Civic Center Public Space Design

San Francisco, CA

The Civic Center public realm should be the pride and joy of all San Franciscans, valued as a useful and beautiful space that is a unique expression of San Francisco and its democratic life.

Civic Center is the most important civic space in San Francisco, the heart of the democratic process in the City, and a vital neighborhood open space with unique opportunities and challenges. CMG has developed a vision for Civic Center’s three public spaces – Civic Center Plaza, United Nations Plaza, and the block of Fulton Street that connects them – through a community-based process that encouraged participation and conversation. The conceptual design creates a public space for all San Franciscans: a ceremonial gathering place that welcomes everyday use and inspires civic pride.

The vision for Civic Center presents a year of community and City agency input,  resolved in a plan that proposes the fulfilment of ambitions of the 1912 Beaux Arts plan, capacity for large events (protest or celebration), and intimacy to support a diversity of experiences and amenities that enrich daily life. The expansive vision weaves together ecology, art, and commerce and celebrates San Francisco’s history and civic life, creating an elegant oasis that honors Civic Center’s Beaux-Arts setting. Within the overarching Beaux-Arts structure of axis and symmetry, spaces are arranged for performance, recreation and gathering. 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. A variety of features and amenities are integrated to invite people from all over the City and all walks of life to enjoy these important public spaces on a daily basis.  The plan proposes unifying 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.

Civic Center serves diverse publics. A quick consideration of these varied communities illustrates the opportunity to address many different interests: residents, families, homeless residents, tourists, a large daily workforce population, protesters and celebrants, concertgoers, museum visitors, and dignitaries. Understanding Civic Center’s unique communities and resources is paramount to its improvement as a space that resonates with and is authentic to San Francisco. The process for developing this vision has been as important as the vision itself: fostering community trust by maintaining transparency, listening to the concerns from the full spectrum of project stakeholders, and engaging residents who do not feel they have a stake in the vision. The process focused on reaching traditionally underserved communities, particularly bilingual and monolingual constituents, through public workshops, focus groups, meetings with community and institutional stakeholders, and interactive on-site outreach. More than 60 community organizations, and over 3,000 people, have participated in the development of the plan since the project began in April 2017. Stakeholder input directly informed the development of the vision plan.

This work is part of a larger effort led by San Francisco Planning, the Civic Center Public Realm Plan, which will represent a unified vision for long-term improvements to the area’s public spaces and streets. The Plan builds on partner projects in the area, including the Helen Diller Playgrounds, led by SF RPD and The Trust for Public Land, and the Civic Center Commons, an OEWD-led initiative that prioritizes bringing more positive and inclusive activity to the area through interactive art installations and play structures, public space stewardship, new workforce development partnerships, and more frequent activities and events.