United Nations Plaza sits in the center of San Francisco. Most people consider it a complete failure as a public space. Its central feature, at the entrance of the plaza, is a unique fountain that was designed by Lawrence Halprin … Continue reading →
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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you in and invite you to take the steps down to the water and climate between the hulking stones and that's part of the problem. In two thousand for radio producer Ben tension created a really fantastic documentary of and Plaza called, the biography of a hundred thousand square feet at first, On radio programme. I produced called invisible ink in May of two thousand for the doktor There's really hard. Look at you and Plaza when it was at its absolute worst What things are really interesting question? Is there a point where a good intention, and idealism of a certain design become so removed from reality than it actually borders on negligent Eric
is the show I listening. My pal been tension for him in the Eleanor Premier, Inn the piece back in two thousand and four and then letting me play it for you again more than seven years later, as part of ninety nine percent, invisible things have changed a bit since the stock was produced so stay tuned and I'll give you a short update on Un Plaza after the peace. Here's been tension. This is the biography of a hundred thousand square feet at the heart of San Francisco. There is a crossroads where market street meats the civic center, it is called United Nations Plaza or less formally Urination Plaza and for most of the past three days aids. It has been San Francisco. Most public theater of squalor, misery and sickness that plays Union Plaza was was a madhouse you- can go there in an hour of the day, the needles, local bottles, people, fighting people,
urinating deprecating and that found in there that that's unsanitary I've seen people showed up at one end to the other ended die. I saw that it's not ITALY. People, don't strain, abound streets and sit in you know imply, bought you, that's just not the men tat
to use these big wide, open, plazas, it's never! I worked in you and Plaza First summer walked across the brick Cavan through the wide view to San Francisco is imposing city hall, pass the granite fountain protected by a yellow plastic chain through the thicket of the dollar crack smokers and dealers who circled among the bronze, stops all that's left the benches since they cut them out with Sars and remove them. I started spending time in United Nations on my days are talking at the people there. The question I was after was wide is a public space failed, Derek Armstrong was their most days. I was Derek, was enormous, wait at least four hundred pounds
sat on the planter bit walls every day, eating from bags of Gmos and listening to his radio. I asked him: why do you come down to you and Plaza view of bloggers centrally located to a lot of homeless services that are? You may say that is you and Plaza is on the glide between two of San Francisco Horace Neighborhoods, the tenderloin and so much John deliver Post office. Located in the non eddies of some one saturday I went down to, at some evangelists preach to the lost souls and United Nations Plaza one of the preachers used to be homeless. There himself a cell phone, the bottom all ways and when I died away and when I took on a new life when I took off from the main body of the audience? I saw a man sitting against the black metal pole circling the fountain. He was behind the preachers and their loudspeakers watching, and I asked him Why are you sitting here and not over? There
I now want to partake in ITALY, right now. My alarm, pretty much clothes myself away from everything His name is Window Edwards. I got arrested for labour on asylum and let out the same day and I lost I love for the United States lag behind them because they are, we feel like an enemy like. I was part of the Taliban, and some and my father died. Fine for this country. So when I was arrested that mentally really hurt me against the flag, because I could have been breaking in somebody called, I could have been hurting any of these people and taking it wallet at night, catching them coming out of the store house or anyting, and It noted that there was no my hard to do that.
