Container-based pop-up, Smitten Made-To-Order Ice Cream, San Francisco, United States, Credit: Antje K. Steinmuller, 2015

Beyond Bottom-Up in San Francisco: Public-Private Initiatives and the Potential for Proactive Citizenship

By Antje K. Steinmuller


Public space—by its original definitions a place of debate and struggle—is characterized by its continuous formation and reformation through public dialog and participation.[1] The move of large tech companies like Twitter to San Francisco[2] has contributed to growing densification and gentrification in the city, disproportionately affecting black and Latino communities. In response to ongoing displacement and evictions of both working-class and middle-class citizens, San Francisco is experiencing a surge of advocacy and activism shaped by multi-faceted bottom-up organizing and protest movements around the privatization of public space. Such actions have lead to significant outcomes including a political revisiting of the Ellis Act,[3] a California State Law that allows landlords to legally evict tenants as a way to “go out of business”. Additionally, a tech shuttle pilot program that charges corporations a fee for the use of city bus stops was approved in January 2014.[4] In San Francisco, small-scale, public-private or hybrid models for shaping neighborhood public space are increasing in popularity as a modality of citizen participation. While urban planning literature has offered critiques of this model, it is timely to examine specific and ongoing cases, their differing articulations of participation, and potentials for inclusiveness in the city.

This article presents a reflection on citizen alliances that emerge within current models of public-private partnerships and evaluates them for their potential as new forms of pro-active citizenship. It highlights three San Francisco case studies that transform and activate public urban space: 1) the Parklet Program; 2) the Living Alleys Program; and 3) Proxy SF. The case studies are located within the overlap of San Francisco’s Hayes Valley and Market-Octavia neighborhoods. This area experienced significant demographic changes due to an influx of largely white, well-educated middle-class residents during the boom and (ensuing bust) of the 1990s,[5] as well as transformative physical changes with the removal of the Central Freeway, which truncated the neighborhood until its replacement with a wide surface boulevard in 2003. Prior to 2003, the Freeway’s presence delayed homogenous gentrification and contributed to the evolution of the triangle between Market and Hayes Streets as an “in-between” place, “a place that [supported] a variety of lifestyles, ages, and incomes. Its varied but close-knit pattern of streets and alleys, along with relatively gentle topography, [making] it very walkable and bike-able.”[6] While Hayes Valley’s main commercial district largely caters to a young demographic with a lot of disposable income, the overlapping Market Octavia and Hayes Valley area retains both economic and ethnic diversity.[7]

The case studies presented here employ public-private hybrid strategies, which are intended to be applied beyond the boundaries of the Market Octavia and Hayes Valley neighborhood. However, the construction of these projects within the same urban context facilitates an understanding of their differences. The projects draw from temporary citizen-activist provocations,[8] and embody a co-option or formalization of activist tactics into planning programs and strategies. The analysis of each case study outlines its conceptualization, formation, and process of implementation as a formal urban project, and concludes with a critical review of the resulting urban spaces, participatory models, and community alliances and networks.

The Parklet Program

Figure 1. Parklet with seating and bike parking sponsored by The Mill cafe on Divisadero Street (Photographs by author, 2015)

Project: Activist Roots

In 2005, members of Rebar Art and Design Studio fed a parking meter for the legal limit of 2 hours and turned the parking space into a temporary park, laying out sod and adding a potted tree and bench. Known as the PARK(ing) Project, the intervention responded to the disproportionate amount of space designated for cars in San Francisco, and called attention to “the range of possible activities for [the] short-term lease”[9] of public urban space represented by a metered parking space. Over time, the creation of an annual PARK(ing) Day transformed this one-time intervention into an open source project with citizens in over 150 cities participating worldwide. Rebar provides both a critical manifesto and a manual[10] for those interested in participating. “PARK(ing) Day has effectively re-valued the metered parking space as an important part of the commons—a site for generosity, cultural expression, socializing and play.”[11]

