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San Francisco now accepting bids to redesign “unwelcoming” Civic Center

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Mayor’s administration tired of plaza’s current look, suggests “thoughtful design” replace it

A view of Civic Center Plaza from the dome of City Hall. Courtesy City of San Francisco

On Saturday, Civic Center Plaza hosted 70,000-100,000 people in one of the largest public demonstrations in city history. But other days it’s host to many of the city’s homeless residents, as well as some intentionally unappealing design.

While the historic park fronts the city’s most beautiful Beaux-Arts architecture, it’s long been hard to enjoy the views. The San Francisco Examiner points out that modifications by past mayors to discourage loitering didn’t accomplish much except make the park even less user-friendly for everyone else.


Mayor Ed Lee and city planners evidently agree, referring to the plaza’s current look as “stripped” and “unwelcoming” in a redesign proposal dubbed the Civic Center Public Space Design.

This $600,000 plan invites designers to submit bids to civilize the Civic Center. The Planning Department met with candidates on Friday, and formal proposals are due by February 10.

Obviously, there’s no way of knowing yet precisely what the new look for the old landmark will be. The city gives some general guidelines, including words like “inspiring,” “holistic,” “sustainable,” and “inclusive.”

Previous reform efforts have often focused on trying to drive the homeless away from the area. While it’s likely that many at City Hall would still like to see this happen, the text of the new plan specifically points out that “low-income and homeless residents [...] rely on the Civic Center as open space.”

The designated redesign zone stretches all the way from UN Plaza down Fulton Street and into Civic Center Plaza, running right up to the steps of City Hall.

The present look of the plaza, with its columns of marching sycamore trees, has been in place since 1961, and in truth the space still conforms fairly well to the 1912 design.

The retro look is not for lack of other ambitions, as many previous redesign efforts have fallen by the wayside over the last 55 years.

Civic Center Plaza

335 McAllister Street, , CA 94102