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New Harvey Milk Plaza redesign plans go before city, prompt concern

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Perkins Eastman comes back with a new look, but not everyone is pleased

Renderings courtesy of Perkins Eastman

When plans to redesign Castro’s Harvey Milk Plaza were revealed in 2017, the bold yet curious look had some people scratching their heads. A few months later and a new batch of renderings ready to go before the powers that be, it still does.

This plan first stirred controversy when New York-based architectural firm Perkins Eastman was selected as the winner of an international competition to give the 18th Street and Castro plaza and Muni station a makeover. The firm’s initial design, which featured a raised amphitheater and moved the action away from Castro Street, was met with ire from the community and from the plaza’s original architect, Howard Grant (who also designed Civic Center BART, Van Ness, Church, and West Portal Muni metro stations).

Almost one year later, after stifling community feedback via four public meetings from Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza neutered the original concept, new designs were revealed. But the new look still has some cocking an eyebrow—most notably, from urban design critic John King.

King notes that the new plaza would pull visitors away from the lively intersection of 18th Street and Castro and plop them west toward Twin Peaks, among other issues.

He also says that “if the desire is to celebrate Milk’s life and legacy, it might be easier to freshen up the current plaza and create an ongoing fund for its maintenance.”

Predictably, Grant is still displeased with the revamped plans.

11 ginkgo trees will be planted to represent Milk’s 11 months on office.

“The Perkins Eastman proposal for bleachers to cover the plaza creates a barrier that obscures their new plaza and the view through to Collingwood,” says Grant. “Benches originally installed at the plaza were removed to discourage the homeless from congregating, and yet the new bleacher plans will most likely become sleeping platforms without hired security.”

The plaza’s new design—prompted by the renovation to add an elevator the Americans with Disabilities Act—will go before the civic design review committee of the San Francisco Arts Commission today. It is likely to go through different iterations before a final look is selected.