In the works since 2016, three comprehensive plans for transforming San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza, Fulton Mall and United Nations Plaza, as newly rendered and outlined below, will be presented to San Francisco’s Planning Commission next week.

Intended to illustrate “a range of long-term potential improvements and approaches to designing Civic Center Commons to support civic gatherings and daily use,” and to ensure “a cohesive and coordinated” approach and unified vision for the area’s plazas, streets and other public spaces, once the final plans is selected, the three design frameworks have been dubbed the “Culture Connector,” the “Public Platform” and the “Civic Sanctuary,” each of which has its own special emphasis in terms of gathering space, landscaping, interactive features and commercial kiosks and pavilions.

The Culture Connector approach prioritizes “Ecology, Wellness and Variety,” with an expansive tree canopy loosely framing a civic promenade from Market Street to City Hall, along with a variety of settings for “art, commerce & play”:

The Public Platform framework focuses on “Performance,” with a series of flexible and interconnected plazas framed by trees, planting, and sloped lawns and bleacher seats “that create places to see and be seen”:

And the Civic Sanctuary approach celebrates “History,” with strict rows of trees framing the public spaces and a defined central spine from Market Street to City Hall, designed to “recall the formality of the historic Beaux-Arts plan” (while integrating contemporary uses and amenities as well):

The three frameworks will soon be posted to the City’s Civic Center Public Realm Plan site to gather feedback.  A preferred approach is expected to be selected and finalized this fall. And assuming a successful environmental review, the grand plan for San Francisco’s Civic Center could be ready for adoption in the first or second quarter of 2020.  We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

81 thoughts on “The Plans to Transform San Francisco’s Civic Center”
  1. Christ almighty (!) is there a day that goes by that SF doesn’t show again how it used to be the city that knew how? By all means let’s take the classically designed – formal, symmetrical, appreciated around the World – Civic Center and turn it into a landscaping freak show.

    I vote for Plan #Zero (keep your F$%^ing hands off it!) In fact, since it adjoins UN PLaza, I hope the UN steps in and stops it as a crime against humanity.

    1. Ease off the gas there, turbo. This isn’t the National Mall. This isn’t the moral crisis you think it is.

        1. Because what’s there now isn’t iconic or of enough significance, historical or cultural, to be worth saving. And if symmetry is really a huge concern for you, note that 2 of the 3 designs are pretty symmetrical.

        2. Since Civic Center was first built there have been numerous redesigns. The current design is fairly uninspiring.

          1. True. The current iteration dates to the 1960s when the original Civic Center Plaza was dug up to build Brooks Hall. I wish they’d restore the fountain/ reflecting pool. Natives will remember if they’re old enough.

          2. It’s uninspiring because in a very San Francisco way everytime something broke or needed heavy maintenance, like the reflecting pool, they just removed it so that now there’s hardly anything left. And then they turned the area into the all-purpose “festival/protest” space so that the grass periodically gets trampled. How many “gay pride” parades do they think these new designs will hold up under? Very few I’d bet. And when the wear and tear begins to show, will anything get fixed? No way–just rip it out.

          3. It’s true. San Francisco, and I’d extend this nationwide, doesn’t do maintenance well. We build things….say Powell Street BART……and then do the bare minimum of maintenance until 45 years later it’s a disgraceful hole. Now Civic Center Plaza isn’t that badly maintained, but little positive has been done to it in decades.

    2. It’s such an empty void right now, nowhere to sit, no activation. I don’t know what you see worth preserving. It was good for the Women’s March because that brought enough people to fill the empty space for once. The rest of the time, the only thing remarkable about it is how a park and plaza in the center of an 880,000-person city can manage to be so dead.

      All of these concepts represent an improvement, especially the Culture Connector.

      1. Add all the bells and whistles you want. As long as it remains filthy and overrun with homeless and drug addicts people will avoid using it. Spend the money to fix the existing human problem and clean up the place and people will come.

        1. I completely agree. Without removing the homeless and drug addicts this area will fail to attract people.

        2. Given that the “human problem” will not be solved* no matter how much money is thrown at it, is your answer effectively “do nothing”?

