Community is Key at Buchanan Mall

Weighing in during Workshop 1 at the African American Art & Culture Complex

Weighing in during Workshop 1 at the African American Art & Culture Complex

Our project team shares their thoughts about engaging with the community where it matters most.


This year, O|CB has been privileged to be part of a true community-centered endeavor:  The Buchanan Street Mall Project. Stretching along five blocks of San Francisco’s Western Addition, the Buchanan Mall was originally a neighborhood corridor where people of all ages intermingled. However, decades of urban renewal, turf wars, and mistrust have turned a once vibrant space into one residents purposely avoid.

Inspired to reclaim and reimagine the Buchanan Mall, a grassroots effort led by community groups and individuals—many of whose doors and windows open to the Mall—joined forces with Citizen Film, the Exploratorium, Green Streets, San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department, and The Trust for Public Land in January of 2015. Two years of intensive public outreach and engagement followed, during which activation elements were fabricated and located in the Mall, and the Buchanan Street Mall Vision Statement was produced to help guide future improvements.

In September 2018, TPL and a committee of City and community stakeholders selected O|CB, in partnership with Studio-MLA, to join the Buchanan Street Mall project team to develop a concept master plan for the five blocks. With the Vision Statement as the touchstone, our team began understanding the complex, beautifully rich neighborhood history of the Western Addition and the Fillmore. Through public workshops, site walks, and outreach events, we have sought to “listen first”—to stories of residents both past and present—and second, to rally behind the aspirations of the community.

The purpose of Workshop 1 was to share and explore initial ideas on space, form, and program for the Mall. Armed with sticky dots, post-its, and the power of voice, community members did not hold back, further enriching the team’s understanding of day to day life within each block, and pinpointing where certain design interventions would be most effective. This wealth of information helped the design team frame the concept design, in close collaboration with the project team and community leaders.

Eager to return to the public forum, the team approached Workshop 2 with another round of design exercises and ‘pick and choose’ options for programming within each block, while keeping an open ear for new ideas and suggestions. Feedback was collected, fresh thoughts heard, and sticky dots tallied, driving the refinement of the plans that are slated to be presented in upcoming Workshop 3. Meanwhile, a public survey is underway to confirm that the design is meeting the desires of the community and that each block features appropriate activities and opportunities.

Collaborating with such an active and involved community through this project has been invigorating. Seeing neighborhood groups and individuals unite to exercise their agency as citizens, speak out, and advocate for great public spaces that serve a community reinforces our belief in the power of landscape architecture to effect meaningful change.

As of this posting, O|CB is continuing to develop and push the re-imagination of Buchanan Mall forward into next steps. As we move into the New Year, we’re very excited to continue our work alongside our project partners and the Buchanan community to give this neighborhood the park they’ve always hoped for.

Stay tuned for a link to the public survey and updates on #BuchananChange