throughout the three areas, Simi said.

The plan will also consider ways to revitalized Brooks Hall, the former conference area under Civic Center Plaza that is currently used for storage. 

Storage in Brooks Hall. | Photo: SF Planning

“The community meeting will be a chance for people to share their thoughts on these past ideas as well as new concepts not considered in past plans,” she added. 

The presentation at Tuesday’s meeting will focus on the planning team’s analysis of existing conditions and design challenges and opportunities. While planners will propose some ideas at the meeting, the main focus will be on community members’ feedback about different strategies at interactive stations about specific design elements, Simi said. 

After the November 7th meeting, the planning team will use the community's input to develop a few different design schemes, which will be presented at the next public meeting, tentatively scheduled for February/March 2018.

The goal is to narrow the design ideas down to a preferred conceptual plan to share with the community by next summer, said Simi. 

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