San Francisco Civic Center Public Realm Plan

Urban Design Award-San Francisco Civic Area

Heart of the City: The Civic Center Public Realm Plan
San Francisco, California

The Civic Center Public Realm Plan remakes a mid-century landscape designed for exclusion into a civic space of inclusion: a place that reflects the diversity of the neighborhoods it serves, and embodies the democratic values of the City it represents.

Civic Center is where San Franciscans gather to celebrate, protest, and mourn. It is also the open space commons for the Tenderloin, a low-income neighborhood with residents from diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Through deep community engagement, re-thinking the open space framework, and strategic interventions in surrounding historic fabric and subterranean facilities, the Public Realm Plan transforms Civic Center into thriving social infrastructure, prioritizing public life and local needs.

Urban Forest as ecological catalyst and unifying Spatial Framework

The Vision prioritizes the urban forest for equity, ecology, beauty, and shelter. 400 new trees unify the 14-acres of open space with a double allee that extends from Market Street then opens up as a spatial frame for Civic Center Plaza. A consistent high priority for the community, radically increased tree planting provides access to nature, creates habitat, and sequesters carbon.

Street Activation and Basic Amenities: An Inviting Place for Public Life

New pavilions and storefronts invigorate important edges and existing street frontages. Strategically located, they house basic services, food and beverage uses, and operations and maintenance functions. Deeply informed by community engagement, restrooms, abundant seating, and drinking fountains are distributed in high-visibility locations. A new UN Plaza transit hub will provide protected transit access, an interior market hall, and community space. Retail pavilions form gateways into Civic Center Plaza and access the garage and Brooks Hall below.

Community Outreach

Participation by community and institutional stakeholders directly contributed to all aspects of the Vision. Through an iterative process including surveys, focus groups, three traditional public workshops, and neighborhood events, community input was synthesized and folded into the design process. The team focused on reaching under-represented communities including residents from Vietnamese, Latino, Chinese and Youth communities.


This unbuilt project goes to a bigger vision. It’s a path forward to the future: San Francisco has big issues to deal with, but it is such a positive gesture to understanding the importance of nature in the context of urban space. It balances the use of being an ”active” park as well as a ”ceremonial” one. The spaces are well-scaled, addressing both the monumental “civic heart” of the city and the day-to-day use of community, neighbors, and employees.

– 2023 Urban Design Awards Jury

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