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  • The Octavia Project

    Marking memory, building community + dreaming the next San Francisco

    The Octavia Project (formerly the Octavia Historic Commemorative Project) deepens our longstanding ties to the Hayes Valley neighborhood. The subject of a two-phase design competition, this new public space celebrates the community-led campaign to remove the Central Freeway and the power of citizens to transform the city. Our proposal builds upon our learnings from PROXY and inspired by our collaboration with place-based artist Mark Baugh-Sasaki, a neighborhood native. It examines the multi-layered histories of place – the everyday people that champion fresh ideas within an ever-evolving city – and seeks to inspire a new generation of urban change agents.

    The destruction of poor and non-white neighborhoods by urban infrastructure is a disgraceful legacy of urban planning in America. The redlining maps of 1937 make clear the prevailing white supremacist views of the time, which saw Hayes Valley as a “suspect” community of Blacks, Jews, and working-class immigrants. Amidst the freeway boom that followed World War II, city planners ran an elevated highway straight through Hayes Valley, demolishing portions of 23 blocks of housing and small businesses, and splitting the community into two. The serpentine structure’s long shadow across the neighborhood was both physical and emotional; economic decline soon followed. After the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the freeway, Hayes Valley residents joined together in a 10-year fight to remove it. With the freeway gone and a walkable and connected public realm in its place, the neighborhood has begun to heal and thrive.
    Our thinking about how to commemorate this history takes inspiration from the three processes that unfolded to bring about the freeway’s removal: dreaming of a different future, remembering what was there before, and convening community to create change. Creating places for human connection where neighbors can gather, form new connections, and develop new ideas and relationships is a principle tenet of our approach.

    Our proposal for the Octavia Historic Commemorative Project translates these core concepts into three people-centered spaces: Pathway (Marking Memory), Forum (Building Community) and Gateway (Dreaming the Future). Aspirationally, we see the potential for these concepts to extend across the wider Octavia Boulevard site, and have built in flexibility and scalability to allow for a range of options for implementation.
    Like the events it commemorates, our proposal hinges on broad, equitable, and diverse community involvement as both the driver of the design and integral to the site’s public stewardship over time. Our response is an approach to community engagement that is durational and multi-level: it’s designed to open varied channels of communication – to meet people where they’re at — and to extend over the lifespan of the project. Through community surveys, on-site programs and events, and in-depth oral history interviews, we’ll uncover the memories, dreams and connections that the site evokes. It’s a process that will shift and evolve as we learn more and open new doors.