Process: Formalization and Implementation

Building on the success of PARK(ing) Day, the San Francisco Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks Program[12] initiated the Parklet Program as a way for local business owners, residents and community organizations to convert parking spaces into publicly accessible pedestrian open space. The program is a collaboration between the Planning Department, the Department of Public Works (DPW), and the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA). Understood as “temporary sidewalk extensions”, the first parklets were installed in 2010. The Parklet Program allows any citizen to apply, and provides a detailed manual that explains the permitting process, pertinent code issues and material requirements. The Planning Department reviews the initial location and proposal in a first round, before a detailed proposal and construction documents can be submitted for a building permit. Approved parklets receive a 1-year renewable permit. Parklets typically provide amenities like seating, planting, and bike parking. They reimagine the potential of city streets to foster neighborhood interaction. Five years into the program, the highest concentrations of parklets in San Francisco are located along the commercial corridor of Valencia Street in the Mission District. Parklets in close proximity to each other also exist in other commercial areas like Hayes Valley and Divisadero Street (Fig.1).

Figure 2. Parklet sponsored by Arlequin cafe in Hayes Valley (Photographs by author, 2015)

Public Space, Participation and Potential

In their Park(ing) Day Manifesto, Rebar defines parklets as a form of “generous urbanism”: the “creation of public situations between strangers that produce new cultural value, without commercial transaction. . . .[T]here are no absolute “consumers” or “producers” for this type of art, only participants with varying levels of responsibility for instigating the situation.”[13] However, in the formalized version of city-approved parklets, the majority of applicants to date are business owners.[14] Although a sign marks each parklet as a public park, many are designed to provide outdoor seating for customers of adjacent eating establishments (Fig.2). They provide appealing spaces, but their location and furnishings contribute to public perception that parklets are extensions of adjacent businesses. Critics bemoan that the idealism of Rebar’s first Park(ing) Project has been replaced by a standardized toolkit for the proliferation of parklets that, more often than not, serve commercial interests and begin to signify an aesthetics of gentrification. However, exceptions do exist: a private resident installed a parklet as an extension of a residential front yard (Fig.3), and several bike shops across the city have sponsored sidewalk extensions whose design characteristics are autonomous from the sponsor’s street front (Fig.4, 5).

Figure 3. Privately sponsored parklet without seating on Valencia St. (Photographs by author, 2015)
Figure 4. Parklet sponsored by Freewheel Bike Shop on Valencia St. (Photograph by author, 2015)

Although individual parklets may not equally invite public use, the permitting process includes both explicit and implied participatory components. In addition to the conventional neighborhood notification period, the Parklet Manual mandates community outreach as a part of each project. Applicants are encouraged to obtain letters of support from neighboring property owners, businesses, and the local merchant association or business improvement district. While consensus amongst neighbors is not required, each application is assessed by the breadth and diversity of the support it receives. When businesses apply for parklet permits, they often collect customer’s signatures in support of their application. Many applicants host open houses or community meetings where members of the neighborhood can both learn about the proposal, and contribute design suggestions.[15] In addition to feedback opportunities during the development and the implementation process, the Pavement to Parks program conducted a detailed study of parklet use in summer 2014.[16] The results, obtained largely through intercept surveys, revealed heightened neighborhood interaction, perceptions of enhanced safety, as well as a desire for additional small open public spaces in other areas of the city. Observations of activity types and intensity of use in tandem with user satisfaction summaries have provided an additional avenue for citizen feedback, which may be used as the Planning Department continues to develop the project. As parklets slowly become a predictable vernacular in San Francisco, lessons learned can serve as guides for the evolving parklet typology, from supporting institutions and non-profits in addition to businesses, to actively encouraging increased partnerships with schools.[17] The Exploratorium’s Portable Parklet and another at the Museum of Craft and Design are examples of existing non-commercial parklets.

Figure 5. Parklet sponsored by Rapha Cycle Club on Filbert St. (Photograph by author, 2014)

Formalized community input on the implementation of parklet projects resembles the reactive participatory model employed for most of San Francisco’s new construction projects, where public comments are solicited as part of the permitting process. Still, the mandate for community support anchored in the parklet program provides a framework for community members to meet and discuss larger neighborhood issues. In some cases, a parklet proposal has led to alliances between independent, local businesses, with several adjacent businesses collectively sponsoring a project. Such neighborhood partnerships foster a greater sense of autonomy around individual parklets, which become a multi-stakeholder piece of the public realm rather than an extension of a particular business. Due to the small scale of a parking space and the relatively low cost of a parklet project, the program is designed for individual citizens and business owners to become pro-active in transforming a small part of the street space for a specific use.