But it was in their hard to arrest me for sleeping merely sleeping on the sidewalk and I'll. Never forget that. I still have to take it in my pocket. It was just last week and the devil keep telling me that since then happen. Don't you see what they trying to do to go out and pay on by go robber storm, because you don't have no flag, you don't have no country, you don't have nothing, they don't want you to be a part of it. That's just a nice word San Nigger get out of San Francisco How did it get this bad? How did a space commemorating one of the great institutions in human history at the heart of the richest city and the richest country in history, a place of so much promise? turn out so wrong. My assignment was to develop market straight over again as a new promenade from the fairy building to the city, or this is Lawrence Halprin. My
idea and the whole idea for the city and our team and design was to make a formal entrance to City Hall that people would admire and would foresee as an important part of a formal quality of the downtown area like Paris. Have you ever been to Paris in nineteen? Seventy two, the city spent twenty four million dollars beautifying market street, which had been torn up for the installation of a subway system. The final section of the redesign was United Nations, Plaza City hired help to make the design there is this quality a formality that we were after an expression of the culture of say that was what we were thinking about The importance of linear visual experiences, the linking of one, place to another. Instead of that kind of informal,
neighborhoods where little streets gold wandering around and you don't get any long views. Lords Halprin is one of the most celebrated landscape. Architects alive. Today he has been awarded the presidential metal. To design the FDA Memorial in Washington DC. He designed the problem not around Jerusalem, he is designed some of the most loaded and famous public plazas in the country. We wanted to make a statement there. In greek sense, the visual qualities have to express what the politics of something are not little short of political. This is not such a major quality of what a city ought to be like and what it stands for, as a government was called United Nations Hell. No, I wasn't anything like that. City planners designated the space you and plaza after the decision was made to close the intersection. The intersection was closed because of a unique aspect of the city's urban design. Peter Bosman, chair of the Department of Urban planning at the unit,
Do you have California explains there's a peculiar Joe geometry about San Francisco Market Street was lined up to connect the water friend with a set of hills, called twin peaks, but it is not a line to the city. Grid market street runs out of forty five degree angle, creating all kinds of strange intersections where streets enter market street, never ninety degree angles, always forty five degree angle and even. Soon, Franciscans is very confusing to find the connection between the south of market and in the north of mockery, very few streets line up the design, help and came up with the United Nations was a stately gateway for marches to pass through. The marchers would be funneled from the wide edge of the plaza that runs along market street between two lines of trees and raised planner.
And then out through the space between the library and the Asian ART Museum to the vast green lawns of civic centre. Plaza centerpiece is the one hundred and sixty five foot long found it contains. Six hundred and seventy three blocks of granite, laying somewhere between three and four. Million times. I took the idea of the high Sierra surrounding the bay itself, and down in here you can see the Bay and I even developed a system of the tides coming up there our long title action where the tide was out and then large and who, through till it, was upon these What you see, in other words, is a three dimensional plaza, which is unique as an idea does that happened now? This title system no longer exists because maintenance was so terrible,
That's going to help pups are a lot like relationships between people. Unless you take care of them, they go to Hell. The fountain design was not immediately popular what city planners in December, one thousand nine hundred and seventy, the chairman of the Civic Design Committee, said it was awful flamboyant an example of a designer's egotism being passed on to the people as a piece of art, Ruth Asawa and Acclaim San Francisco sculptor said as corny as this may sound. You have to design places in the city for people to sit on the grass sit under trees for flowers and birds. Even hurricane got into it when he called the fountain of monstrosity. That must be, stopped, but after five years of planning and arguing it was built anyway. Chris Adams has worked in the plaza for more than twenty years. When that fountain blue water. It was supposed to work with the wind if the wind blew too far, the water was supposed to go down. I've been here since at fountain,
put in and I've never ever seen it work correctly, its blowing fifty feet. Here in the winter and the waters is pouring and end the fact that it did did start testing the chemicals that were put in their killed. All the trees were around it children. To play in there. And of course you don't want kids at water. Many of the worries expressed by critics of the design quickly came to pass in June of nineteen. Seventy nine less than a year after the fountain was completed a columnist for the San Francisco examiner wrote an article about the vandals derelicts and social misfits who are turning the space into a garbage strewn graffiti defaced, mockery of civic grandeur star route, which should have been the new triumphant entrance to our civic centre, is a resort for derelicts and Bob.