          * Human beings are…complicated. As has been discussed endlessly, there is not enough money to “provide housing” or “control drugs” or “cure mental illness” even if we knew how (and I am skeptical we do). And…if we did “solve” these problems, can we solve them for the people who would drift here? SF has always been the end of the road for lost souls. That will not change, especially if freebies are somehow funded.

        1. Is there even one tiny change you would see as positive? I love San Francisco, partly for its potential once we fix the big challenges we face. Civic Center in terms of how it’s used day to day is not the most successful area of our city. These plans look good for improving it.

      2. You can’t have anyplace to sit because the homeless will sleep there. But if we are lucky, like Art Agnos was, they’ll bring their own furniture and set up 24/7 housekeeping.

      1. No. They will just move to the neighborhood park near you. Or you sidewalk.

        Unless by “remove” you have a darker meaning?

  2. Just a thought – shouldn’t SF clean up the needle and feces strewn streets, repair the poor roads, maintain existing public parks – all of which the city seems incapable of doing – before even considering something like this? What a sham.

    1. Agreed. For once.

      This is a lovely new toilet for the homeless that use 4.5 million needles a year.

      1. They don’t need it. 2 days ago I saw a guy trying to defecate in a plastic cup at 2 PM in front of Old Navy on Market St. I celebrated the fact he was trying not to leave a pile on the sidewalk.

        1. How did you celebrate that? Did you treat yourself to a nice dinner at a fine restaurant?

    2. Dave is 200% correct. What if they spent this money on 24 hour patrols to chase away dealers, manned public toilets to give the homeless somewhere to go, and street sweeping every day?

      1. The brazen drug dealers at the BART stop are menacing – knowing full well the police turn a blind eye.

        Step 1 to making Civic Center a better place is getting rid of them.
        Step 2 is picking up the trash and power washing everything everyday for like a year.

        New physical improvements are nice – but they are a waste of money if people are not safe and nothing is maintained properly.

        1. What’s frustrating is that our tax dollars are being spent on these studies instead of the real improvements you mention.

  3. What?? There’s nothing wrong with Civic Center right now except for the mentally ill shooting up and the trash and general sketchiness of the area, and spending millions to move the trees about isn’t going to do anything until those issue has been dealt with.

  4. Looks pretty good conceptually. Any of these would represent a big improvement over the status quo. Reminds me of the Grand Park renovation in LA, which I think turned out great.

  5. All of them could be called the Kitchen Sink Concept. They’re probably betting the majority of any scheme will be shaved away and all we’ll be left with is some “Bold Graphic Paving.”

  6. Without a plan for the homeless and third worldification of the civic center (and SF at large), how can anybody get excited over this

    1. Nobody will ever, ever look at it from the perspective of these renderings. It is a pointless rendering, and even more pointless project until we make it somewhere that non-homeless drug addicted losers want to be.

      1. Where are the children with balloons, and the happy families strolling about with cotton candy?

    2. I come from the “third world” and the public spaces where I grew up are way nicer than this. Maybe you Americans should think about whether you’re in a position to use other countries as a short-hand insult.

    1. The irony is most of the people commenting either never have, or haven’t in many years, lived in the city. I, for one, do live in the city and think that throwing some money, planning, and interest at Civic Center is an excellent idea; so long as it’s not watered down by NIMBYs and armchair dis-enthusiasts. Regardless, trees, benches, trash cans, and foot traffic is a pretty damn good step in the right direction.

      [Editor’s Note: The preceding assumption as to where “the people commenting here” reside is factually incorrect. And in general, around 60 percent of our readership is located in San Francisco (with Oakland, New York, Los Angeles and San Jose rounding out our top five).]

          1. 49 years (somehow) for me and counting. The truth is, this city has always had a slob element. Even if there were half as many homeless you would still see trash swirling on windy days in driveways in Noe Valley, you would still see litter on the sidewalks in the Mission and in many other neighborhoods.

            The mentally ill homeless problem has been decades in the making. The first homeless I remember in SF were Vietnam vets. Shellshocked and worse, they preferred to live on the street. Reagan had already cut the state safety nets in the late 60’s, the Veteran’s Administration could not handle (or denied) the problems (some of it from chemical exposure during the war) and more safety nets cut federally in the 80’s when the homeless populations suddenly swelled all over the US.

            Now there is also a hard drug addiction problem linked to it. This is a systemic problem in the US and will never get fixed unless we invest in people – which is not likely to happen under trump.

