Union Square Park | Case Study

Union Square Park   |  Case Study

San Francisco | California

Union Square Park, commissioned in 1847 to be one of the San Francisco’s first public squares, today serves as the ceremonial heart of its downtown. The centerpiece of this sloping space is a 90-foot high 1903 Corinthian granite column crowned with a bronze goddess of Victory. It is surrounded by one of the largest collections of department stores, upscale boutiques, shops, art galleries, and salons in the Western United States. Bordered on four sides by major streets, an underground parking structure is directly below the park.

In 1997, an international design competition sought to transform the Park from an imposing, seldom used space into an inviting and vibrant urban oasis. The redesign was completed in 2002 with improved access and massive flat granite open space, including outdoor cafés, tiered seating and a symphony-sized stage.

Challenges
  • Transform an iconic, but underutilized, passive and challenged public space, from a pass-through location to a civic focal point that draws people time and again.
  • Identify sustainable ways to activate the park for people who live, work and visit through redesign, programming and ongoing management.
  • Address issues of civility, safety and cleanliness.
  • Integrate the needs of a wide range of interests — City agencies, law enforcement, nonprofits groups, local business and community organizations — to revive the park.
  • Create a new public-private management structure and qualified provider to operate and staff the park on behalf of San Francisco Recreation and Parks and Uptown Parking Corporation.
Services Delivered
  • Served as an active member of the park Design and Development Team and was responsible for conducting a usage analysis to inform its redesign, programing and management.
  • Developed the park management plan and event guidelines as well as feasibility studies for infrastructure and landscape design.
  • Implemented a combination of permanent uses to encourage longer stays, planned programming to energize the park on a consistent basis and space that accommodates impromptu events for street performers, poets, musicians and speakers.
  • Implemented a comprehensive outreach program to stakeholders — Uptown Parking Corporation, City Recreation and Parks Department, business owners and operators, hotels, residents, local groups that have an interest in the health, safety and vitality of the Union Square area.
  • Responsible for day-to-day management, event programming and management, maintenance, engineering and safety (City Recreation and Parks Department manages landscaping).
Results
MJMMG assumed management of the park in 2002, which continues today. Union Square Park is a benchmark for how public spaces can be great places.
  • More than 4.6 million people visit annually.
  • More than $600,000 is generated for the City annually through events and leases. Since MJMMG assumed management in 2002, this has become an important revenue source for the City.
  • MJMMG’s idea to include space for a café increases the number of visitors throughout the day and evening and has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in incremental revenue to the City in annual leasing.
  • Each year MJMMG programs and permits over 100 events. Musical performances, dances, art exhibitions, rallies and spontaneous outbursts of theater, speech, and song drive a sense of community and bring thousands to the area, all of which contribute to the success of its many businesses. This includes private or sponsored events such as the Nike Women’s Marathon that uses the park as its base for the event.
  • MJMMG created and manages the Union Square Live events program. Now in its seventh year, it draws audiences from 500-5,000 residents and visitors 80 times each season. In 2012, at a time that was once quiet at the park, some 3,500 people participated in a dance program before walking to the waterfront to watch the Fourth of July fireworks.

“MJMMG’s input ensured the space would accommodate many different types of events. ”

Manuela King| Royston Hanamoto Alley + Abey

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