SF Rec & Parks to Open Helen Diller Civic Center Playgrounds After $10 Million Renovation

Love Your Parks Valentine’s Day Playground Opening & Community Celebration

SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (SF Rec & Parks), The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the Helen Diller Family Foundation, to officially open the newly renovated Helen Diller Civic Center Playgrounds, located in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center Historic District, on Valentines Day this Wednesday, February 14.

The Helen Diller Family Foundation generously donated $10 million through The Trust for Public Land to fund the innovative design and construction of these two vibrant playgrounds.  San Francisco Recreation & Parks, members of the Helen Diller Family Foundation, The Trust for Public Land, city officials, and members of the public will celebrate the opening of the new playgrounds on Wednesday, February 14th.  The community celebration will begin at 4PM with a special interactive light feature ceremony at 5:45PM.

“These new state-of-the-art playgrounds and street café will serve the growing families in the densely populated Civic Center and Tenderloin neighborhoods, creating a fun, lively plaza space for all to enjoy.  We’re proud and honored to officially open these new playgrounds in the late Mayor Lee’s memory whose career was exemplified by his kindness to San Francisco’s children and families,” said Phil Ginsburg, SF Rec & Parks General Manager.  “In partnership with the Helen Diller Family Foundation and The Trust for Public Land, we are transforming Civic Center Plaza into a joyful neighborhood park that will continue to build and strengthen the communities around the area.”

In recent years, with the support of city leaders, park advocates, community members, and San Francisco voters, SF Rec & Parks has invested more than $30 million park improvements in Civic Center, Tenderloin, and South of Market neighborhoods.  In addition to the $10 million Helen Diller Civic Center Playground renovations, the improvements included Boeddeker Park reopened in 2014 after $9.3 million renovation; South Park reopened in 2017 after $3.8 million renovation; brand new batting cage at Victoria Manalo Draves Park; and upcoming $2.5 million renovation for Sgt. John Macaulay Playground, and $1 million renovation for Turk and Hyde Mini Park.

“The Helen Diller Civic Center Playgrounds elevates the importance of art and children in the urban landscape in the country and serves as a national model for public engagement in our central cities,” said The Trust for Public Land’s California State Director Guillermo Rodriguez.  “Thanks to the generosity of the Helen Diller Family Foundation and working in partnership with the amazing staff at Recreation and Park Department, we completed this world class project in just a year for everyone’s enjoyment.”

Civic Center Plaza, across from City Hall, is the hub of the City’s cultural life, surrounded by its most notable cultural institutions, including the Main Library, the Asian Art Museum, the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Ballet, and many other institutions that have active programming for children.  With the increasing number of people and families visiting and moving into the neighborhood, Civic Center Plaza has evolved into an area with many functions that serve the diverse needs of those who live and work in the area.

Designed by the award-winning San Francisco based firm Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture (ACLA) in partnership with The Trust for Public Land, the new playgrounds are symmetrically aligned with City Hall, and inspired by nature and weather themes. The new playgrounds come with custom designed play features such as “Sky Punch”, a treehouse structure that is designed to challenge children as they climb up through the clouds of nets, and “Lenticular Cloud”, a spiraling play structure connects the ground path for children to roam along the colorful catwalk or explore using the twisting net. It also includes “Fog Valley”, series of inverted semi circles that created a multi-use play structure to swing on the climbing cars and balance on the stretched membrane; and “Cumulus City”, a little city of climbing structures which makes little play houses for children to escape and find a little retreat for imaginative games.

To complement the new playgrounds and activate the adjoining space is the installation of the “Pole Forest” and “KARL,” the largest interactive floor light display in the country created by a team of talents including Cory Barr, Chris Cerrito, Paul Mans, Pete Scheidl, Matt Thomas, George Zisiadis, and ACLA.

The “Pixel Poles” connect the two playgrounds with a forest of 52 lighting fixtures spread across both playgrounds. Animated light patterns integrate the two playgrounds along with the projected light on the Plaza in between. The installation gives a feeling of surprise with bursts of color as they respond to people’s movement, highlighting the level of civic activity and encouraging inclusive play for all ages.

KARL” spans the 140 x 50 feet plaza between the playgrounds.  It uses heat sensors to project light to create fog droplets and ripples of light that interact and change with passersby.  Cory Barr’s algorithm for “KARL” incorporates computer-vision techniques as well as a fluid simulation based on characteristics of San Francisco’s iconic fog. The interactive lighting element is one of the largest public display installations in the country and represents the next generation of integrating public art in public spaces.

Last summer, the Helen Diller Family Foundation expanded its $10 million playground gift to create a street café and central gathering place at Civic Center Plaza to be administered by the Civic Center Community Benefit District (CCCBD).    The street café, located at the corner of Grove and Larkin Streets, will be housed in a new kiosk, and the CCCBD selected Bi-Rite to operate the café and will offer a variety of fresh food and drink selections as well as movable tables and seating for the public to relax and enjoy recreational activities at Civic Center Plaza.  The Street Café is expected to open in summer, 2018.

“On Valentine’s Day, the Helen Diller Family Foundation has made a loving gift to the children and families of San Francisco of not one but two of the coolest, most inventive and interactive playgrounds in America and serves as a national model for public reengagement in our central cities,” said The Trust for Public Land’s California State Director Guillermo Rodriguez.  “These playgrounds feature unprecedented collaboration between a renowned landscape architect, Andrea Cochran, and an international play equipment company, Kompan, to create an unprecedented play experience for children.  The Trust for Public Land was honored to partner with Jackie Safier and the Diller family and with San Francisco Recreation & Park Department to bring this significant project to completion for all of San Francisco.”

This project is part of an ongoing partnership between the Recreation and Park and TPL, which has recently resulted in renovations of Hilltop Park, Hayes Valley Playground and Clubhouse, Balboa Park, and Boeddeker Park and Clubhouse. This partnership has delivered more than $30 million in investments to the parks in San Francisco.

For past several years, the Department has been offering Zumba classes, youth soccer, adult bocce ball, adult kickball, and volleyball games as well as food trucks in partnership with Off-The-Grid on a weekly basis.  However, now building upon the momentum championed by the Department, the City has launched the Civic Center Commons Initiative, a collaborative effort to breathe new life into the city’s central civic spaces so that people who live, work and visit can celebrate the best of San Francisco every day.

Led by the City of San Francisco in partnership with neighbors, community organizations, and cultural institutions, the initiative is transforming Civic Center Plaza, UN Plaza, and Fulton Street between the Main Library and the Asian Art Museum with San Francisco-style attractions such as Living Innovation Zone installations by the Exploratorium and the Asian Art Museum; innovative workforce development partnerships that help keep the area clean and safe while providing jobs for people facing barriers to employment; and frequent free events, recreational activities, and whimsical art installations that are changing how people engage with the space and each other.

Major capital investments at Civic Center Plaza and the Civic Center Public Realm Plan’s long-range vision for design improvements will catalyze the continued development of the Commons and help it become a powerful symbol of San Francisco’s inclusive values and a model for public spaces around the world.

Photos and video are available for news broadcasting and publication courtesy of CopterOptics Aerial Films.



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