Introduction: Civic Center Stories

Civic Center Stories

Civic Center is deliberately designed to host San Francisco’s greatest historical moments. Its ornate buildings and grand public spaces are the setting for gatherings of protest, performance, and celebration. For over one hundred years Civic Center has served this role.

But Civic Center is much more than a place for grand moments in history. It is also one of the biggest stages for the everyday pageant of San Francisco’s public life. It’s a place where young couples dressed in their wedding outfits pose for photos on the same patch of lawn where seniors from nearby residential hotels lie alone on the grass; where children visiting one of the local cultural institutions shout with delight in the playground while homeless individuals huddle with their belongings on the other side of the playground fence; where Symphony patrons walking to a concert at Davies Symphony Hall cross paths with teenagers ready to dance the night away at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium; where tourists from around the world gaze at the area’s landmark structures while workers rush by on their way to jobs in the very same buildings.

Countless scenes like these take place every day in Civic Center. But while people of diverse backgrounds may physically occupy the same space, actual interactions may be fleeting or non-existent. We often know very little about the people with whom we share this public realm. By sharing the stories and portraits of individuals who spend time in the “Heart of the City,” Civic Center Stories aims to bring a human face to the public sentiments, criticisms, desires, and relationships to Civic Center.

Civic Center Stories was developed through the San Francisco Planning Department’s Summer 2016 Internship Program as part of efforts to increase awareness and dialog in anticipation of the Civic Center Public Realm Plan—a new long-term plan for improvements to Civic Center’s public spaces. Over thirty stories were collected through curated and impromptu interviews with people who use Civic Center. This booklet will hopefully be the first of multiple editions of Civic Center Stories.

The stories touch on numerous subjects, from memories of the past to concerns for the future. They offer insight into what brings people to Civic Center and what entices them to stay. They include ideas on how to make Civic Center more successful and aspirations for what its public spaces might become. Across the board, one thing is abundantly clear—in Civic Center, people make the space what it is today, and their insights have and will continue to shape its future.