The Market Octavia Living Alleys Program

Figure 6. Linden Alley in Hayes Valley: a 100-foot long Living Alley prototype with curb-free street level and landscape interventions (Photographs by author, 2014)

Project: Activist Roots

In the 1990s, the collective Reclaim The Streets, a creative activist group in London, launched an unconventional series of protests against car domination of city streets: street parties to be enjoyed by all. Their tactics ranged from the construction of a sand pit for children on a busy intersection in Islington, to the installation of a bouncy castle on a street in Brighton, and grew to engage spontaneous street parties across the globe, including Sydney, New York, Tel Aviv, Berlin, and Amsterdam. In the summer of 1996, a street party attracted several thousand citizens to the M41 motorway at Shepherd’s Bush in London. Under the cover of techno music and dancers on stilts, four men dug up the street and planted trees.[18] The goals of Reclaim The Street’s parties and interventions embraced increased pedestrian traffic, garden space for urban residents, community interaction, and the perception of streets as shared and collectively owned space. While the original street interventions were temporary and event-based, contemporary efforts to reclaim a livable public realm from car-dominated city space follow both the goals and tactics of these earlier protests.

Process: Formalization and Implementation

San Francisco’s Living Alleys Program is a community-based project that fosters citizen-initiated long-term transformation and enhancement of street space. The program’s two-year pilot project, defined in the Market Octavia Area Plan, began in 2013. The plan calls for traffic-calmed environments[19] in the alleys located in the Hayes Valley neighborhood, and articulates a process in which “residents can participate in the design and implementation of improvements to their alley”.[20] Like the Parklet Program, the Living Alleys Program seeks to convert street space into “safe, active, and sustainable public places with amenities for people to sit, relax, and engage with others”[21]—a “front yard” for public enjoyment. The alleys are narrow one-way streets, flanked by a mixture of low, residential buildings and small-scale commercial buildings. At times, the backside of larger, institutional buildings also faces an alley. The alleys currently serve as connectors for pedestrians and cyclists traveling to Market St., the Civic Center area, and Patricia’s Green Park at the core of the Hayes Valley neighborhood commercial district.

One alleyway enhancement, located on Linden Alley at Gough St. and completed in 2010, served as a test project for the program (Fig.6). It was designed and initiated by Lorin Sagan and David Winslow, whose architecture office is located on this stretch of Linden; Winslow now serves as project lead for the Living Alleys Program. The test project’s 5-year journey to realization pioneered a mix of individual residents’ sponsorship, pro-bono design and engineering work, and matching Community Challenge Grant funding. Following the methodologies of this test project, the first comprehensive implementation of the Living Alleys Program solicited project proposals from local property and business owners, institutions and non-profit organizations via a Request For Proposals (RFP) issued in October 2013. The goal of the RFPs was to identify three pilot projects. The proposed designs were expected to provide infrastructure for a range of possible uses within the street space while addressing traffic calming. Like the parklet projects, all proposed amenities of a Living Alley must be free and open for public use. The Request For Proposals provided information about traffic calming strategies, guidelines for the integration of landscape with parking, accessibility requirements, emergency vehicle access, and information on drainage and underground utilities.

Figure 7. The Green Ensemble, student project for Linden St.: the first phase of this proposal uses discarded musical instruments as mobile planters and road blocks for temporary events on Linden Alley. These resident-sponsored mobile green spaces also visually connect Patricia’s Green at the end of Linden St. to a proposed learning garden in the courtyard of the School District Building across from SF Jazz. (Work by Raine Paulson-Andrews, Jessica Dreyfus and Setareh Taghvaei, Active Urbanism Seminar, California College of the Arts, 2013)