Merchants all along market street. How great hope that the transformation of market street would occur in it never happened. Things went the other way. Bob apprentice was the director of homeless services undermine art Agnes from nineteen. Eighty eight. Ninety ninety two, the merchants were dreamily frustrated. Because of these. You know these frustrated expectations that took the form of now people actually applause. It was just a tinder box. I was the environment of human plus a pretty much from the time that I started working in the mayor's office in nineteen. Eighty, the Market Street Association, an organization of business owners and property owners called for farmers market to be put in you and Plaza, Chris Adams runs the farmers market. I know it wasn't raining. It was a nice sunny day, one thousand nine hundred and eighty eighty one it when I believe it was springtime. Twelve farmers drove up with their trucks,
and they did not sell out, but as they king weekly, which is put our roots, their marin we're here to stay, there were some people, neighbourhood or trying to think of ways to heal the plaza and the farmers market was part of that. Poor people are here is harder for them to get by it's not about driving them away. It's about civilising the places where they live. They can come out, they can breathe out there. It is part of the tenderloin, that's their front room. I've been told that by almost all of this is our place, you can see the refrigerators couches chairs, they do live down there. I don't want to push them out of there. I just share it Bob Princess again. It was a way to take over some use of that plaza with a purpose. If supported everybody. The idea that you would bring a fire
this market to the heart of the city, where there was no retail grocer, where people who lived on the lowest incomes could not get a decent food. A decent prices. To me, that's the spirit behind dealing with the Simeon avid ability of poverty without being mean spirited about it. Chris atoms, the director of the farmers market, I've been homeless when night T seventy. I lived in a car for two weeks with my kids. There was no way I can state like that. That's one reason I was hired, not that I could office work, but I got along with people outside and get along with all the nationalities I enjoy it. I think it's fine as a play
that occurs every now and then I think it's a good use of this. Yes, I do on Wednesdays office. Workers in the besieged neighbourhood skip microwave lunches, gobbled at their desks and head out instead to the heart of the city farmers market on Sundays, its neighbourhood crowd, moving between the white tents that fill the plaza folding tables covered with yellow squash, blueberry, salad, greens, all organic The customers are from all over, the farmers are from all over. That's why I love being where we are. I mean Cambodia, Vietnam, Mexico, it all over the world, the heart of the city with a perfect name for it, because I thought that solution demonstrated a kind of heart and I like there wasn't tension between the street people, the ones that ran the other market there. I remember that, but you know we worked at you think you know this is a civil way to make do with a situation that so far has been pretty lousy
oh, my gosh, shits United Nations, but on days when the farmers market and the newer, less successful, antique slash flea market aren't in the Plaza United Nations reverts to what it used to be at the east end, the plaza between the glass windows of the fast food franchise and stares down into the subway station. The thieves market movies, black market salesmen fell. The twenty feet neatly laid out cloves hand, tools for an aggressive videos and consumer electronics of questionable problems. Two days before Thanksgiving, I went down to the plaza to ask the salesman. What have you got yourself? I got the sweater of purple sweater a glass, is again had a new pair of shoes and I get jacket and I get a woman's well when exactly I was one of the jury. I came down here about eighteen eighteen years ago, in the years since
The died in January in, like said March, sounded like gold, Emily last summer money. So familiar I was this Susan every to me, you know- and I take adjective out my gown in somewhat cursing guy. While we were talking, the drug attics distinguishable from the merely homeless, by their lack of luggage, began to laugh not against the windows of the Carl's junior everybody's are lined up. Why they are lined up when all is leading. The guy with the dread lacks, is taken blood off his nose and other Vanessa.
What makes them say: ok, they're, uncivilized guy must punch today in a clearer ya. Gotta go as Zachary packed up his need, your merchandise. I went to find out what was going on. A tourist had bought food Carlos Junior, to give away to the homeless. My name excavation mice maintained and to be in California, is to buy two big buildings to take the whole less off the street. It's hard to explain is a dream I had and its common to pass. I've been driving around this blood twice, and this was the sign that people in front. Carl Julia sign. No, this was the police. The rest.
