San Francisco is seeking to continue its creative approach to public spaces, which has included parklets and sidewalk gardens, with a plan to let nonprofit groups manage large city plazas and hold cultural events.
The plaza program proposed by Mayor Ed Lee with the support of Supervisor Malia Cohen is currently being vetted by various city bodies and ultimately would require Board of Supervisors approval to become law.
“San Francisco has really become known nationally for its innovative approaches to the public realm. Some of the ones that are more well-known are parklets,” said Robin Havens of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “All of these projects really facilitate citizens participating in stewarding their public realm.”
And now that could extend to plazas. The program is intended for public spaces of at least 2,000 square feet and outside of Recreation and Park Department jurisdiction. Some existing spaces — Mendell Plaza in the Bayview district, which Cohen represents, and a space at McCoppin and Valencia streets — meet that criteria and new sites could also emerge as part of construction development and urban planning.
“As the City population continues to grow, the transformation of underutilized public plazas will be instrumental in providing social, economic, and ecological benefits in neighborhoods citywide,” says a city description of the program. Activities envisioned for these spaces include art and music events, farmers markets, movie nights, food events and retail. If the program is approved, The City would select plazas on a case-by-case basis and nonprofits would bid for space by submitting proposals on how they plan to manage the events and generate revenue.
“We do see that these spaces could support citywide communities of artists and musician to have more spaces to perform,” Havens said.
Revenues exceeding cost-recovery of the events and activities would have to be reinvested in the specified plaza. Restrictions would be placed on certain behaviors: the proposal requires specific permits and does not allow alcohol consumption unless it is permitted by the director of the Real Estate Division. In addition, leases could not extend for more than five years.
Audrey Joseph, who sits on the Entertainment Commission, had high praise for the proposal.
“I think this is awesome,” she said. “New York has taken a whole area in the Time Square District and just done this. It's about time.”
Officials hope to have the program up and running this year with at least three plaza steward agreements approved by the Board of Supervisors.