Summer LAEP Newsletter
By Brooke Ray Rivera, (M.LA '08, M.CP '08)
June 6, 2016
As we are well aware in the design profession, the quality of the spaces surrounding us have direct impact on our own quality of life. This applies not only to home and work environments but also to the public spaces we move through en route to and from the various destinations in our busy lives. Walking or bicycling through public plazas or parks and along streetscapes can be delightful, beautiful experiences that bring us joy, or they can be uncomfortable, even distressing spaces that we hurry through in hopes of finding a more pleasant environment elsewhere. Although cities strive to provide the former - “successful” public spaces let’s call them - to their citizenry, they often lack the financial, staff and political resources to prevent the decline of urban public space into the latter - poorly maintained public spaces that approach blight. In short, the public place-making process is in need of some innovation, or, dare I say - “disruption”.
At Build Public, we work to bring a “start-up” mentality to the world of public space, leveraging creative public private partnerships and new innovative financing and governance tools to create, fund and maintain high quality urban public spaces in San Francisco. We are a mission-drive non-profit, created as a nimble go-between entity that can bridge private investment and public benefit. We build great new urban public spaces, and we create robust long-term financing and governance systems to ensure those spaces are well cared for over time. To do this, we work with: communities desirous of more or better quality public spaces; real estate developers interested in voluntarily contributing public space funds to neighborhood improvements (more on this cool mechanism below); and the city agencies who oversee the urban public realm and who ultimately must approve the types of projects we tackle at Build Public. Here are examples of two innovative public place-making tools we’re using in our work:
In-Kind Agreements: In San Francisco, development impact fees have reached staggering heights; for example, a 300 unit condo building at Market and Van Ness is incurring nearly $10 million in impact fees owed to the City. Uniquely, San Francisco allows developers in certain areas to allocate a portion of their infrastructure impact fees towards an in-kind public improvement (e.g. a park, plaza, playground etc.) rather than pay the fee in a lump sum to the city, which presumably, at some unknown time and place, uses those funds towards public improvements. By switching the burden of public space delivery from the public to private sector, these types of projects can now get built faster and more cost-effectively, though still with due city scrutiny and quality assurance over the final product. Build Public is currently in the midst of constructing three new public plazas using this In Kind Agreement (IKA) mechanism in San Francisco: Dogpatch Arts Plaza in the Dogpatch (www.dogpatchartsplaza.org), Eagle Plaza in Western SoMa (www.eagleplaza.org), and Oak Plaza in the Hub area at Market and Van Ness Ave (www.oakplaza-sf.org). For more, please visit the above websites.
Green Benefit District: In 2015, Build Public successfully created the first ever Green Benefit District (GBD) in the nation, in the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill neighborhoods of San Francisco. A new form of assessment district, a GBD allows residential communities to directly invest in the cleaning and greening of their neighborhood’s public spaces. Like a Business Improvement District or BID, all property owners within district boundaries pay an annual assessment alongside property taxes, that can only be used for pre-identified neighborhood improvement services such as park and landscape maintenance, graffiti and trash removal, and capital projects such as new parks, plazas or playgrounds. Funds are managed and services provided by a nonprofit Board elected by District members and comprised of an equitable mix of owners and renters as well as of geographic representation. Build Public is now working with additional neighborhoods in San Francisco to create new GBDs. For more, please visit the Dogpatch & Northwest Potrero Hill GBD website (www.dnwph-gbd.org).
Image caption: Before and After in Angel Alley, a public greening project that is now part of the DNWPH GBD. Image courtesy of the Dogpatch & Northwest Potrero Hill GBD, www.dnwph-gbd.org
To learn more about Build Public or to get involved, please visit www.buildpublic.org.
About the author:
Brooke Ray Rivera is Executive Director of Build Public, a San Francisco based non-profit working to innovate the public place-making process. She holds MLA and an MCP graduate degrees from UC Berkeley with a focus on Environmental Planning, and now lives in San Francisco with her husband and soon-to-be daughter.