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Union Square Alliance, in Partnership with the City of San Francisco Unveils New Design Proposal for a Reimagined Powell Street

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Union Square Alliance, in Partnership with the City of San Francisco Unveils New Design Proposal for a Reimagined Powell Street

Powell Street, gateway to Union Square and home of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars, has a stunning new streetscape design under a proposal by the design team behind New York’s Highline.

Additional images can be found here

Image Credit: Field Operations, courtesy of Union Square Alliance

10 June 2024, SAN FRANCISCO, CA: Today, the Union Square Alliance, in partnership with the City of San Francisco unveiled a new design proposal and robust vision for Powell Street that would allow it to retain its status as the pre-eminent gateway to Union Square, Downtown and all of San Francisco.

In 2023, Mayor Breed and Board of Supervisors President Peskin announced $4 million in funding for the Powell Street Improvement Project. The City asked the Union Square Alliance to lead the initial design phases of the project. The Alliance is proud to announce that this phase has been completed on time and on budget with more than $3.5 million remaining.

The design, led by San Francisco-based firms Field Operations and SITELAB Urban Studio, reimagines a three-block stretch of Powell Street with practical and aesthetic upgrades to welcome residents and visitors, offer a more enjoyable transit experience and spur economic development in the area. The proposal celebrates and centers the iconic cable cars as well as Powell’s beautiful historic architecture. 

On Wednesday, June 12 from 4pm to 7pm (brief remarks at 5pm) at 111 Powell Street, the Union Square Alliance will host an Open House for the public to view the design proposals and engage with the design team to ask questions and offer input.

Where Powell meets Market at the cable car turnaround the proposed design includes a giant overhead starburst chandelier, dramatically marking San Francisco’s most important intersection and framing views of the cable cars.

In addition, stretching from Market to Geary, the design includes art nouveau-inspired hanging lanterns to bathe the sidewalks in soft light and give a nod to the street’s turn of the century architecture.  This lighting system will be illuminated with programmable LEDs, enabling the lanterns to change color and become a canvas to express the City’s collective celebrations and events.  

At the ground level the proposal creates a clean and elegant corridor where visitors and residents can find everyday moments for relaxation and joy.  The existing metallic “parklets” will be removed and the sidewalks widened all the way to the edges of the cable car zone.  Restaurants will be able to set up outdoor dining areas where patrons can sit and enjoy the passing scene and famous “ding-ding” of the cable cars.  Over time, new trees and benches will be added to create places to linger and socialize and to soften the environment a bit. 

77 years ago, San Francisco’s cable cars were on the brink of disappearing until local community members banded together to preserve the moving landmarks that draw thousands of visitors from all over the world. The design vision for Powell Street calls attention to the historical significance of this corridor while celebrating the space’s iconic cable cars and buildings, honoring and preserving that heritage.  

The complete vision that would position Powell Street for a full recovery is estimated to cost between $20 – $30 million dollars. The project proposal includes an initial phase that could utilize the currently available $3.5 million after the current completion of the design concepts. Mayor Breed has proposed a general obligation bond to be placed on the November 2024 ballot which could fund this proposal in full.

The reimagination of Powell Street is just one of a number of initiatives on which the City of San Francisco and the Union Square Alliance have been working together closely to support the recovery and revitalization of Union Square and all of Downtown.  On June 4th Mayor Breed announced an action plan to enliven Union Square and Yerba Buena Districts, which includes the following key initiatives:

  • Create Bustling Public Spaces through new funding for daily programming in Union Square Park and ongoing support for marquee events like Winter Walk and Union Square in Bloom.
  • Active and Vibrant Storefronts with a Vacant to Vibrant program designed specifically for Powell Street to place pop-up tenants in vacant spaces for medium-term leases; targeting markets campaign for Powell; and new leasing and permit support staff to speed business permitting and leasing.
  • Ensure Downtown is Clean, Safe, and Easy to Navigate with new funding for a 24/7 security presence, continuing the Downtown Welcome Ambassador program, and providing free parking hours as Union Square and area garages.

“It has been a true privilege to work with renowned design firms SITELAB Urban Studio and Field Operations to realize a vision that is deserving of this iconic location.” said Marisa Rodriguez, CEO of Union Square Alliance. “We want Powell Street, the gateway to San Francisco, to be a true representation of all that is great about our city and to put our best foot forward for all visitors. As one of the most significant thoroughfares in San Francisco and home to the iconic cable car, Powell Street needs to be transformed into something special to meet the expectations of what our world class city like San Francisco represents. Through this design, we want people to truly experience and feel the essence of our city. We need to find a way to execute this vision and secure the resources needed to make it happen as soon as possible.”