      1. I like positive changes since I actually have to walk by the plaza on my way to court. The Asian Art Museum is undergoing major expansion and so is UC Hastings School of Law so why not integrate and activate this plaza. I would not mind seeing a few more casual cafes and eateries to serve locals and the many tourists who stop and take pictures of City Hall.

      2. 60%. That is still a poor showing and sample size.
        I can safely ignore a good chunk of the comments since many lack skin in the game.

        1. While 60 percent of our readership originates from San Francisco proper, a higher percentage of those commenting are local. And of course, that doesn’t account for those who have relocated or are contemplating a move to San Francisco.

          1. SFers need to think regionally and not parochially. Quality of live, affordability, traffic issues and more are intertwined among San Francisco, San Mateo County, Alameda County – the whole Bay Area. The better stat might be what is the Bay Area readership. I’m guessing it pushes 75%.

          2. Some of us live in the greater Bay Area. We want SF to be a successful city both as the regional center AND to discourage SF from off-shoring, so to speak, your problems to us.

    2. Positivity just isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when Civic Center is brought up. The place is an utter disgrace and while these proposals obviously seek to make it nicer, it’s nothing but new lipstick on a very disgusting pig unless something is done about the dystopian squalor on constant display there.

  7. A few thoughts- I notice that all three plans apparently banish the Pioneer Monument to oblivion, which seems a little harsh when as far I know the recent criticism has only been directed to one removable section of this important historical monument. Second, while UN Plaza could use some help, only the third plan acknowledges that this space (with a design by important local architect Lawrence Halperin) is intended to commemorate the United Nations. The other two designs (again) replace a monument to local history with a “boulder play garden” and a fountain covered in pictures of kittens?? Third, If you close Polk how will I get to 10th? And don’t let me get started on the ridiculous Copacabana-style sidewalks!

  8. Um, I’d just like to have some benches to rest my old ass or sit down to shoot the breeze with others between Civic Center BART and City Hall.

    1. Many of us have fond memories of the benches in Civic Center. I saw an episode of The Streets of San Francisco TV show that showed the Civic Center in the 1970s. I realize that the people in the show who were sitting on benches were probably “extras” playing parts, but the depiction was pretty close to the truth. In the 1970s could sit in peace on a bench and talk or read a book or eat their lunch.

      Jamie, I share your wish but the days when a pedestrian could rest, undisturbed, on a Civic Center bench are gone. The bad people are in charge. They are minimally controlled and their rights to do as they please are tolerated. The police are restrained and the politicians cower under threat of being called intolerant and unkind.

      The politicians solution to problems with drug dealers, etc. was to take out the benches. That seems to be the standard solution. If you doubt this, think about how the politicians solved the problem with the McDonalds in the Haight. The bad guys were in charge there. Open drug dealing, crazy behavior, harassment of tourist families were common. Instead of enforcing laws and regulations, the City is buying that McDonald’s property and turning it in to housing. We await the City purchasing 16th and Mission, 6th Street and the area around Eddy and Larkin. The attitude of the San Francisco citizenry about the McDonald’s purchase was that nobody should be eating McDonalds food anyway. So much for the legendary caring attitude of San Francisco.

      If Civic Center benches were installed, the entitled, aggressive element would own those benches. It is their world. We just live in it.

      1. I used to sit outside the library and read on sunny days. (Late 1980’s early 1990’s) Can’t imagine getting lost in a book there now. Too many crazy’s.

        Some things have gotten better since then – lots of new fancy buildings. Some things have gotten worse – mentally ill and drug dealers.

        Every day that I walk into City Hall and see 20+ deputies running metal detectors and searching the public’s pockets like they are all guilty criminals I think to myself those same 20+ deputies should be out there at the BART stop actually arresting the violent psycho drug dealers…

        1. We have a bit of a history of violence inside City Hall. We should keep security screenings.

          We should also floor the Civic Center Bart station with sfpd cops.

  9. I have been a resident of SF since 1976. I have lived less than a mile from Civic Center Plaza for 20 years. I don’t have use of a car – I walk or MUNI everywhere I go. I have been around for many of the “improvements” of the Civic Center for a long time. I go to the main library or walk through Civic Center several times a week or ride through the area on a MUNI bus.

