How Public Art Exposed Class Tensions in San Francisco — a series of conversations about art, class and race that emerged from “Block by Block,” a public art project.
The City Planners Behind San Francisco’s Seating Experiment
Reflections by Neil Hrushowy, Manager, and Paul Chasan, Urban Planner, San Francisco Planning Department’s City Design Group
Their role: The duo is planning Better Market Street, a city project revamping the avenue over the next several years to create, as Chasan says, “human-centered space, instead of a corridor for moving traffic.” They hammered out a plan on who would care for “Block by Block,” part of the city’s Living Innovation Zone (LIZ), to set policies for future public art on Market Street.
Read the series intro: How Public Art Exposed Class Tensions in San Francisco
Neil Hrushowy’s and Paul Chasan’s Perspective
Hrushowy: No one had done this successfully for 40 years on Market Street — any sort of installation meant for the public to hang out. We’d done a lot of work as a city to actually remove those things and discourage new ones from coming up.
We are looking for ways to bring public life back to Market Street in a way that’s truly inclusive, and invites everyone to be there. It’s not for one group or for the other. And this was a really critical step along the path to learn how to do that.
Chasan: We chose that site to piggyback on The Hall’s positive energy. The hope was people could bring their food out to the LIZ [“Block by Block”] and build and extend that positive-ness. But some people who settled on the LIZ made patrons of The Hall increasingly uncomfortable.
Hrushowy: It was the only comfortable place to sit on Market Street. People were partying and playing music into late in the night, people were vomiting and there was defecation around it. A tourist was taking a picture and people were dealing drugs and didn’t want to be in the picture, so they knocked her down and broke her camera. We also had a separate incident where we had a college bring students out there to learn how to do urban prototyping. One of the students was assaulted with a knife; he had a skateboard and blocked the knife and ran away.
It was the only comfortable place to sit on Market Street.
With the San Cristina Hotel [nearby single room occupancy (SRO) hotel], it was a vulnerable population on Market Street that we had no business imposing upon in that way.
Chasan: That was my mistake. I didn’t realize when we were doing the outreach process that that was a residential building.
Public Works said this [installation] needs to be taken out. Planning felt that a lot of work had gone into it, emotions and relationships we established, and there needed to be more of a process rather than coming in the middle of the night and removing it.
Our ability to do these [projects] internally in the city is dependent on our ability to maintain respectful relations with our colleagues and peer agencies who operate under really different constraints. We need to be able to say with a straight face that if [an installation] doesn’t work, we’re not going to remove it, we’re going to modify it.
Hrushowy: We have to see this as reopening Market Street for a lot more art down the road, versus the life of this one installation.
We have to see this as reopening Market Street for a lot more art down the road.