Sound Installation Coupled with Investments to Improve Quality of Life Will Aid Civic Center Transformation into Inclusive Public Space

Mayor Edwin M. Lee today unveiled Sound Commons in United Nations Plaza, a new Living Innovation Zone (LIZ) partnership with the Exploratorium and San Francisco Planning Department.

Sound Commons is a sound-based installation composed of interactive musical elements designed to encourage social interaction and play, also serves as a symbol to unite the Civic Center District. This LIZ project is part of an initiative designed to activate and restore Civic Center as a destination for all.

“The revitalization of Central Market has been remarkable, and we will continue to build on this momentum,” said Mayor Lee. “We will leverage the Sound Commons along with investments from the new Fix-It Teams to continue to create a destination that increases social interaction, improves public spaces and enhances the quality of life for everyone to enjoy.”

As part of the Mayor’s Quality of Life Initiative, Fix-It Teams are being deployed to help with the upkeep of United Nation Plaza open space, Civic Center and greater Market Street. It will complement the ongoing work of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the Department of Public Works, the San Francisco Police Department, San Francisco Planning, Community Benefit Districts, merchant associations and many other area stakeholders. The goals of the Quality of Life Initiative is to provide coordinated response and assistance to the neighborhood while improving the experience for residents and visitors.

The initiative for the UN Plaza and surrounding area includes a range of immediate investments:

  • Public health staff to provide outreach three times per day Monday-Friday, offering services to potential clients for housing, mental health, drug and alcohol abuse.
  • San Francisco Police Department will provide increased foot patrols adding a sense of security riders walking to and from BART, around Market Street and those enjoying the library or the Asian Art Museum.
  • Quick fixes provided by Public Works including illuminating 17 lights around the plaza and providing maintenance to overgrown trees.
  • Ongoing maintenance provided by Public Works trainees seven days per week.
  • Trainees will patrol by foot, picking up loose debris, sweeping, removing graffiti and stickers, and reporting issues for other agencies to 311.
  • Public works will also provide increased mechanical street sweeping, steam cleaning and washing streets using recycled water.
  • Through the Mayor’s Budget, new funding for a beat police officer to walk the blocks of Sixth Street and a corridor manager to liaise with businesses and property owners, work with merchant association, stakeholders, and the city to leverage neighborhood quality of life and safety improvements.
  • Public Works and the Hunters Point Family will act as stewards for the Living Innovation Zone to engage the public on the installation.
  • Supplemental cleaning services will also available through the Downtown Streets Team, a privately funded program that engages homeless individuals in the maintenance of public spaces while assisting them with long-term employment opportunities, training and housing.

“Open spaces are critical for recreation and community building where housing is dense and indoor space is limited,” said District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim. “The investment coming into Central Market provides a real opportunity to begin transforming Civic Center’s public spaces into a destination that meets the needs of the remarkably diverse community that lives, works, visits and plays here.”

“This LIZ is an important step in creating a more humanistic urban environment that leverages the Exploratorium’s focus on inquiry as a fundamental building block for successful public spaces,” said Exploratorium’s Studio for Public Spaces Founding Director Shawn Lani. “People are naturally curious, wonderfully playful creatures that sometimes need a good excuse to connect with one another and re-engage with the world around them. These installations are wrecking balls for socials norms.”

Sound Commons is composed of several interactive musical elements, or “acoustic phenomena,” such as chimes, xylophones, and “Echo Tubes” woven together with wooden boardwalks that wind throughout the trees that line both sides of the Plaza walkway. The musical elements are intended to create unexpected and unique sound effects as people interact with them. Also embracing the sounds of silence, a bed of gravel embedded with sound-sensors will challenge users to walk as quietly as possible and score them on their tip-toeing skill. Scattered throughout the site will be small, written notes that provoke new ways of thinking about sound. Sound Commons also includes a ‘canopy of Tivoli lights’ placed in the trees above, illuminating UN Plaza at night. Sound Commons is the fourth creation from the Living Innovation Zone program and the second sponsored by the Exploratorium.

About the Living Innovation Zone (LIZ)

Established in 2013 and co-led by the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, San Francisco Planning, San Francisco Public Works, and the San Francisco Arts Commission, the LIZ Program fosters partnerships with designers, non-profits, and community stakeholders to create temporary installations that enhance sidewalks and plazas and encourage people to interact with one another and their city while simultaneously testing out ideas that inform permanent, capital investments. For more information, go to: sfliz.com.

Exploratorium’s Studio for Public Spaces

The Studio for Public Spaces works in the public realm to create exhibits and environments that encourage play, exploration, creativity, and social connection. At the Studio for Public Spaces, we believe that public spaces in our cities and elsewhere are a critical resource to be nurtured and utilized. For more information, go to: exploratorium.edu/publicspaces.

More information:

Francis Tsang | Chief Deputy Communications Director
Office of Mayor Edwin M. Lee
415.554.6467 | francis.tsang@sfgov.org