...et in Arcadia ego (Part Two)

In San Francisco, three pedestrians are hit by vehicles every day. Not only should streets be designed to be safer than this, in the process, they can become viable public spaces that enrich our urban experience. In this proposal developed for Walk San Francisco, everyday infrastructure is re-examined to achieve both of these goals. What if the street itself is considered a kind of undiscovered public space – a park, even – that rewards and enhances living in the higher density urban areas that sustainability demands? Streets can be both connective tissue and destinations in themselves rather than just spaces we pass through on the way somewhere else. With these lofty ideals in mind, there was some initial struggle when Walk San Francisco asked OPA to reconsider the mundane curb extension. (A curb extension widens the sidewalk at crosswalks to place pedestrians in a more prominent location – protruding into what is considered the zone of the street – with the intent of calming traffic through heightened visibility.)

The first thought was that the curb extension should be modified to protect the pedestrian it places in a more vulnerable position. The second thought was that this protective buffer could host planters and benches to support a new public space created at intersections. And finally, it became clear that once it was propagated along a related series of intersections, this everyday infrastructural element could sponsor an extended network that unified the street experience for pedestrians, created green connections to local parks and gave meaning and expression to the local community.

As a test case, six blocks of Divisadero Street between Oak and Fulton were selected. Divisadero was chosen because it is an evolving, active pedestrian street with challenging traffic and, importantly, median strips. Not far away are the Panhandle and Alamo Square, two parks that this network could link to invigorate and soften the Divisadero corridor. In the larger context of the city, this network could develop at major streets and extend out to make green connections to parks.

Along a path, each intersection has curb extensions. The curbs rise up using modular concrete sections to create ridges that protect pedestrians, while providing planters and benches for the public space. A hatched crosswalk extends into the street to signal that it is a place for both cars and pedestrians. The median strip is integrated to create a physical link down the street to the next intersection, and a continuous planting strategy links the streets to adjacent parks. Planters at corners and median strips are managed as community gardens, fostering diversity and local ownership of the streetscape. All this variation can be achieved by developing a limited infrastructural 'kit-of-parts' that can be deployed as the occasion requires.

SOUS LES PAVES starts by looking at something we rarely see – the humble curb – and asks it to do more. Specifically, how we might introduce organic forms into infrastructure to make a safe public space which is both communal and non-commercial, a more livable city?

CLIENT: AIA San Francisco

LOCATION: San Francisco, California

2013 AIA San Francisco Good Design challenge, developed in collaboration with Walk SF. The specific challenge: increase pedestrian safety through design.

Peters, Adele, "Safer Crossings" in Fast Company, May 2014, p.50 (Sous les Paves)
Zoë Prillinger, "Designing Streets for People, Not Just Cars," Good.is, 2013.