Project Name: Yerba Buena District: Yerba Buena Streetlife Plan and Moscone Center Expansion
Firm: CMG Landscape Architecture
Project Designers: Jamie Phillips (Principal); Lisa Daye (Senior Associate); Kevin Conger (Principal); Greg Barger (Senior Associate); Matt Arnold (Associate); Sam Woodhams-Roberts (Senior Associate);
Previously CMG: Nico Wright; Jesse Hartman; Jacob Tobias; Annabelle Hernandez; Nahal Sohbati; Calder Gillin
YBSLP: Sherwood Design Engineers, Nelson/Nygaard, SPUR Urban Center
Moscone Center: SOM, Sherwood, SF Travel, SFDPW, SF Planning, YBCBD, OCII
Client: Yerba Buena Community Benefit District
Size: 11 square miles
Moscone Center Expansion: 2019
In the 1960s, City planners identified the Yerba Buena area of South of Market (SoMa), as a redevelopment zone and the conceptual plan for Yerba Buena was large-scale commercial development – convention center, sports arena, theaters, museums, and retail. Early redevelopment efforts received heavy opposition that delayed development for nearly a decade after 4,000 residents were forced to relocate. In 1976, Mayor Moscone appointed a Select Committee to work with the community and create a consensus plan for the district. The Committee confirmed the area needed to better serve its low-income population and create mixed-use commercial and public facilities, a convention center, and a public garden. The redevelopment effort resulted in one of the most enterprising neighborhoods with cultural and civic institutions such as Moscone Center, SF MoMA, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The recent improvements to Moscone Center honor the original community plan and is a landmark civic project that combines the economic generator of a convention center with significant public open spaces and community benefits.
In 2010, Yerba Buena Community Benefit District (YBCBD) partnered with CMG Landscape Architecture to improve the Yerba Buena public realm. The project team led a 14-month extensive community engagement process of surveys, public meetings, community input, charrettes, and a long-term needs assessment. The groundwork also included the evaluation of existing conditions: neighborhood identity, pedestrian experience, safety, social activity, use of alleys, and physical attributes such as street trees. The community’s principles and values were synthesized in the Yerba Buena Street Life Plan (YBSLP), which won an ASLA Professional Honor Award in Analysis and Planning in 2014.
The Yerba Buena Street Life Plan
The Yerba Buena Street Life Plan creates a vision and road map for the next generation of public space in the Yerba Buena district, based on community input and a long-term needs assessment. The YBSLP outlined six strategies:
1) Anchor the District
An enhanced identity would establish the heart of Yerba Buena as the center of its public realm—creating a recognizable, memorable hub for residents and visitors. Moscone Center was identified to have the potential to be the heart of the district’s public realm; serving both as an inviting neighborhood space for residents and an iconic civic space for the city.
2) Promote the Alleys
Yerba Buena is a resource of small streets and alleys through the large city blocks. Increasing visibility and activity—both to the streets themselves and the destinations and businesses they lead to—enhances their character and function as public space.
3) Make New Social Spaces
Yerba Buena is home to several gardens and plazas that provide rich open space in the heart of the district. Finding and converting underused sites for social activity add neighborhood amenities around the district.
4) Promote Walking and Biking
A good street network in Yerba Buena supports walking and biking as social and sustainable modes of transportation and ensures a positive, safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists.
5) Improve Sidewalks for Street Life
Safe, useful walking routes for everyone make the streets inviting and delightful places to be.
6) Increase Sustainability
Yerba Buena residents, businesses, and organizations are committed to sustainability and maintaining their neighborhood by using minimal resources in all projects and expressing that value in planning, construction, and maintenance practices.
The YBSLP proposed 36 community-vetted projects and initiatives to fulfill these strategies—ranging from small-scale improvements and district-wide strategies to major open space proposals—that would be led, initiated, or advocated by YBCBD.
The Plan’s impact was immediate and a number of projects were implemented:
- SPUR Bench: Outside the SPUR Center, where there was only a blank facade before, now is a public amenity that has effectively facilitated street life—a bench spans the front of the building to gauge desire and use of seating in the district.
- Parkmobiles: The Parkmobile program created distinct mobile gardens in high-quality, robust containers. These Parkmobiles rotated throughout the Yerba Buena District adding character, seating and greenery to the neighborhood.
- Custom Bike Racks and Benches: Cast iron bike racks and benches designed by CMG unified the neighborhood identity and elevate the streetscape environment in a consistent way.
Anchoring the District: Moscone Center Expansion Public Realm
One of the most significant projects realized was the transformation of the Moscone Center Expansion public realm. The Moscone Center Expansion, recently completed in 2019, creates connections and relationships to the neighborhood by activating the pedestrian experience through new bridges, paseos, and an art program, and creating generous social places. To enhance the openness of Moscone to the Yerba Buena neighborhood, bicycle, pedestrian, and right-of-way improvements were made along Third Street and Howard Street. The streetscape upgrades improve the safety and comfort of conventioneers, visitors, and residents traveling by or to the Moscone Center.
The Expansion included the installation of four art pieces, commissioned as part of the City’s One Percent for Art ordinance, making Moscone a public art destination in the Yerba Buena district.
- “Roll” is a mural in the Moscone Paseo inspired by the movement of water and air in San Francisco.
- “Double Horizon” showcases two large boulders split in half on top of the pedestrian park bridge. When walking between the boulders, viewers experience pixelated color images of the sky on the boulders—exploring the fragility of time and nature.
- “Point Cloud,” on the new enclosed convention center pedestrian bridge is a full-color LED light display that can be seen day and night. The installation plays with its surrounding surfaces and utilizes reflective glass and mirrored light fixtures.
- “GENESES I” is a 20 feet monumental arc of melted and hewn stainless steel supported by a concrete form providing a moment of respite.
The YBSLP continues to guide projects beyond the proposed initiatives—using the document as a framework for the neighborhood’s future. For instance, Yerba Buena Garden recently received funding from The Clean California Local Grant and will replant the perimeter slopes, enhancing new entrances into the Gardens from the new Muni station at 4th and Folsom Street.
The Yerba Buena Street Life Plan established a model for community improvement that can be replicated by other professionals, neighborhoods, and benefit districts.