Civic Center Public Space Design

San Francisco, CA

Civic Center is a public space for all San Franciscans: a ceremonial gathering place that welcomes everyday use and inspires civic pride.

The vision for Civic Center represents eighteen months of community and City stakeholder input and fulfills the ambitions of the 1912 Beaux-Arts plan: cohesion across the Civic Center Landmark District, ceremonial spaces with capacity for large demonstrations and celebrations that commemorate civic life and history, and intimate spaces that create daily destinations by supporting diverse experiences and amenities. CMG led a team of ten consultants on this inter-agency effort spearheaded by the Planning Department, which included eight City departments and engaged over sixty community organizations.

Seven public space principles were developed with stakeholders throughout the plan. These principles will serve as touchstones for the development of the design, implementation, and management of the project as it evolves, that Civic Center will be…:

  • A landmark that celebrates shared history and tradition
  • A flexible, accessible, inviting place for all to gather
  • The City’s cultural hub and political heart
  • A source of beauty, delight, and wellness
  • The safest place in San Francisco
  • A generous space that meets the basic needs of diverse publics
  • Designed + managed through an inclusive process that fosters equity

The vision responds to three main challenges of the physical environment at Civic Center: the car-centric, fragmented public realm; a generally uncomfortable and bleak environment; and few provisions for basic needs that would invite people to visit and to linger.  The Helen Diller Playgrounds, Bi-Rite Kiosk, ongoing activation and stewardship through the Civic Center Commons Initiative, and the Heart of the City Farmers Market have demonstrated how the addition of specific amenities and events fosters and strengthens community bonds and identity, through shared use and embodiment of civic values. These lessons will be extended throughout the district in the Plan, as the vision addresses these challenges through three design goals:

  • A Landmark District: Within the overarching Beaux-Arts structure of axial relationships and symmetry, spaces are arranged for performance, recreation and gathering.
  • A Flexible, Accessible, Ceremonial Gathering Space: Playful places to see and be seen in frame flexible plazas for events and festivals, in which the diversity of culture unique to San Francisco can be celebrated.
  • An Inviting Place that Welcomes Everyday Use: A variety of features and amenities are distributed across the public realm, to invite people from all over the City and all walks of life to enjoy these important public spaces on a daily basis.

The concept plan unifies the public realm through an expanded plaza footprint, creates multiple locations for civic gatherings connected by a generous civic promenade, actively engages adjacent civic and cultural institutions, and incorporates existing and new program uses that support vital public life at all hours of day and night.  Creating an elegant oasis that honors the Beaux-Arts setting, the vision weaves together art, ecology and commerce in ceremonial and neighborhood spaces that commemorate San Francisco’s history and civic life.