Everybody outside plays down on the ground. The manager tried to bring the lot of you. You got that right is now less than seven. When you got outside the line collapse, quarter broker small Riot United women got smack no tax on live animals, as we will see how it is. Maybe a little manage this Mohammed, the manager of the girls junior. This regard of the food to the hungry homeless, peoples
don't wait outside on the line, so I will leave as soon as I get ready. I will be outside this talk to each other. I don't know why they start fighting when I came outside and they start grabbing the food from the back. Came out with a box. It's everyone jump on a few minutes. The Buddhist in miniature. This food right restates the failure of you and Plaza itself a dream that proved no match for its burden. Halpern too, had a vision for something decent, the ace of public spaces, but when this dream was overlaid on a real place, just didn't work out. I'm not sure now, if I was going to be asked to design, is how much damage I mean. Why would I should you're talking about my life's work for Christ sakes
was the first person who ever designed, plaza and found so that people can use people should not be told you can't get inside of it and use it places should be usable by people in the city now having said that, why would I design something to prevent homelessness this is a social problem that cannot be designed for innocent aesthetics and culture. Of course, they should be. Friends the real question is? What do you mean by friendly nobody, ever said to me. I want you to design an unfriendly place for you know. It depends on how you talk to when you say you ve talk to people
sounds like a pretty stupid thing to say. Actually I would absolutely challenge. I can imagine that anybody could say anything like that in two thousand, the Department of Public works applied for and was awarded federal grant money to clean up the twenty eight year old, Plaza almost a million dollars enough to make real changes to the design. MRS Judy Mosque, waiter, a project manager for the Department of Public works. I first got to know United Nations Plaza back in nineteen. Seventy nine. I used to take part into the Plaza with my sister I was about twelve years old. I was not a fast walker- and I remember so vividly my sister walking as fast as she could up Leavenworth Street, because there were men harassing us along the way, and I would have jog alongside her to keep up with her, and that was embarrassing to me were Judy came honest project manager. A plan for the redesign had already been drawn up: landscape architects here at the dependent
public works had made some recommendations for improvements to it. Things like replanting, the planter beds with flowers and studied the grass. That's there now something that would add color a little bit of life to the Plaza as we went to the Board of supervisors. The fencing The planters became a contentious issue in December two thousand one. The plan drawn up by Dp W was rejected by the Board of Supervisors. They didn't like the fences of fifteen member taskforce, was created by the city. The taskforce ask Roma designed to make some recommendation this is Boris DRAM off a principle at Roma, the mayor s office. He was not too pleased with what was being proposed, and I said there are the standard Two things to prevent people from using space. The first step is you take up the benches than What little fences around the green areas than you put barriers for people, so they can sit down, and I said
and clay, I'm not interested in the negative approaches. Fifteen people with an interest, sometimes competing interests, were appointed by the supervisors to come up with a plan that would fix up the plaza without displacing anyone. The chair was Lynn Volante of the Market Street Association. Is it the same Market Street Association that had created the popular farmers market twenty years before people if our part of market Shoot Association that have properties and who will have to work up their their number. One request get that found now there. Why? Because people were de centrally living in a decade in urinating in the fountain and shooting up drugs, the fountain all that kind of stuff having sex, and I mean they ve seen everything in the end, the task force left Halprin stream for you and Plaza behind,
Roma recommended they remove the fountain, but a street through the thieves market. Any fact: change United Nations from a formal place, a place for marches, a public square and Hopkins words, representative of the ideals of a government and a city and turned instead to exactly what helping didn't want informality of neighborhoods where little streets go wandering around and you don't get any long views? Mrs Boris DRAM off is really a street. An that's been closed, predominantly for traffic reasons. Fulton street create The very awkward intersection with market street and traffic engineers don't lie triangular intersection, so they tend to eliminate them, not because they thought it was the best. To create a gathering space. One has to question.
Whether there should be an open space of this size in this location. Why would you put it here and spring of two thousand three, the Plaza hit bottom, the plan drawn up by the task force appointed by the Board of supervisors after a year and a half and more than twenty meetings was rejected by the Board of supervisors around the same time, channel for ran extremely unflattering news account of the squalor and the plaza everywhere. You turn people smoking crack all day. Every day The mayor says: he'll consider shutting down the fountain, remove the benches and building gated playgrounds within hours Mare, Willie Brown had made his decision about United Nations, Plaza City workers cut through the bronze legs of the twenty four benches, and by morning they were gone. I think people felt like they lost the battle of Viewing Plaza.
