By John King, San Francisco Chronicle | February 9, 2017 | Updated: February 11, 2017 4:33pm

Photo: Anooshey Rahim, Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture
A rendering that shows the new playgrounds designed by Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture for the east side of Civic Center Plaza. The groundbreaking is Feb. 14, 2017, and the spaces should open by the end … more

Planners and politicians have long wrestled with how to “fix” Civic Center Plaza and the blocks around it — a grand governmental hub, but also an often troublesome void.

Now that challenge is the focus of two initiatives at vastly different scales. One seeks nothing less than to remake the landscape from United Nations Plaza to City Hall. The other begins Tuesday with the groundbreaking for a snug but adventurous redo of two small playgrounds within the plaza.

As distinct as the projects might be, each tackles the quandary that defines Civic Center Plaza today: How can a space be tailored to hold thousands of people drawn by protests and parades also beckon on the days in between, when nearby residents and workers seek an attractive spot to kick back and relax?

“It’s a civic space, but also a commons that local people should want to come to,” said Andrea Cochran, a San Francisco landscape architect. “There are so many layers, so many types of activities, with problems that can’t be solved only by design.”

Cochran’s firm is designing the playgrounds at either corner of the plaza along Larkin Street, across from the Main Library and the Asian Art Museum. They will replace two straightforward squares of play equipment installed in the 1990s.

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