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San Francisco Competition Seeks to Energize New Housing Opportunities

San Francisco is hoping to exorcise the demons of urban planning mistakes past with a housing design competition for the scarred site of the former Central Freeway, which was badly damaged during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and subsequently dismantled. The competition seeks ideas for nearly 1,000 new units of housing on six parcels fronting Octavia Boulevard, a newly developed European-style boulevard currently under construction as the freeway's replacement in the Hayes Valley neighborhood near San Francisco's Civic Center. Two of the parcels will be developed by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency as affordable housing; the remaining four will be sold to private developers, who will be encouraged to partner with the winning designers.


The competition, sponsored by the San Francisco Prize—a collaboration between the San Francisco chapter of the AIA, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and San Francisco Beautiful, a civic organization—also hopes to heighten the design ambitions of infill housing projects throughout the city, which are often stagnated by a culture of NIMBYism. But crucially for the success of Octavia Boulevard, the impetus came from the neighborhood itself and was encouraged by a $55,000 grant from the city—a show of support emblematic of Mayor Gavin Newsom's interest in urbanism. As Margie O'Driscoll, Executive Director of the AIA San Francisco put it, "Mayor Newsom understands that to meet his overarching goals of building community in this city design is going to be a factor."

Andrew Blum