What is Civic Center Commons?

The Civic Center Commons Initiative is a collaborative effort to breathe new life into the City’s central civic spaces, changing how people engage with the place and with each other so that everyone can feel welcome and experience the best of San Francisco every day.

The Initiative focuses on three linked public spaces: Civic Center Plaza, UN Plaza, and Fulton Street between the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Main Public Library, referred to as “The Commons.”

Diverse communities – from low-income Tenderloin families and unhoused adults, to technology employees and new residents, to visitors of cultural and civic institutions from around the City, the region, and the world – may overlap in the Commons, but they don’t necessarily connect. These spaces were designed to inspire awe and serve as a unified gathering place. However, in recent decades, with the exception of when large-scale events are taking place, many view them as alienating places to hurry through. The Initiative is transforming the Commons so that the connection and sense of pride San Franciscans feel at these occasional large civic events becomes a daily experience.

Led by the City of San Francisco in partnership with neighbors, community organizations, and cultural institutions, the Initiative brings together the best of San Francisco’s creative, philanthropic, and intellectual resources to implement this vision.  We are pursuing the following four strategies:

Create daily attractions that spark curiosity and connection

The Commons’ most exciting new destinations are the Bi-Rite Cafe and the Helen Diller Civic Center Playgrounds, which features two cutting-edge creative play spaces by day and hosts interactive lighting installations at night. Other unique San Francisco-style attractions in the Commons include:  Asian Art Museum’s dragon-themed outdoor art gallery on Fulton Street, the Heart of the City Farmer’s Market and Off the Grid food truck markets.

Improve cleanliness and safety so all feel welcome

Enhanced City collaboration and innovative workforce development partnerships are making the Commons cleaner and safer for everyone.

Hunters Point Family employs a crew of stewards who act as docents for the play structures and art installations and monitors for the colorful tables and chairs. Hunters Point Family’s staff, who have overcome significant barriers to employment, also monitor the Pit Stop toilets at Civic Center and UN Plazas.

Downtown Streets Team engages a crew of unhoused people – many from the immediate area – to participate in light cleaning in exchange for stipends and case management services. Downtown Streets Team also offers free games and activities through KARTMA, a mobile game-lending cart.  Social services organizations such as Lava Mae and Project Homeless Connect continue to provide targeted services for unhoused individuals.

Create a cohesive identity that becomes a source of local pride

Naming this area Civic Center Commons is intended to help people view these three spaces as a single civic space and to evoke the values of a “commons” as a welcoming, inclusive gathering place. The Initiative is reinforcing this identity through signature free events like the Commons Block Parties and Annual Tree Lighting, along with visual elements placed throughout the area, such as the Knitting the Commons yarn animal installations and tivoli lights on trees.

Build a strong team to steward the Commons

A dedicated group of City agencies is working collaboratively with neighborhood, cultural, civic, educational and business leaders to activate and care for the Commons now, and to develop a strategy to ensure that the Commons has the staffing and funding needed to continue and expand its services and amenities in the future.

A core feature of the Initiative is the inclusive approach with which these strategies are implemented. Attractions and activities are designed to engage all kinds of people and to foster connections among them.  The Pit Stop toilets and tables and chairs are available to everyone.  Job creation for those with barriers to employment is a priority, and engagement with diverse neighborhood stakeholders is pursued in the planning and implementation of the Initiative.

Taking incremental steps, the Civic Center Commons Initiative is making near-term improvements while working toward a long-range vision. Major capital investments in Civic Center Plaza and the Civic Center Public Realm Plan, a long-range planning and design process now underway, will build on the strategies described above so that the Commons can ultimately become a powerful symbol of San Francisco’s compassionate values and a model for public spaces around the world.

Our partners to date are listed below. Interested in getting involved? We are seeking partners to assist with programming, art installations, social service partnerships, community engagement, funding and other aspects of the Initiative.  For more information, please contact the Civic Center Commons Project Manager, Julie Flynn at julie.a.flynn@sfgov.org or 415-575-9057 (Planning Department) or the Initiative’s Director, Amy Cohen at amy.b.cohen@sfgov.org or 415-554-6649 (Office of Economic and Workforce Development). If you are interested in sponsoring events at Civic Center Commons and would like assistance from our partners, please contact Civic Center Commons Programming Manager Yennga Khuong at khuong@sfciviccenter.org or 415-658-7979 (Civic Center Community Benefit District).

Click here to download a 1-page overview of the Initiative.


Note: Entities with an * also serve on the Civic Center Commons Advisory Committee


Core City Departments

Asian Art Museum*; Community Challenge Grants; City Administrator*; Department of Children, Youth and Families; Department of Public Health; Grants for the Arts; Mayor’s Office; Office of Economic and Workforce Development; SF Planning Department; Public Library*; Public Works; Recreation and Parks Department*; Real Estate Division; San Francisco Arts Commission; San Francisco Police Department

Cultural and Educational Institutions

Alonzo King LINES Ballet; Another Planet Entertainment*; Boxcar Theatre; Exploratorium; UC Hastings*

Non-Profit and Community  Organizations

America Scores Youth Soccer*; Civic Center CBD*; Demonstration Gardens; Downtown Streets Team; Lava Mae; Heart of the City Farmers’ Market; Hunters Point Family (Urban Alchemy); Project Homeless Connect; Tenderloin CBD*; YMCA of San Francisco*


Bi-Rite; Dolby Laboratories*; Emerald Fund*; Off the Grid; Rubicon Point Partners*; SHN; Square*; Stamen Design*

Philanthropic and Technical Assistance Institutions

CMG Landscape Architecture; Gehl Architects; Helen Diller Family Foundation; Kenneth Rainin Foundation Discretionary Fund; Lendlease; National Science Foundation (#1713638); Project for Public Spaces; SF Parks Alliance*; Trust for Public Land*

2018-19 Action Plan

Click here to download the 2018-19 Civic Center Commons Action Plan.

We’ve also created a brief 2019 Updated Work Plan handout, which you can download here.