San Francisco’s Beautiful Utility

San Francisco Tiffany The Registry real estate AECOM
An artist’s conceptual rendering of the water infrastructure project planned for the intersection of Tiffany, Duncan and Valencia.

San Francisco wants to introduce aesthetics and neighborhood branding into projects that manage rainwater runoff.

THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ‘Q’ – THE REGISTRY’S PRINT PUBLICATION – IN OCTOBER 2013

By Hayden Dingman

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here’s a problem at San Francisco’s Mission and Valencia streets.

The V-shaped intersection, lying atop one of the city’s eight watersheds, floods during every rainfall. The rainwater tries but fails to escape down the drains. San Francisco’s combined sewer and storm runoff treatment system fills to capacity.

[quote]Green infrastructure is a broad term, covering everything from trees to permeable pavement to ‘rain gardens’ that capture and absorb stormwater runoff from streets, roofs and parking lots.[/quote]

Meanwhile, the other end of the system vomits untreated sewage and rain into the bay with equal zeal, unable to distinguish between the two. Even after storms pass, the backup takes days to resolve.

Modern San Francisco inherited this system; most of the infrastructure was set up a century ago. The system is not without benefits—the drinking water is really clean. But there’s a tradeoff. “When we have large storms, our system gets overwhelmed for short periods of time and then goes back to normal,” said Raphael Garcia, a project manager for green infrastructure at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “We’re meeting our regulatory requirements, but what we’re trying to do is be better.”

With such an old and extensive patchwork, a drastic overhaul isn’t feasible or necessarily desirable. However, that’s not to say there aren’t ways to progress. San Francisco’s PUC has set aside $400 million for “green infrastructure” and watershed improvement, including an undertaking at the aforementioned Mission and Valencia streets known as the Mission & Valencia Green Gateway.

Initially, eight neighborhood projects are slated, from Chinatown, Sunset and the Lower Haight to a one-mile stretch on Cesar Chavez Street from Guerrero Street to nearly Potrero Avenue. They have a tentative total budget of $57 million. Future projects are to proceed after this round is complete.

While the projects’ utility is most important, the commission is attempting to layer another benefit on top: creating street scenes and aesthetic values that reflect each neighborhood’s identity. “We know the Mission [District] is very different from, say, the Sunset [District], so there are ways we can design the project that are more ‘the Mission’ or more ‘the Sunset’ and take into consideration different cultures that make up each community,” said Teresa Young, the SFPUC’s communications lead for the green-infrastructure projects.

Green infrastructure is a broad term, covering everything from trees to permeable pavement to “rain gardens” that capture and absorb stormwater runoff from streets, roofs and parking lots. With these improvements, plants and soil absorb rainwater during storms, diverting some entirely and slowing the flow of the rest to the sewer system while helping to purify all of it.

“There are examples of green infrastructure all around the city, but these are going to be some of the first that have very specific performance criteria up front,” said Garcia, who is a project manager for the first phase of green projects. “We’re going to be monitoring them for years afterward.”

Plans for the Mission-Valencia project detail a broad, permeably paved plaza with scattered trees and gardens. The goal is to enhance stormwater drainage on Valencia from Cesar Chavez Street south to Mission. There’s plenty of space to widen the sidewalk without worsening traffic, making it a prime community focal point. A second plaza is proposed at Duncan and Valencia streets plus improvements to Duncan itself and the surrounding streets: Tiffany, San Jose and 29th.

In contrast, Chinatown has no space for a giant plaza, so the team is focused on two of the neighborhood’s historic alleyways instead: Spofford Street and Ross Alley.

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Rendering courtesy of AECOM | Photography by Laura Kudritzki

San Francisco Valencia The Registry real estate Q4 2013

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