Public Space, Participation and Potential

The challenges of citizen-initiated changes to public infrastructure are apparent in the ongoing pilot projects. Sponsors feel the pressure of a commitment tied to significant financial responsibility and long-term stewardship while grappling with the particularities of a shared sense of ownership (with the community) over the spaces. Three pilot projects were selected through the first Request For Proposals: one was developed by a group of residents; another was sponsored by a local non-profit organization and music venue, SF Jazz; and the third was developed by local business owners. The group of residents in the first project abandoned their plans once the financial implications became clear. The SF Jazz team partnered with a group of architecture graduate students from California College of the Arts (CCA) and its Center for Art and Public Life. In the framework of a seminar, student teams developed comprehensive phased designs for SF Jazz’s block of Linden St. that included interim event tactics related to SF Jazz’s engagement with the community through music lessons and performances, physical changes for outdoor seating and alley greening over time, as well as potential partnerships for sponsorship, financing, implementation and event programming (see Fig.7-9). While this collaboration generated rich conversations between SF Jazz, members of the San Francisco Planning Department, and student designers about potential short and long-term additions to Linden St., the community outreach required for an intervention along an entire block and its financial implications have presently halted SF Jazz’s follow-up on the project. The third proposal, initiated by members of the Absinthe Group, restaurant owners on either side of Ivy Alley, proposed to strengthen the pedestrian connection between busy Gough St. on one end of their block of Ivy, and the San Francisco Symphony and Opera on the other. The project includes plans for landscaping, lighting, seating, and a series of large-scale murals on the blank building walls that characterize this block of Ivy. The popularity of David Winslow’s project on Linden and Gough Streets is an example of a ‘Living Alley’ that fosters activity and interaction between residents and visitors. It has enhanced the street’s identity through the choice of materials in the interventions, using a combination of granite curb stones, concrete and weathering steel to define different spaces for native planting and seating near the local coffee shop.

Figure 8. Soundscape, student project for Linden St.: This proposal envisioned a connection between the container-based pop-ups at Proxy SF, and SF Jazz through a series “sound towers”: urban furniture combined with sound installations. Sheltered seating that can be converted into temporary bandshells marks the end points of this sound-based urban connection and produces informal urban venues for jazz music students. (Work by Tyler Jones-Powell, Dustin Tisdale and Garrett Rock, Active Urbanism Seminar, California College of the Arts, 2013)
Figure 9. Soundscape, renderings of the proposed “sound towers” and the “learning bandshell” in front of SF Jazz, 2013. (Work by Tyler Jones-Powell, Dustin Tisdale and Garrett Rock, Active Urbanism Seminar, California College of the Arts, 2013)

Citizen participation and alliances have been integral in the formation of Living Alleys; as part of the program launch, Planning Department staff held three community meetings that addressed future visions and desires (meeting 1), assistance in developing proposals (meetings 2), and a forum for discussion of emerging proposals (meeting 3). The meetings helped shape the content of the Request For Proposals, as well as the development of an alleyway sponsor toolkit. Ongoing dialog between Planning Department staff and project sponsors connects sponsors with local designers and other support,[22] and continues to inform the future of the program. In addition to community engagement through public meetings, the submission of a proposal requires letters of support from a variety of sources including the local Community Benefit District, neighborhood associations, local residents and businesses. Such requirements encourage community members to engage with each other to actively shape changes in their neighborhood. The project initiators of the Ivy St. proposal have held their own community meetings and conducted intensive outreach to a larger network.

The complexity and scope of an intervention in an alleyway block necessitates the formation of neighborhood partnerships as an essential factor in both schematic development and long-term success. A critical component of the proposal selection criteria was community stewardship and a strategy for collective fundraising, implementation and maintenance. The difficulty of these collective, multi-stakeholder projects was demonstrated in the pilot projects; of the three only the Ivy Street proposal initiated by the Absinthe Group is currently moving forward. This project has strong leadership that has reached out to a wide range of participants and contributors, creating a network beyond the boundaries of the alleyway and neighborhood—residents and business owners are working together, an urban designer has contributed pro-bono work, student muralists have been invited to produce site-specific work, and grant applications are underway. The SF Jazz proposal also envisioned the development of partnership networks, but these did not come to fruition as the sponsor’s priorities shifted.

The scale and scope of a Living Alley project requires sponsors to be pro-active and inclusive in their outreach to the community. Implementation of individual projects requires significant funding, however, the alliances mandated by Living Alleys ensures that a project could not be executed by a privileged few. Living Alleys provides a framework for a diverse set of values and desires to be integrated into each project, fostering ownership and long-term stewardship amongst community members, as well as strong collaborative relationships between the City and project sponsors.[23] In response to the challenges of the two-year pilot study, the Planning Department has included shorter-term measures into its Living Alleys Toolkit; here “Living Zones”[24] complement the original “Shared Streets” goal. “Living zones” are areas for purely pedestrian use, created with short-term traffic calming interventions like movable concrete planters. The impact of Living Zones on the larger traffic network will be assessed over time and some of the projects may be converted to long-term interventions. The introduction of Living Zones aims to lower the threshold for neighborhood groups to pro-actively transform street space collectively while still mandating inclusionary outreach.

Proxy SF

Figure 10. Proxy SF open space in January 2015 with the Aether Apparel Store in the stacked containers in the back. (Photographs by author, 2015)

Project: Activist Roots

Proxy is a temporary venue of renovated shipping containers and truck-based vendors located on two adjacent, city-owned lots in the Hayes Valley neighborhood (Fig.10). Since opening in 2011, the site has hosted a mix of food vendors, pop-up retail and cultural events. Architect Douglas Burnham, principal of Envelope A+D and founder of Proxy SF, rents the land from the City of San Francisco and describes Proxy as a framework for changing content responsive to the shifting needs and desires of contemporary urban culture. The project draws inspiration from two radical hypothetical projects: 1) Archigram’s 1969 “Instant City”, where balloons, trucks and trailers activate vacant landscapes through deployment of media content; 2) the Italian collective Superstudio’s utopian “Supersurface” project—a massive, connected surface for social interaction. Responding to the sterility of the post-war modernist paradigm, these hypothetical projects were activist provocations that anticipated the nomadic networked pop-up culture of today. Proxy’s strategies for activating vacant land with changing temporary uses also draws from several contemporary European projects, including the RAW Tempel in Berlin-Friedrichshain and the Pioneer Fields on Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport.

Process: Formalization and Implementation

Proxy is situated on land that became vacant after the demolition of the earthquake-damaged Central Freeway. The Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association fought for the Freeways removal, which began in 2003. Octavia Boulevard, a tree-lined, multi-lane surface street, replaced the former freeway route, and the remaining land was slated for the development of affordable housing. A widely publicized competition for architectural proposals was held in 2005 and the architecture firm Envelope A+D was selected as one of the winners. However, the economic downturn of the following years halted development on the former freeway parcels. In response, the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development issued an RFP, seeking entrepreneurs to lease these unused spaces for temporary programs until they could be sold and developed. “The theory was that these so-called placeholders would generate retail and cultural activities, which, in turn, would rejuvenate the neighborhood”.[25] Envelope A+D proposed “a programmatic matrix of possible temporary uses, . . . part city-wide festival, part neighborhood block party”.[26]

Figure 11. left: Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours space; right: Basic Training Fitness Pop-Up space and stage (Photographs by author, 2015)

The Mayor’s Office accepted Envelope’s proposal for the site, but responsibility for funding the endeavor lay with Envelope. The City collects rent for the two lots that Proxy occupies, which is supported by the vendors who pay for the design and customization of shipping containers that serve as their base on the site. Envelope A+D is the curator of Proxy’s content, through their own connections to local vendors and artists, as well as through an open application process. Vendors’ leases have varying durations and Proxy’s content operates on several simultaneous time scales: “rooted” vendors with daily opening hours, regular weekly events, and varying cultural programs that occur throughout the year. Over the course of Proxy’s implementation, city administrators have supported the project by adapting and streamlining the permit process. The legal definition of “temporary” varies by city department, and the project’s implementation has required ongoing dialog and collaboration amongst city officials to re-frame a range of municipal regulations, from utility payment processes to the requirement for container insulation.

Figure 12. Container-based pop-ups of eating establishments: Ritual Coffee (left), Smitten Made-To-Order Ice Cream (center), Biergarten (right) (Photographs by author, 2015)

Public Space, Participation and Potential

Within the context of the previous two case studies, Proxy’s rent-based model produces a more commercially oriented urban space. Envelope A+D is the developer, curator, and producer of a changing urban condition—they are responsible for the project’s economic sustainability, attention to materiality, design, and diverse programming. Envelope A+D’s ability to create a strong dialog between neighbors, vendors, participants, donors, fabricators and members of different city departments is due, in part, to their unique position as an ‘intermediary’ between the City and local citizens. The firm has honed a set of skills specific to the project—navigating territories within and outside conventional architectural expertise—from fundraising to curation, advertisement, and community engagement. The strategy behind Proxy, and the resulting urban space, has been described as a success story in local and national newspapers, magazines and blogs.[27] Proxy’s popularity with both local citizens and the press is due, in part, to its changing content, tailored to the neighborhood’s character as a shopping and dining destination for both young people and families. Most recently, urban fitness pop-ups (Fig. 11) and infrastructure for an outdoor movie theater complement the food and clothing vendors (Fig.12). As a project that relies on commerce and curated events to create an active urban space, Proxy fits well into the surrounding high-end shopping district on Hayes Valley’s main corridor and caters to an upper-income population. While some of its events are free, it is less concerned with providing a space the can accommodate a range of activities by people of all ages and incomes as might be the goal for a publicly-funded plaza or park. However, Proxy’s strategy for bringing together local institutions, citizens, vendors and curated events, has inspired Douglas Burnham’s new project NOW, located in San Francisco’s Hunters Point neighborhood, a traditionally low-income, industrial area of the city. One of the objectives of this second project is to build upon Proxy’s strategies to create a vibrant public space in a historically underserved neighborhood, engaging a more diverse population and context.[28] The successes of NOW to date highlight that the core of Proxy’s strategies lies in building alliances and activities based on the specific characteristics of a local site, and can be transferred to a range of different contexts.

The Proxy project engages several participatory strategies; the City of San Francisco’s initial Request For Proposals and approach to interim use of vacant land demonstrates a willingness to support new typologies of public urban space proposed by citizens, and brought to life through collaborations with local businesses and neighborhood associations. The initiative to develop an interim use for the vacant lots in Hayes Valley was, in fact, brought to the City by members of the neighborhood,[29] and Envelope’s proposal evolved in close dialog with the neighborhood association. During Proxy’s initial development, these conversations ensured a close connection between the needs and desires of the neighborhood association with the projects flexible programming[30]. Envelope A+D still attends the regular neighborhood association meetings and presents upcoming programmatic alterations for community input. Additionally, Proxy—as a strategy and “content machine” for a flexible urbanism—offers local artists and vendors an ongoing Call For Proposals in four categories: retail, food, event/play, and art. This pop-up model is a testing ground for their local vendors and start-up businesses. Pop-up events like “The Planned Disappearance of”[31] presented by the local gallery Department of Architecture in 2013 included installations, performances and public talks on the topic of temporary structures in the context of new technologies and material efficiencies. The event featured local artists and thinkers. An open-air movie theater and curated film series is scheduled to open in 2015 and is currently being crowd-funded. Finally, Proxy’s unconventional financial model has relied on rent from vendors in addition to donations from neighborhood residents, foundations and philanthropists, and is currently filing an application to become a registered non-profit organization.[32]

Akin to the Living Alleys Program, Proxy’s urban strategies for activating vacant lots rely on strong and sustained leadership. As an ‘intermediary’ responsible for developing the initiative as well as curating rotating vendors and events, Envelope A+D pro-actively manages the spatial and temporal scale of the project by leveraging existing leadership within the neighborhood association, forming strong alliances with city departments, and splicing together a broad network of sponsors, vendors, and participants who keep the project active and changing. Proxy’s original three-year lease has been extended until 2021. Given that the alliances and networks are formed around the pro-active outreach of an ‘intermediary’ rather than of members of the neighborhood, the question remains what lasting impact or empowering effect these alliances have on the local community itself.


The process of formalizing pro-active, provocative, and direct-action tactics into planning programs and strategies changes the nature of citizen engagement. In many cases, the complexity of long-term interventions in the public realm distances direct participation from physical outcomes or events, as citizen involvement is dispersed across many stakeholders and issues. The public-private partnerships reviewed here are examples of frameworks through which pro-active private initiative can occur in collaboration with local input. Each program encourages citizen participation and necessitates a range of alliances. The case studies also highlight issues of private and public funding; given the cost and scale of an intervention in public space, businesses are a principal stakeholder in the production of the emerging “public spaces”. As a result, the new urban spaces are frequently linked to consumption and/or serve a narrow segment of the City’s population, rather than being used by a range of citizens as an integral part of the public realm. Despite this trend of private leadership, many of the examples encourage broader citizen involvement in project initiation as well as execution, rather than participation in response to interventions that have already been planned by a single entity. With the growing scale of public space intervention, as in the Living Alleys Program, up front public-private alliances have helped to ensure that a variety of perspectives and needs are taken into account and that larger collaborative networks are formed.

In order to produce truly public space, ‘a place of debate and struggle’, it is critical that diverse sets of voices—in terms of race, ethnicity and income—are represented in local collaborations. In San Francisco, inclusive public-private partnerships have the potential to shift the focus from a reaction against the larger homogenizing forces of gentrification towards the specific local diversity of values and needs. Such emerging citizen alliances have the potential to lead to lasting citizen empowerment and to future initiatives that strengthen neighborhoods and contribute to connecting people to their city, both those who have lived here for decades as well as new residents.

[1] Peter Aeschbacher, Michael Rios, “Claiming Public Space: The Case for Proactive, Democratic Design,” in Expanding Archtiecture - Design As Activism, eds. Bryan Bell and Katie Wakeford (New York: Metropolis, 2008), 85.

[2] Rory Carroll, “Geek-Driven Gentrification Threatens San Francisco’s Bohemian Appeal”, The Guardian - US Edition March 5, 2013, accessed June 06, 2015,

[3] Rachel Brahinsky, “The Death of the City?” Boom: A Journal of California 4, No. 2 (2014), 43-54.

[4] Dan Brekke, “San Francisco Cuts Deal to Allow Shuttles to Use Muni Stops”, KQED News, January 6, 2014, accessed June 06, 2015,

[5] Robert Cervero, Junhee Kang, and Kevin Shively, "From elevated freeways to surface boulevards: neighborhood and housing price impacts in San Francisco," Journal of Urbanism 2.1 (2009): 40-41.

[6] San Francisco Planning Department, “Introduction,” San Francisco Market and Octavia Area Plan, accessed April 05, 2015,

[7] City Data: Hayes Valley Neighborhood, 2011 data, accessed June 06, 2015,

[8] The work of Rebar San Francisco includes many temporary citizen-activist provocations:, or Raumlabor Berlin,

[9] “About PARK(ing) Day,” PARK(ing) Day, accessed April 30, 2014,

[10] Rebar, PARK(ing) Day Manual - A Primer on User-Generated Urbanism and Temporary Tactics for Improving the Public Realm, (San Francisco: Rebar Group, 2011),

[11] About PARK(ing) Day,” PARK(ing) Day, accessed April 30, 2014,

[12] San Francisco Pavement to Parks Program, accessed June 06, 2015,

[13] Rebar, The Park(ing) Day Manifesto: User-Generated Urbanism and Temporary Tactics for Improving the Public Realm (San Francisco; Rebar Group, 2011),, 5.

[14] Robin Abad Ocubillo (SF Pavement to Parks Parklet and Research Lead), interview by Antje Steinmuller, San Francisco, November 25, 2014.

[15] Ibid.

[16] San Francisco Planning Department, Citywide Assessment of Parklets & Plazas - Summary of Data Collected for Summer 2014 Public Life Study, by Justin Panganiban and Robin Abad Ocubillo (San Francisco, September 2014).

[17] Robin Abad Ocubillo (SF Pavement to Parks Parklet and Research Lead), interview by Antje Steinmuller, San Francisco, November 25, 2014.

[18] Jay Griffiths, “ Life in the Fast Lane on the M41: Jay Griffiths Parties without Reservation at the Invitation of Reclaim The Streets”. Guardian (London), July 17, 1996,

[19] Traffic calming measures are additions to street space in the form of speed bumps, raised cross walks and curb extensions, intended to slow through-traffic; see San Francisco Planning Department, Living Alleys Market Octavia Toolkit (San Francisco, February, 2015), 43-47.

