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    Harvey Milk Plaza Project Announces Design Reset

    The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza (FHMP) on February 22 announced the selection of local design firm SWA to reimagine and redesign Harvey Milk Plaza, an important initial investment by FHMP made possible by a $1M state grant secured in 2019 intended to “support construction of LGBTQ space in Harvey Milk Plaza.” The selection of SWA comes after a robust proposal process that included inviting 17 design firms to submit proposals, and interviewing four shortlisted firms.

    “Friends and SWA have already begun initial discussions around creating an unconventional and inclusive design process so these qualities of Harvey Milk and his legacy are inherently part of the design that is produced,” explained ​Brian Springfield, Interim Executive Director for FHMP.​ “Throughout this process, we have heard from the community that they want a ‘next generation’ memorial as unique and unconventional as Harvey himself. Now that SWA is on board, we are anxious to re-engage with the public to explore what’s possible to honor Harvey Milk in a way that draws attention to the ongoing activism around issues of social justice, which Harvey championed during his lifetime. The memorial will be alive with Harvey’s politics including his call to others to get involved.”

    “We understand the significance of developing the site to become the focal point of Harvey’s message and his importance not only for the Castro neighborhood but also for the national and international community”, said ​SWA Project Lead, Daniel Cunningham​, who lived one block from the site for nearly a decade and even attended one of the early community meetings held in 2017. “We are excited by the potential for the redesign to properly capture the community’s ambitions and hopes, and we are committed to a dialogue that will help The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza, a partner of SF Parks Alliance, a 501(c)3 organization. San Francisco, CA 94114 express them.”

    The Harvey Milk Plaza project will be undertaken by SWA’s Sausalito and San Francisco studios. The firm, which practices landscape architecture and urban design from a network of eight studios worldwide, has produced significant high-profile memorial projects, including the ​Sandy Hook Memorial​ ​in Newtown, CT; the ​Harry Truman Memorial​ ​at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, MO; and the ​Grand Candela Memorial​, dedicated to the victims of the mass shooting in El Paso, TX.

    According to Cunningham, “We believe the memorial should speak as loudly and unapologetically as Harvey did—not only about the progress he brought about but about the work that is still to be done. To be worthy of Harvey’s legacy, his memorial should be a living monument—relevant and impactful today—dedicated to realizing his vision of equality and authenticity for everyone, everywhere.”

    “Harvey Milk Plaza has been at the heart of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community for decades, and our community deserves a plaza that reflects this rich history,” said ​Senator Scott Wiener​. “A redesigned and more usable Harvey Milk Plaza will provide a gathering space for our community and educational opportunities for residents and visitors alike. I’m excited about the progress of this important project.”

    “Harvey Milk Plaza offers an opportunity to honor the history of the LGBTQ rights movement, while also providing a gathering space for the community and an inviting and functional gateway to our transit system,” said​ former San Francisco Bay Times columnist and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman,​ who represents the Castro and is the lone LGBTQ member on the Board of Supervisors. “Today’s announcement is a big step forward in achieving that vision.”

    BART Director and former Castro Supervisor Bevan Dufty​expressed hope that the vision of a great Harvey Milk Plaza can soon be realized. “Harvey has inspired generations of LGBTQ+ to be authentic and out. That’s what we want for Harvey Milk Plaza. So I am eager to see the community collaboration with SWA bear fruit!”

    “Having grown up as a Black, bisexual woman in San Francisco I know how important the corner of Castro and Market is to residents and visitors from around the world, especially the LGBTQ+ community for whom Harvey’s legacy continues to inspire so much hope,” said Shanell Williams, President of Board of Trustees at City College of San Francisco. “​When completed, the new Harvey Milk Plaza will be the perfect way to welcome the community to this amazing neighborhood! I am confident that the SWA team will be able to translate Harvey’s legacy of hope into an inspiring memorial to his life.”

    FHMP has proposed a robust community outreach and engagement effort to unfold during Spring 2021. “The ability to have conversations online represents a new opportunity to engage with even more people than in-person events might otherwise,” said Springfield. “It is our goal to engage the community in the process of creating this new type of memorial, as Harvey’s message of the ‘us’s and the them’s’ has ongoing relevance to what’s happening today. We view online information gathering and creative engagement with as many people as possible as having immense benefit to the project.”

    SWA will lead a Bay Area team that shares their desire for an inclusive, pragmatic, and energetic design process. The team includes Civic Edge, an engagement firm that has cultivated partnerships with numerous SF agencies; Volume Inc., a creative agency known for skill in leveraging visual communication and experience-based design to tell the story of a place; Peoples Associates Structural Engineers and Telamon Engineering (Engineer of Record), which bring technical knowledge; and WSP, which will provide lighting design that balances safety, security, and sustainability needs with an artistic touch.

    The Harvey Milk Plaza project is expected to be funded through a public-private partnership. Explained Springfield, “As the outlines of the project come into focus, we expect we will receive cooperation from the various stakeholder agencies involved to fund transit and infrastructure upgrades, as well as the creation of public space. The Castro remains an iconic neighborhood, as well as an important symbol to other communities around the world. Investment in the plaza will assist the neighborhood and the city to once again attract visitors from around the world where they will learn about Harvey and his mission.”

    A separate—but interconnected—SFMTA project​ to improve accessibility at Castro Station will include the installation of a new elevator connecting the existing plaza with both levels of the transit station below. But now that project has evolved to include a new fourth stop at Market Street to improve access for commuters who use the bus stops there, an idea first proposed by the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza. “The SFMTA team has been great partners to this project. They have listened to the community, who wanted no part of the site named for Harvey Milk to be inaccessible to anyone,” explained Springfield. “They totally get it, and have been incredibly supportive.”

    This initial phase of improvements at the site is expected to break ground in late 2021/early 2022. For more information:


    Published on February 25, 2021