“Powell is among San Francisco’s most iconic streets and serves as an anchor to the rest of the City for nearly half of all visitors who come here,” said Mayor London Breed. “We can’t let changing retail trends and remote work take this centerpiece of our City away from us. That’s why I have dedicated funding and proposed the November bond measure to support this important effort to reimagine Powell as a premier destination for locals and visitors, and proposed new funding in my budget to bring more events, businesses, and security to enhance this beautiful area.” 

“A year ago, the Mayor and I championed a $6 million investment into the re-envisioning of the historic gateway to San Francisco’s Union Square and iconic northeast neighborhoods: Powell Street. This included $4 million for the new Powell Streetscape design being unveiled today,” said Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin. “It’s very important to me to see substantial progress with these funds quickly, and I’m pleased that the design not only respects and celebrates San Francisco’s rich history but adds a layer of modern design. It’s a perfect hybrid of the past and future and coupled with capital improvements to Maiden Lane and the Square’s soundstage, shows the City is committed to doing its part to attract new life to the heart of Downtown.”

“We are committed to exploring how design can have a meaningful role in downtown San Francisco’s recovery. Powell Street, as home to the cable car, is a powerful place to begin. All of the recommended improvements – from new paving and furnishing, to programming and activation concepts, to the canopy of lanterns – are intended to create a new platform for all to experience the ingenuity of our City and a new night-time ambiance to illuminate Powell Street and the enduring romance of the cable car,” said Richard Kennedy, Partner, Field Operations.

“The design vision for Powell Street calls attention to the corridor’s historic and prominent status as San Francisco’s gateway, home to the iconic cable car that connects residents and visitors alike to our remarkable city. Through a variety of design interventions, diverse programming, and thoughtful partnerships, we can usher in a new era for Powell Street – reflective of San Francisco’s spirit of ingenuity, resilience and wonder,” said Laura Crescimano, Co-Founder and Principal of SITELAB Urban Studio.

“We couldn’t be happier that Powell Street is finally on the road toward a new beautiful streetscape. Let’s get this built!  Tourists and business travelers come to our Stratford Hotel property on Powell to be in the thick of the vibrancy of Union Square.  This design concept will enhance the experience of every visitor and resident of San Francisco and will show the country that San Francisco is back,” said Evan Kaizer, President of the Sieroty Company and Manager of the Stratford Hotel Property LLC.

“The unveiling of the design concepts for Powell Street is an important step in revitalizing this historic corridor. It’s crucial that this iconic gateway’s full potential is unlocked to support the city’s economic recovery and attract more visitors and residents to downtown,” said Anna Marie Presutti, Interim President and CEO of San Francisco Travel Association.

About Field Operations:
Field Operations is a leading-edge landscape architecture and urban design practice with a focus on the design, resiliency, and equity of public space in cities. In all the work, there is a special commitment to the design of a vibrant and dynamic public realm, informed by the ecology of both people and nature, rooted in place and context. Important projects include the design of New York’s High Line, Brooklyn’s Domino Park, Chicago’s Navy Pier, and San Francisco’s Presidio Tunnel Tops. The Powell Street Project Team is led by Partner Richard Kennedy, Associate Partner Veronica Rivera, and Field Operations’ San Francisco Studio.

About SITELAB Urban Studio:
Founded in 2012, SITELAB Urban Studio is a San Francisco-based strategic design firm focused on using research & visualization to create great places, through big plans and small interventions. The studio operates at the intersection of analysis and inspiration, with projects that range from strategic planning & programming to urban design, city planning, and public outreach. Throughout every project, SITELAB transforms information–from spreadsheets to people’s stories (and in most cases, both) – into plans for action. The diverse team of SITELAB urban studio is led by architecture and urban expert Laura Crescimano. 

About the Union Square Alliance:
The Union Square Alliance serves members and creates a high-quality visitor experience by managing and activating public spaces, attracting new investment, and advocating for the District’s future success. Union Square is the vibrant heart of San Francisco and an international destination where visitors come to enjoy exceptional retail experiences, luxury hotels, world-class cultural institutions, and great public spaces found only in the City by the Bay. A lively 27-block community surrounding Union Square Park in the heart of San Francisco makes up the Union Square Alliance. It is generally bordered on the north by Bush Street, on the east by Kearny Street, on the south by Market Street and on the west by Taylor Street. For more information on the Alliance, go to

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