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American Society of Landscape Architects


January 2004 Issue

Mission Statement
A privately owned public space forms part of an urban renaissance in San Francisco's South of Market Area.
By Mark Hinshaw

Photo by Peg Skorpinski

On the north side of Mission Street in San Francisco, between First and Second Streets, a privately owned public space offers a visually stunning centerpiece. Adjacent to the 560 Mission buildingan elegant office tower designed by Cesar Pellithis narrow but deep public space is a singing example of elegant minimalism. It seems to be successful from a social perspective as well. People lounge about on the terraces. During the weekday, movable chairs are brought out to encourage schmoozing, lunching, and lingering. It is not uncommon to see passersby glance sideways, do a double take, and stop dead in their tracks to take in the scene.

Not too many years ago, this South of Market Street Areaor SOMAwas a hellhole worthy of a Dickens novel. Dilapidated buildings were filled with flophouses, missions, sleazy bars, X-rated movie houses, and pawnshops. People foolish enough to walk there found themselves passing through gauntlets of drunks, drug addicts, drug dealers, hookers, and street hustlers pushing every conceivable scam.

Three decades later, with the last pieces of an urban renaissance dropping into place, SOMA is now a bustling neighborhood. Swirling around the sprawling and largely underground Moscone Convention Center are art museums, upscale housing, trendy restaurants, galleries, lofts, and swanky hotels. Anchoring the area is a splendid park that regularly hosts high-profile events. Nearby, a vast Nordstrom store sits atop a glittering shopping complex on a site that used to be occupied by a row of tawdry burlesque theatersand we're not talking vaudeville here. Yes, the place has certainly changed.

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