A Special Message from our Festival Co-Leads
October 16, 2015
Last week, something beautiful happened. An unusual meeting was convened on a temporary design installation (also known as a prototype or an experiment) on Market Street between 6th and 7th. This meeting right there on the street included artists, neighborhood residents, local nonprofit leaders, a developer, City leaders from the Planning Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Mayor’s Office on Disability. We were all there because we are attempting a radical collaboration across sector and across field that aims to bring tenderness, inspiration, and connection to the public life of our city.
To set the scene, the prototype is called Outpost. It is designed by San Francisco’s Studio for Urban Projects to be a place for community gathering, education, advocacy, and inspiration. As part of our “prototyping places for people” work (Market Street Prototyping Festival), the Outpost is accompanied by several other prototypes that encourage play, collaboration, and respite. The neighborhood, which has long been neglected, is made up of long-time low-income residents, small businesses, and a significant transient population. To some, it can feel unsafe and unclean. To many, it is home and it is about to dramatically change, which leaves them with the question – what will happen to me and those I care about?
The Outpost is explicitly saying that any neighborhood, no matter how challenged and no matter where it is located, is worthy of beauty and worthy of inspiring public places. Especially and absolutely in neighborhoods that have struggled and have few public open spaces. It is also acknowledging that things are changing and we need to influence that change so that it is compassionate, equitable, and environmentally responsible. The Outpost was designed especially for Central Market, with the neighborhood – the people – in mind.
We were all there for this meeting because we are experimenting and it is hard. We were there because we understand that everyone – no matter their life circumstance – needs to live in a cared-for place, a place that allows inspiration and that encourages connection. Yet, clean, cared-for, inviting places can quickly serve as platforms for already existing social tension and division. We know that benches and clean surfaces reveal hard truths – homelessness, mental illness, concentrated poverty, drug dealing, and stark inequity. We also know that “beautification” can be a signal for gentrification. Yep, we were there because this is hard.
Indeed, the headlines in San Francisco are dominated by battles over public and private space. Questions of whose neighborhood, whose city dominate. And, this is what the Market Street Prototyping Festival is about. It is about a belief that everyone needs access to inspiration in their lives and that the people of our city need to be at the center of, and profoundly influencing, how things grow and change.
We are asking questions like: Can citizen-driven change achieve equity? Do we believe our public spaces are essential to personal and societal transformation? What kinds of partnerships between the City, the community and non-profits are needed to make these public spaces successful?
We hope more and more people will participate in the kind of collective inquiry that will push through these complex questions and can lead to breakthrough solutions.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Manager, City Design Group
San Francisco Planning Department