Presidio’s Parklands Project Takes Shape from Within the Community

Presidio, San Francisco, New Presidio Parklands Project, James Corner Field Operations, The Presidio Trust
A vision of the New Presidio Parklands Projects by James Corner Field Operations

The impact of the Doyle Drive redevelopment along San Francisco’s northern waterfront has been expected for some time. The road intersected San Francisco’s Presidio for the last 70 years and cut it off from the shoreline and Crissy Field. It was not an impressive structure, and neither were the views from it. Driving toward Golden Gate bridge one could only really see the two red towers holding the bridge, and any distraction away from the narrow overpass was a recipe for disaster.

Now, Doyle Drive will traverse through a tunnel underneath The Presidio, opening up a clear perspective of the bay, Alcatraz and Marin headlands. The view of Golden Gate bridge will be unobstructed, and the magnificence of the gateway bill be restored.

[contextly_sidebar id=”k7liO9qzwAbGipiAUz0Ly2Hx4JGGvBmF”]The new Presidio parklands project is an effort led by The Presidio Trust, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service to restore a 13-acre portion of the park and integrate the San Francisco Bay waterfront with the park’s historic core. The group kicked off an imagination process last September with one objective. “Our goal is really a simple one. To strike the right balance between these different ideas and to create a really compelling site,” said Michael Boland, chief planning, projects and programs officer for the Presidio Trust. He opened a public discussion event on March 21st where the team outlined five project directions in front of a crowd of over 100 people at The Presidio Grounds.

The program was one of several where the organization took public ideas for the site’s design. The previous meetings were organized in the Mission, Bayview, Chinatown, Western Edition and South of Market, according to Boland, yielding tremendous positive feedback about how the location could be reinvented. ”It’s really fantastic to see how much community interest and support there is for this project,” he said.

A vision of the New Presidio Parklands Projects by James Corner Field Operations
A vision of the New Presidio Parklands Projects by James Corner Field Operations

A few common themes emerged pretty quickly, and they highlighted aspects of the park that are known to its operators, as well as the public.

“One of things we’ve heard from a lot of people is that The Presidio is not welcoming,” said Boland. Bathrooms were one amenity that seems to be in short supply, for instance, he added. “If we want to use the site as a way to welcome members of the public and make them feel comfortable and create a platform for them to begin their experience at The Presidio, we need to introduce those amenities.”

The redevelopment team has engaged the services of James Corner Field Operations, a New York-based landscape architect and urban design group that has worked on such projects as the High Line at the Rail Yards in New York, MGM Mirage City Center in Las Vegas, South Park at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London and Seattle’s Central Waterfront project, among others. Principal James Corner was at the event presenting three of the five alternatives that are under consideration.

“If there’s one thing that’s clear, there’s no one leading interest for this site,” said Corner describing the initial feedback that was collected from the public comments collected earlier in the year. “But at the same time, almost everybody said in February when they summarized the discussions that they’ve had, that they wanted [a park] that was simple and serene. They did not want it overfilled with stuff.”

And this is where the idea of a “platform” emerged. Both Boland and Corner described the parklands as an entry point for visitors to the park, both in physical and experiential way. It would be a place where visitors could gather, but also a place for exercise, peaceful contemplation or interaction, be it through education or some form of active participation, like classes and instruction. The project would look to honor the significance of the geography, the history of the park and its role in San Francisco as well as the Western United States. Its goal would be to integrate the natural landscape and balance that with the active needs of its visitors.

“So, we’ve come up with this term of platform. An idea that the parkland could be a very open, simple landscape and at the same time have invitational spaces that welcome different types of user groups and different types of interests,” said Corner.

If one thing was clear it was that the group was not imposting that vision on the park. This was not a top-down perspective of what should and could be done, but instead a way for the public to create a vision of something for which they would find the greatest utility. The participants were invited to share their objectives through a number of work groups that were used to help the project team gather additional ideas and validation of their design directions.

“Right now, we’re at a very early stage, where we’re sharing three open platform concepts, not to pick one over the other, but to have an open discussion about the pros and cons of each,” said Corner as the workgroup sessions kicked off.

After the final community feedback is received in March, the Presidio Trust would conduct a public board meeting in May where it plans to review the conceptual design. It would prepare further details and finalize a schematic design review over the summer, which will be followed by the final schematic design presentation in September.

Provided that process is in order, the group is planning to begin construction in 2016 and complete the development two years later in 2018.

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