What is the Civic Center Initiative?

The Civic Center Initiative is a collaborative effort to breathe new life into the City’s central civic spaces, changing how people engage with the place and with each other so that everyone can feel welcome and experience the best of San Francisco every day.

Started in 2017, the Initiative focuses on three linked public spaces:
Civic Center Plaza, UN Plaza, and Fulton Street between the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Main Public Library.

Diverse communities – from low-income Tenderloin families and unhoused adults to technology employees and new residents to visitors of cultural and civic institutions from around the City, the region, and the world – may overlap in Civic Center public spaces, but they don’t necessarily connect. These spaces were designed to inspire awe and serve as a unified gathering place. However, in recent decades, with the exception of when there are large-scale events, many view them as alienating places to hurry through. The Initiative is transforming the Civic Center public spaces so that the connection and sense of pride San Franciscans feel at these large civic events become an everyday experience.

Led by the City of San Francisco in partnership with neighbors, community organizations, and cultural institutions, the Initiative brings together the best of San Francisco’s creative, philanthropic, and intellectual resources to implement this vision. We are pursuing the following four strategies:

Create daily attractions that
spark curiosity and connection

The Civic Center Initiative’s most exciting recent destinations are the Bi-Rite Cafe and the Helen Diller Civic Center Playgrounds, which features two cutting-edge creative play spaces by day and hosts interactive lighting installations at night. Other unique San Francisco-style attractions in Civic Center include: Asian Art Museum’s dragon-themed outdoor art gallery on Fulton Street, the Heart of the City Farmer’s Market and Off the Grid food truck markets.

Improve cleanliness and safety
so all feel welcome

Enhanced City collaboration and innovative workforce development partnerships are making Civic Center public spaces cleaner and safer for everyone.

Civic Center CBD (CCCBD) oversees the larger Civic Center area, which includes Civic Center Plaza, Fulton Street and UN Plaza. The CCCBD Clean Team provides services 7 days a week and addresses issues like litter, graffiti and general upkeep. The CCCBD Community Ambassadors also provide assistance 7 days a week, assisting the public in navigating the area with a welcoming and informed presence. The CCCBD also oversees the Civic Center Garage Greeter and Night Ambassadors.

Urban Alchemy employs a crew of stewards who act as docents for the play structures and art installations and monitors for the colorful tables and chairs. Urban Alchemy’s staff, who have overcome significant barriers to employment, also monitor the Pit Stop toilets at Civic Center and UN Plazas.

Downtown Streets Team engages a team of unhoused people – many from the immediate area – to participate in light cleaning in exchange for stipends and case management services. Downtown Streets Team also offers free games and activities through KARTMA, a mobile game-lending cart. Social services organizations such as Lava Mae and Project Homeless Connect continue to provide targeted services for unhoused individuals.

Create a cohesive identity that becomes a source of local pride

The Initiative aims to bring improved stewardship and programming to all three of the public spaces connecting Market Street to City Hall, so that this critical civic spine is a welcoming, inclusive gathering place for all.

Build a strong team to steward
the Civic Center Public Spaces

A dedicated group of City agencies is working collaboratively with neighborhood, cultural, civic, educational and business leaders to activate and care for Civic Center public spaces now, and to develop a strategy to ensure that the area has the staffing and funding needed to expand services and amenities in the future.

A core feature of the Initiative is a proactively inclusive approach. Attractions and activities are designed to engage all kinds of people and to foster connections among them. The Pit Stop toilets and tables and chairs are available to everyone. Job creation for those with barriers to employment is a priority, and engagement with diverse neighborhood stakeholders is pursued in the planning and implementation of the Initiative.

Taking incremental steps, the Civic Center Initiative is making near-term improvements while working toward a long-range vision. Major capital investments in Civic Center Plaza and the Civic Center Public Realm Plan, a long-range planning and design process now underway, will build on the strategies described above so that theCivic Center can ultimately become a powerful symbol of San Francisco’s compassionate values and a model for public spaces around the world.