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    The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza: Preliminary Design Revealed

    The next-generation memorial will emphasize visibility, activism, and hope

    The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza (FHMP) on June 24 revealed a new vision for the Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza that is located at the iconic intersection of Castro and Market Streets.

    Inspired by Milk’s message of inclusivity and his mission of greater social justice, the new memorial aims not only to celebrate the past but also to honor his life’s work by providing space that promotes visibility for all marginalized people and provides a platform for future activism. In alignment with San Francisco’s Pride Month celebrations, the design is being shared with the public for feedback via two virtual town hall meetings—one today, 6/24, at noon—and via broader continued online engagement effort.

    Like Milk himself, this unconventional memorial will be like no other. The redesigned space will welcome, represent, and celebrate all visitors as their authentic selves, honor past activism, and provide a focal point for organizing ongoing engagement around social justice issues.

    “We believe the redesign captures the public’s desire to better honor Harvey Milk and creates one of the United States’ first ‘next generation’ memorials: one that will continue to represent the values of the local community through growth and change. The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza will interweave the past and the present so that it serves as a call to action for generations that follow,” explains FHMP Interim Executive Director Brian Springfield.

    Included in the design are features dedicated to visibility and representation of the wide spectrum of people encompassed by the LGBTQ+ community. Public art and interactive elements celebrate LGBTQ+ culture and history while also promoting a call to action in support of social justice movements, making the Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza a place where hope and action live on forever.

    “The community expressed the desire for an unconventional memorial representative of Harvey’s personality,” said Daniel Cunningham, Project Lead at the landscape architecture firm SWA Group. “You’ll notice there is no bronze statue of Harvey to be found. The entire memorial acts as a stage, elevating the voices of the community, and allowing it to evolve with the movement over time.”

    The design is anticipated to be finalized this year, and the project’s initial phase of transit station improvements is expected to break ground in 2022. Springfield emphasizes that the new design being shared is still preliminary, and that FHMP and SWA continue to seek input from the community—at the upcoming design presentation and through ongoing input gathered through an interactive online community engagement portal:

    Four core elements will characterize the renewed plaza: The Pedestal, the Beacon, the Grove, and the Gallery.

    ​Public feedback collected since 2017 has been incorporated into the new design, reflecting the community’s desire for an unconventional and inclusive design process and assurance that Milk’s qualities and legacy remain front-and-center. Discussions among FHMP, local landscape architecture firm SWA, local Castro-based organizations, and the general public will continue as the designs are refined.

    The new design is inspired by Milk’s words, intersectional activism, and community input, with a keen eye for current and future transit needs. California Senator Scott Wiener says, “Harvey Milk Plaza is at the heart of the Castro community—a place to gather, to go about our lives, and to remember Harvey’s many contributions. Our community deserves a plaza worthy of Harvey’s memory—one that educates and allows us to organize and enjoy our amazing neighborhood. The Harvey Milk Plaza redesign is a long overdue effort to make this great plaza all it can be.”

    “The new design of the Harvey Milk Plaza does an outstanding job of preserving and sharing Harvey’s legacy, while also creating a new and dynamic space for the community to gather,” says Mayor London Breed. “Its emphasis on Harvey Milk’s work and inspiring everyone to activism reminds us all of how far we’ve come, and the work left to do. I want to thank the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza for their dedication to this effort and for working closely with the Castro community to ensure this design meets the needs of the community.”

    “Harvey Milk Plaza can be a space that both honors the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement and lifts up the voices and struggles of today’s queer community, all while functioning as an inviting gateway to the Castro and Muni,” says District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro neighborhood and is currently the Board of Supervisors’ sole LGBTQ+ member. “The concepts being shared today are an exciting step forward in achieving that vision.”

    “The best public spaces are flexible and responsive to the needs of the communities they serve. The most meaningful memorials engage the public in a dialogue with the story and ideals of those we seek to remember. The new vision for Harvey Milk Plaza is exemplary in both of these categories. The design integrates a unique and innovative memorial with a series of dynamic public spaces—all created through an extensive and ongoing community engagement process. We’re thrilled to support this project both in our role as fiscal sponsor to the FHMP and as strong advocates for active and inclusive public spaces,” says Philip Winn, Director, Parks and Place for the San Francisco Parks Alliance.

    “I’m very happy with the new design because it is the result of many conversations with LGBTQ people of color, transgender leaders, youth leadership, and powerful lesbians. The imagery of us represented as critical parts of the LGBTQ movement is clear and important,” says Castro LGBTQ Cultural District Manager, Tina Aguirre. “The legacy of Harvey Milk is that of a multitude of voices from activists that effect change, from the days of Gay Liberation Fronts and radical lesbians to Black Lives Matter and transgender leaders of today.”

    “The balance between Harvey’s history and the movement’s history feels correct to me. Harvey would have liked it,” shares photographer Danny Nicoletta, who was close friends with Milk and worked at his Castro Camera store on Castro Street.

    “This design just feels right to me,” says Cleve Jones, author, activist, and community leader. “The balance of hope and action, the call-to-action for activism, and the pieces that will allow visitors to feel seen and heard—this has many of the same qualities as Harvey himself. This belongs in the Castro—and we deserve it!”

    To see more of the new design and provide your input, please visit:

    Initial funding for the project has been provided through private and public sources, including a $1 million grant from the State of California, earmarked specifically to “support construction of LGBTQ space in Harvey Milk Plaza.” The project team’s next steps include continued design refinements in response to ongoing community input, coordination with various city agencies, and progress through the approvals process, with a goal of being prepared to begin construction in Summer/Fall 2022.

    About Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza

    The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza organization was formed in 2016, in response to SFMTA plans to install an elevator in the culturally sensitive Harvey Milk Plaza. FHMP was aware of the decades-long conversation in the community about improving the plaza, and sought greater community involvement in the redesign effort. Since its inception, FHMP has worked to see that the community’s aspirations for the plaza are realized during the work planned at the site. Their mission is to see Harvey Milk Plaza reimagined as a welcoming, vibrant space that honors Harvey’s life and legacy, celebrates his enduring importance to the LGBTQ+ community, and inspires by acting as a beacon of hope to marginalized communities worldwide.

    Published on June 24, 2021