    One must wonder how many of the commenters have really been to Civic Center any time within the past 10 years except to attend concerts or political rallies. I suspect that many commenters are “sidewalk superintendents” who speak from past memories, from hopes and from afar.

    I speak from experience. I hurry through Civic Center. Prettying up Civic Center will not work unless City ordinances prohibiting drug dealing, public defecation, harassment of citizens by loud, aggressive mental cases and demanders and littering are enforced. And police officers WALKING ground-level beat regularly, frequently and attentively. And patrol cars parked on the streets in the area.

    The plans for trees and sanctuary and group hugs can not change Civic Center. It will remain a big punch bowl with something huge and fetid floating in it.

    1. So, we shouldn’t do anything about making the park/plaza more inviting for the general public because the city has an overwhelming vagrancy issue? It seems to me like they are completely unrelated and should be addressed independently, with each effort closely considering the other. You know, civics.

      1. They are separate issues but related. Put the cops to work and clean up the streets. Period. This city is a s-hole. Both residents and tourists comment about the filth all the time. You slap a coat of paint on a bench and no one will come if they have to deal with defecating homeless and drug users shooting up in broad daylight.

    2. Not to beat a dead horse, but the most effective way to curb illicit behavior is through street activation. If you put more people on the street, walking, sitting, eating, etc., you discourage the nonsense. I walk through here daily and can tell you that the plaza has benefited greatly from the events, farmers market, and undoubtedly moreso with a sensible refresh as proposed.

  10. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. I live a block away and we never go to this park because of discarded needles and threatening groups of open air drug users on the walk over. The only thing they need to activate the spot other than cleaning up the area is benches. A few blocks away Octavia Green is bursting at the seams. People feel safe there.

    1. I live near Octavia Green and Civic Center. I very much agree with your remarks.

      Octavia Green: safe.
      Civic Center: not safe. It’s difficult to walk more than 10 yards without witnessing some sort of repulsive, illegal activity. What a horrible place it has become. I have to grit my teeth and hurry when I have to go to the main library.

      I wonder what was the stated reason for closing off the BART entrance at Market and Hyde. Was it because it was a troubled spot? If that’s the case, why not just close off all San Francisco BART entrances? That sounds about right in keeping with the City’s policy where enforcement is not at the top of the list. I suspect that, sometimes, enforcement is not even on the list.

      1. The closure of that BART entrance is supposedly because they need to use that underground space for new electrical infrastructure. It (supposedly, at least) wasn’t because it’s a trouble spot.

  11. I think that area of Fulton street has a a lot of potential as a central area for the city. The farmers market is great, but other than that I think it is underused, not the least because it is the center of loiterers, drug sellers, drug users, fencers, and hobos (no offense). I hope they at least keep it open and free for all.

  12. I used to live in Seattle. The equivalent of Civic Center—including its vast expanse of brick abounding with junkies and trash—was Westlake Park. Police patrols didn’t help. Benches didn’t help. The only thing that helped was activating the space with programming. The junkies didn’t drive people out of Westlake Park; they filled the void left by a park nobody wanted to spend time at.

    I now live next door to Civic Center. The place is thoroughly uninviting, regardless of who is in it. At the last public meeting about this project, they had us assemble our preferred vision in 3 segments taken from the 3 options presented. I voted for the plaza and mall from Culture Connector and the UN Plaza from Public Platform. Civic Center simply needs stuff to do.

    1. Beutler’s rendering of a skyscraper at the point where the plaza reaches Market St. is awesome. Far, far better than anything built in SF in the past decade plus or anything proposed. Buildings touch the ground and the sky and when those boundaries are done well, as in Beutler’s “proposal”, something special is created. The planning commission and the planning process need to be informed by vision’s such as Beutler’s.

      1. Correction – this was meant as a reply to Sam’s post/link to Beutler’s Civic Center proposal and not to Kyle S’s post.

    1. Agree, Pan American Exhibition line out to the Presidio is the other historic precedent that the city ignores, “public-access” to the public parks. and a rail system that encircles the city adequately …..

      Nice to see the Beutler’s plan for the civic center!

  13. John David’s plan is awesome but likely too logical for out fine city. Of course without real cleanup and enforcement no plan can work and is just a union friendly make work project that as usual wastes our tax dollars.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *