The Lower Polk Neighborhood is a distinct and vibrant part of the unique collection of neighborhoods that characterize San Francisco’s celebrated urban heritage. It is a diverse, richly textured mixed-use neighborhood with an unusually porous fabric of Alleyways that are underutilized midblock open spaces. This “found ground” was the impetus for the Alleyway District Vision Plan. By reframing the perception of these alleys from “backstreets” into active contributors, these smaller streets are re-scripted and physically re-programmed to support the busy street life activity that extends late into the evenings.
Six alleys extend outward from the Polk Street commercial spine, forming a fine urban grain at the very core of this changing neighborhood which has no access to open space. Reclaiming them as “living streets” was a crucial component to creating enjoyable civic places, dedicated to high-quality pedestrian experience within the neighborhood, as well as contributing to a healthier city overall. The Alleyways now take front stage, shifting the focus from “back of house” access-ways to a new green infrastructure of ‘place” at the heart of the “Lower Polk Alleyways District.”
From the project’s inception, the design process empowered local residents and “heritage” business owners to take ownership of their neighborhood. The local neighborhood association, the Lower Polk Neighbors (LPN) led the initial kickoff meeting in April 2015 to set in motion a 12-month process of workshops and outreach charrettes in which the Alleyways were studied.Detailed physical information was gathered, and an extensive set of existing conditions situational “maps” were developed.This extensive process provided the chance to align, document and organize the voices, resources and initiatives of the entire community. This process was recognized as critical to the success of achieving their shared aspirations. The Vision Plan offered a comprehensive and organized approach to consolidate and record the collective wisdom, experience, and desires of those most closely affected.
These recordings of overlaid ideas, challenges and opportunities were used throughout the process for diagramming comments, priorities, and future change; serving as critical tools during the highly interactive community workshops. The tools and experiences shared helped shape the Vision Plan, and galvanized the community to ensure that all future development comes with investments both private and public, that support these shared values to improve the district. Their ability to guide the processes that reshape and evolve the future of the District’s landscape ensures its continued stewardship by the community into the future.
CLIENT: Lower Polk Neighbors
AWARD: ASLA NCC Honor Award, Research, Planning, Analysis and Communication, 2017
The LPA-DVP is driven by the neighbors – Reflecting principles and values set forth by LPN community it is characterized by a single, overarching factor: it is a community-driven project. This Vision Plan is the result of a year-long process of discussions and meetings with neighbors, merchants, business owners and community stakeholders, workshops and community meetings, comments and suggestions – all distilled into a vision that reflects the input and priorities of the Lower Polk neighbors themselves.