Last night, some 50 people attended an open house at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center to discuss an upgrade and redesign of Harvey Milk Plaza adjacent to the Castro Muni Station. “For years and years people have asked ‘can’t you do something better with Harvey Milk plaza,'” explained Andrea Aiello, Executive Director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District.
As Streetsblog readers who are familiar with the plaza already know, the current memorial to Harvey Milk is underwhelming. As shown in the photo below, it’s dimly lit, and consists of a few placards attached to a fence. It is easy to miss as commuters navigate the awkwardly angled entry stairs on their way to the train station mezzanine.
Local advocates formed the group Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza to work to make it a more inviting space. Then, in the spring of last year, SFMTA announced it would do a major overhaul of the station to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That will necessitate adding a second elevator. “They invited us to work with them,” explained Aiello. The idea was for the Friends to help come up with a community-inspired design to upgrade the plaza in conjunction with the SFMTA’s required work. “[Then-Supervisor] Scott Wiener pulled some of us together on how to get moving on this idea of making the plaza fitting to the memory of the man it commemorates,” said Aiello.
“We’ll take community input and put together design briefs,” explained Stacy Williams, Deputy Director at American Institute of Architects, San Francisco. “In April we’ll narrow it down to three designs and bring it back to the community for feedback. We’ll work with SFMTA and the Arts Commission to realize the design.”
Of course, there’s one big hurdle–the group estimates it still needs to raise $8 million to see it to fruition. However, Jennifer Jones, Executive Director at the American Institute of Architects, San Francisco said whatever design they come up with will allow them to phase construction as funding becomes available.
Jones, who lead the main presentation, explained how citizen comments would be processed from the previous meeting (held last week) and this one. “We generated a word cloud from the Postit wall,” she explained, pointing to a slide which showed the words that were most prominent: “Space, steps, Harvey Milk, history, amphitheater…make it a public space that recognizes Harvey and his contributions to the city,” is what people want taken into consideration, she explained. She added that architectural firms would put forth designs based on their interpretation of what Castro residents want to see. Then the committee formed of the Friends and other officials will narrow it down to three leading designs. More meetings will be convened, probably in the Spring, to vote on the favorite.
After the main presentation on the background and timeline of the project, the group was divided into breakout sessions, to dig deeper into people’s suggestions and take more feedback. Additionally, “we will spend time in the plaza and speak with people as they are commuting through,” explained Jones.
From Streetsblog’s perspective, Harvey Milk represents the antithesis of Trump–if Milk were alive today, it’s no mystery where he would stand on current events. That’s why it’s essential that the Bay Area gets its infrastructure in tip-top condition and concurrently hold up its history of fighting for individual rights as high as possible. Milk’s legacy and inspiration should be emblazoned and celebrated. Let’s hope foundations, politicians and volunteers will get the funds in place.
Do you have a vision for Harvey Milk Plaza and Castro Station? What are the most important elements to making this a more memorable and enjoyable public space? Comment below.