[20] San Francisco Planning Department, “Program Overview,” Market Octavia Living Alley Program, last updated 2/24/2015,

[21] San Francisco Planning Department, Request for Proposals Living Alleys (San Francisco, October 23, 2013), 1.

[22] David Winslow (Living Alleys Project Lead, San Francisco Planning Department), Jessica Look (Planner, San Francisco Planning Department), interview by Antje Steinmuller, San Francisco, November 24, 2014.

[23] Ibid.

[24] San Francisco Planning Department, Living Alleys Market Octavia Toolkit (San Francisco, February, 2015), 76.

[25] Sara Hart, “Douglas Burnham”, Proxy, November 01, 2012,

[26] Hart, “Douglas Burnham.”

[27] see for example John King, “City’s Little Boxes, But These Look Pretty Good”, SFGate, November 13, 2011; Allison Arieff, “It’s Time to Rethink ‘Temporary’”, The New York Times, December 19, 2011; Mitchell Schwarzer, “The Emergence of Container Urbanism”, Places Journal, February 2013; and Gisela Williams, “From No-Man’s-Land to Must-See”, Financial Times, May 09, 2014.

[28] see Douglas Burnham’s project NOW for San Francisco’s Hunters Point neighborhood; accessed June 06, 2015,

[29] Lindsey Westbrook, “Douglas Burnham - On the Potentials of Impermanence,” Glance, Vol. 23 No.1, Fall 2014, 30.

[30] Douglas Burnham, “Proxy: An Experiment in Flexible Urbanism,” On Site in the City, 11/001 (Sept. 2011): 32.

[31] see “On Display: The Planned Disappear

[32] Douglas Burnham, interview by Antje Steinmuller, Berkeley, CA, November 25, 2014.

Author Bio

Antje Steinmuller is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the California College of the Arts, and a Senior Associate at Studio URBIS, an architecture, urban design and research practice in the Bay Area. She holds a professional degree in Interior Architecture form Hochschule for Technik Stuttgard, a degree in Architecture from Technical University Berlin, and a MArch from the University of California, Berkeley, where she was a John K. Branner fellow. Her research areas include the relationship of visualization methods to design thinking, as well as temporary urban strategies and their capacity to inform longer-term urban development.

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The “Good Death” of Buildings: Filling Gaps in Post-Earthquake Christchurch
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Spacehacking as Praxis: 3 Projects, 3 Perspectives: raumlaborberlin, Recetas Urbanas, Collectif Etc
Nathan John
Making of the Indignant Citizen: Politics, Aesthetics, and Housing Rights in Madrid and Rome
Andreea S. Micu
Critical Performance Spaces: Participation and Anti-Austerity Protests in Athens
Gigi Argyropoulou
Participatory Aesthetics and Makeshift Urbanism: Cases of Guimarães, Cova do Vapor and Terras da Costa
Joana Braga
‘Space to Wrestle With:’ Social Practice in Gurgaon
Alex White-Mazzarella, Namrata Mehta and Soaib Grewal
Windows on an Urban Village: Participation and Antagonism in Shaina Anand’s ‘KhirkeeYaan’
Rattanamol Singh Johal
invisible Zürichs: Multiplicity of Knowledges in Socially-engaged Artistic Practice
Cecilie Sachs Olsen
Seeing in the Dark: Unearthing Batumi’s Hidden Backyard Treasures
Lydia Matthews
Basketball Now!
Layla Nova Forrest-White
Assemblages of Difference: Place-making and Utopian Agonism on the Open-Air House Music Dance Floor
Kavita Kulkarni
‘O collective Happening’ in Shanghai: “Loose Space,” Participation, and what Sustains between Instantaneity and Permanence
Chiayi Seetoo
Squatting in Non-Spaces: Queering Art and Identity in Global China’s Guangzhou
Jenny Lin
Negotiating Informality: Social and Economic Strategies of Latino Food Vendors in San Francisco’s Mission District
Ginette Wessel and Sofia Airaghi
Beyond Bottom-Up in San Francisco: Public-Private Initiatives and the Potential for Proactive Citizenship
Antje K. Steinmuller