North Beach is known for its literary tradition, Italian cuisine and breathtaking views, but neighborhood boosters are hoping a new art installation will activate a block that's often overlooked.
Top of Broadway Community Benefit District (ToBCBD) and North Beach Business Association (NBBA) have installed state-of-the-art, app-controlled permanent light fixtures on a block of Broadway to showcase the area's vibrant culture, attract visitors and address potential safety concerns.
As part of ToBCBD's mission to “to make the area around Broadway a safe, beautiful, diverse, and enjoyable place to live, work and visit," district manager Dominic Li Mandri spearheaded the installation of 41-inch-long LED icicle lights suspended from airplane cables over the Peter Macchiarini (Kearny Street) Steps between 494 and 504 Broadway.
The lighting—designed by San Francisco's Symmetry Labs—is intended to be an attraction that brings visitors to the steps and encourages them to "patronize area businesses along Broadway," said Li Mandri via phone. "We started playing with ideas as to how to activate the space and have a local draw."
The icicle lights are red, green and blue and can be operated "in unison so you can have some pretty stellar light shows," he added.
ToBCBD chose the style of installation because the lights are safe to operate, weather-resistant, environmentally friendly, and can be adapted for seasonal and special events.
Even though the steps offer "some of the best views of downtown, they are not viewed as an asset but a liability," said Li Mandri, who acknowledged that "chronic vagrancy and open drug use" have been problems in the area.
"So, the lighting project was inspired by the need to increase public safety as well," he said. "While the Broadway corridor is known as an entertainment district, it's also important that neighbors can get to their residences safely and peacefully."
"What we are hoping to do with this plays with and compliments what others are doing in North Beach," he added.
Former NBBA President Fady Zoubi has also championed efforts to add lighting along Grant Avenue with similar technology. In recent months, the organization has installed neon lighting that is connected to—and winds around—Public Utilities Commission (PUC) poles in the business district.
Similar to ToBCBDs app-controlled installation, the lights along Grant Avenue are controlled by remote and can change colors. So far, ten have been installed and there are plans to add 20 or so more, said Zoubi. Oakland's Cool Neon Lighting created the lights, which are said to last 15–20 years and were paid for in part by a grant from the Office of Economic Workforce Development.
Zoubi noted that NBBA has historically used funds for the installation of flower baskets on the corners, along with other neighborhood beautification projects, "but we wanted to use that fund for a more permanent lighting installation," he said.
The decision to use the curled neon lighting on PUC poles aims to move away from the the more traditional Christmas tree lighting that has been previously connected to residential rooftops along the Grant Avenue corridor.
Zoubi also added that while the lighting will mostly stay green, white and red to represent the colors of the Italian flag, "we'll be following city protocol for changing the colors of the lights for sporting events," and local celebrations like Pride or St. Patrick's day.
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