Enhance public spaces to showcase Downtown

May 23, 2023

Improving our plazas, streets, sidewalks, and parks to highlight their walkability and strong design will invite visitors, workers, and residents to re-discover the best of Downtown.

“Maiden Lane with new lighting and street furniture” by Sergio Ruiz


San Francisco’s downtown is one of the most walkable in the nation and is celebrated for its world-renowned architecture and impressive parks, plazas, and alleyways. Downtown's large collection of public open spaces in private buildings has been a key selling point to new businesses. The city offers premium commercial real estate, networking opportunities, and a unique built environment. By capitalizing on these advantages, we can elevate Downtown’s prominence as a prime location for gathering, ideation and recreation for workers, residents, and tourists. 

The City has begun to advance a series of initiatives and will launch additional programs that support this strategy: 

  • Complete the transition of Shared Spaces to a permanent program allowing businesses to activate curb, sidewalk and other public spaces. 

  • Continue adding new design elements in public spaces to showcase the Downtown environment and support community activities. 

  • Create new points of interest that attract visitors and encourage gatherings in public spaces like the Landing at Leidesdorff. 

  • Invest in the Powell Street Promenade to improve the pedestrian experience on this key gateway to Union Square. 

  • Reimagine transit stations as platforms for local art and talent to support local artists and spark interest Downtown. 



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Shared Spaces program

The Shared Spaces program allows the use of sidewalks, curbside parking lanes, whole streets, and vacant lots to serve patrons. The Program, which was started to help businesses continue to operate outdoors during the pandemic, has become a proven model for improving street life, adding flexibility and increased earning potential for San Francisco businesses. 

  • In April 2023, Shared Spaces completed its transition from an emergency initiative to a permanent program under legislation introduced by Mayor Breed and passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors. More than 80% of participants in the pandemic program applied to for permits in the permanent program. 

  • Program staff will continue to support Shared Spaces participants by offering technical assistance, as well as through grants to small businesses and businesses located in historically marginalized communities to help them upgrade their Shared Spaces to satisfy the permanent program’s requirements. 

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New design elements in public spaces

Since 2021, San Francisco Public Works, Recreation and Park Department, and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development have invested in infusing character to key Downtown locations by adding stringing lights, plantings and colorful furnishings at Hallidie Plaza as well as replacing trees and deep cleaning the marble of Union Square Plaza. 

  • The City will continue to invest in projects that not only improve the functionality of streets and sidewalks but also enhance and showcase the beauty, uniqueness of Downtown and support community-driven activities. 

  • The Office of Workforce Development has contributed funding to a number of improvements to key public spaces Downtown, including new landscaping, planters, seating, and lighting at Mechanics Plaza, and new brightly colored tables and chairs in Union Square 

  • Projects in the works for 2023 and 2024 include improvements to Belden Alley and Maiden Lane, further maintenance work at Hallidie Plaza, adding decorative street lighting along Folsom Street between 2nd and Spear, and the creation of the City’s first Street Tree Nursery at 5th and Harrison Streets to enhance the pedestrian experience in this part of SoMa.

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New points of interest

By creating new points of interest in strategic locations, we can tell a new story about a Downtown in which residents and visitors want to spend more time in.  

  • As an Arts Culture and Entertainment Zone is established, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) will convene City agencies to identify nightlife, entertainment, and cultural “hot spots” where strategic street closures, along with additional improvements such as lighting and public art, could be used to establish the location as a gathering point and drive attendance to local venues and other businesses. Additionally, OEWD will engage community organizations, local businesses, and property owners to identify locations that have the potential be turned into new gathering places in Downtown. 

  • To pilot this approach, OEWD is working with the Downtown SF Partnership to build out the Landing at Leidesdorff – creating a hub of activity that combines day and evening events, ground floor pop-ups, art, and street beautification in the alleyways of Commercial and Leidesdorff streets in the Financial District that is expected to launch in summer 2023. 

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Powell Street Promenade

In May 2023, Mayor Breed and Board President Peskin proposed additional City funding for the Powell Street Promenade, a package of capital investments to reinvigorate Powell Street between the Cable Car turnaround at Hallidie Plaza and Union Square.  

  • The project would replace the existing metallic sidewalk extensions with elegant new sidewalk treatments to create a unified widened sidewalk from Market Street to Geary.  

  • The Mayor’s budget increase would double the City funds dedicated to the project, for a total of $4 million.  

  • In addition to the capital investment in the Promenade project itself, the Mayor proposed an additional $2 million to provide direct financial assistance to new retail tenants to support the revitalization of large retail vacancies along this corridor. 

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Reimagined transit stations

Transit stations are the entry point to San Francisco for millions of visitors and workers each year and the point where riders form their first impressions of the city.  

  • Transit stations and surrounding plazas, including the Ferry Building, BART, and Muni stations, and the Salesforce Transit Center can be leveraged to showcase San Francisco's culture while encouraging residents and visitors to reimagine public spaces through creative programming. 

  • The Entertainment Commission is working to identify resources to activate transit stations entrances and plazas by adding performances and art installations that spark interest in Downtown while supporting local artists and performers.


See other economic recovery strategies

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