That their vacating, the premises are taking the the benches out its contested terrain, where they given a pauper Lynn validity of the Market Street Association anymore, come up with now after years and years and years of community input, of which I did eight or nine over many years? That is, I've been working out? We ve got God now as a caution tape around the fountain? Now? Is that caution tape anymore? It's it's a yellow plastic fence. I don't understand how that happens. I riders I understand how it happened, but it just sticks in my crawl that the first plan that they came up with and seeing that were proposing was no higher than three feet. Tall was not acceptable. Then from a design came in, I doping up the street I'd. Let people drive down or bicycle down. That was unacceptable
now down to the chain link fence around the fountain and that's how it's been for almost a year: flowers, no fences, no benches. The crack attics have mostly been pushed out by the pervasive police presence and a street sweeper that circle constantly like fish in an aquarium. The homeless people who used to sit on the planter beds are fewer in number, but there still there. Many of them have shifted fifty feet toward city Hall, where they sit inside a large sculpture of San Francisco pioneers in the middle of a traffic circle. Would be a stretch to say this is an improvement. Have you been to United Nations Buzzer recently? Have you seen? No, I purposely don't go there usually. Have you seen the pictures of the chain link fence around the fountain now I've, I know about the city and project manager for that project has been very careful about trot, keeping
said wised about what's going on she's trying to recapture some of the original quality the place also deal with some of the social issues and neighborhoods that letter encroaching on the place, I think Some people want to turn it into something. It's never going to be You know it's not gonna be a renaissance. That's not gonna happen. I mean this is part of the tenderloin and that influence is always gonna be there, I'm sorry, but I think that's how it should me. I really do why do you cut off the daily life of the city in all to create a space for special events that that only occur a few times a year, I would question whether we should have an open space of this size at this. Location rather than allowing the traditional
elements of city form like streets sidewalks to exist, Judy Mosque. Waiter is optimistic, but it is a resigned optimism. The funds which The expanded by I believe June, two thousand three. Obviously, I've missed that deadline now shooting for June two thousand and five, and I hope to be successful for that and if San Franciscans can't come this conception consensus on what should happen in this plaza I may ask for another extension, or we may decide that San Francisco doesn't know what to do with this plaza. At this point in time before San Francisco gives up on United Nations Plaza, we might want to consider some words of advice given by President Harry Truman when the child for the Real United Nations was signed almost sixty years ago a great day. This can be in history the arguments in this do never mind the view.
My was bound to agree to is speaking to the delegates. Sign, the? U N charter and the WAR Memorial Opera House six blocks away from the present day, United Nations Plaza workers from other anti, I'm tolerance, the views and interests of others, send scores about winterize all difficult- they are their complicated, they are controversial. And dangerous if we keep to our principal, never forsake our objective. The problem is we now face, and those to come will also be sound. That was the biography of a hundred thousand square feet produced by Ben tension in two thousand, for
I'm recording this. On November. Seventeenth, twenty eleven and I was down at you and Plaza today- recording the taking pictures the art market was being so and the water was flowing in the fountain that was marked by a bit of trash circling eddies, but nothing to grotesquerie expect yellow chain that cordoned off the fountain, two thousand four is gone and this morning with the art market being set up, I got a much stronger feel for the intention The plaza then was evident was at its worst, but the big issues were still pay landscape architect, warns Halprin, who designed Union Plaza and has featured in the peace has since died. It is your first closer to help and I'm really recommend you. Let them up and check out as other way is we revered in much of the landscape architecture, community and the
Three principles of interactivity and engagement that worked to the detriment of the UN, Plaza yielded stunningly successful results and other appliances. So it's worth exploring more of his legacy. If you're into that sort of thing I think you're, because he just isn't a half hour had married the failure of a public space between you're a big old nerd like me, God love you. This episode of ninety nine percent. Invisible was produced by ten tension and Natasha support from making a difference with Creativity project, a k, a l, W local public radio. Ninety one point: seven in San Francisco american history of architects in San Francisco, architecture before now
or go to the website. It's ninety nine percent, invisible downward.
Transcript generated on 2020-02-15.