Crowd-funding Public Space


Photo: courtesy of MOCI and Exploratorium in San francisco


Living Innovation Zones in San Francisco

It is in our common interest to create a city where quality of life is the key objective. We all have an opportunity as well as a shared responsibility to help the city to become an attractive place to live and work.

But what does it take to inspire private companies to invest effort and money in developing the quality of the public space? Over time numerous financial models for private investment and operation of public spaces have been tested – models for POPS (Privately Owned Public Spaces), BIDS ( Business Improvement Districts) , PPP (Public – Private – Partnerships) have all been implemented and many lessons have been learnt. Now something new is happening in San Francisco. The acronym for this new initiative is LIZ – Living Innovation Zones. They have been developed in partnership between San Francisco’s planning department, the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation MOCI and Gehl Architects as a spin-off of the three-year development of the Better Market Street project on Market Street in San Francisco.

In a way, LIZ is as an evolution of the concept for San Francisco’s Park-Let program which over the years has become a more and more formalized part of San Francisco’s strategy for the development of quality in the ‘public space’. In short, a model for temporary transformation of parking spaces into spaces for people to spend time – financed and operated by private owners of neighboring properties, organizations, café – owners, etc.

By initiating the LIZ program the city is attempting to take the Park-Let concept to a new level. The city in collaboration with Gehl Architects has identified 10 potential sites for Living Innovation Zones on the sidewalk along San Francisco’s iconic main street Market Street. 10 sites that in popular terms are considered to be “Bureaucracy Free” zones where the sometimes slow and frustrating processes associated with developing projects in public spaces, are being lifted and streamlined to create greater incentives for private sector organizations to invest in urban projects. As it is the case with Park-Lets, the private party finances, maintains and operates the projects and must also remove and clean up afterwards. In return, the LIZ operators have control over a piece of real estate on the sidewalk on San Francisco’s busiest and most visited street.

Photo: courtesy of MOCI and Exploratorium in San francisco

There are, however, some limitations. LIZ projects are both subject to certain constraints and objectives that all projects in this initiative must meet. Physical limitations will vary from location to location but all projects must be publicly accessible without direct commercial gain (i.e. outdoor serving, sale of products, etc.)

Success Criteria

Also, the projects must target this initiative’s overlying four success criteria – defined as:


We want to create public spaces for people to meet and socialize. We believe that public spaces that are good for people are places where people are safe from traffic and crime. Where people feel comfortable walking, standing and sitting. Where everyone feel invited and spaces that are attractive for people to spend time.


We believe that people are the city’s largest resource. People are attracted to people – And therefore we believe that public spaces that are good for people are good for business as well. Public spaces that accommodate basic social functions for people to meet and invest time are also the spaces where people choose to invest their money.


We believe that people’s imagination is the source of all progress. Our cities must create opportunities for experimentation and testing of new innovations in everyday situations. What place is more suited for this than our public spaces? Where everyday people go about the everyday?


We want public spaces constantly to adapt to the latest innovation, trends and needs of our society. This means we have to document, learn, share and adjust our experience we get from working within the public realm – where innovations are tested by real people.

Yerba Buena LIZ – The first of 10

Gehl Architects have in recent months been worked with the conceptual development of the first LIZ pilot, located at Yerba Buena lane which connects Market Street to Yerba Buena gardens, SFMOMA, the Jewish Museum , Falcone Convention Center and a number of other important cultural destinations in the city. The pilot project is a collaboration between San Francisco’s popular science exhibition center Exploratorium, the local business organization Yerba Buena Community Benefit District (YBCBD), Gehl Architects, Summit Foundation and the city. In addition to meeting the LIZ program’s built-in goals, the pilot is testing the development process in itself. The process of iterative design development, process of collaboration between partners, process of permitting, financing, measuring of effects etc. In many ways it is considered to be a pilot of a pilot.

See video from Yerba Buena Pilot here


Pilot Study Area. Photo: courtesy of MOCI and Exploratorium in San francisco

The initial prototypes are developed by the Exploratorium over a period of three months and the best ones will be installed in position at Yerba Buena lane for the big launch on the 28th of October 2013. However, the projects are “finished” when installed. They will continue to function as living prototypes in the public space at Yerba Buena lane, to be constantly adjusted and refined over a 6-month lifespan.

And it is also an inherent part of the concept that LIZ projects are constantly measured and weighed, in order to collect relevant data, to improve the effect of the program and ultimately create better value for both the private investor and the city.

Crowd-funding in Public Space

It is not only the models of collaboration , partnership and physical street installations which are being tested here – The Yerba Buena LIZ is also testing a new form of financing. With contributions from YBCBD and Summit Foundation the concrete prototypes are being crowd-funded via a regular crowd-funding campaign on the website indiego-go. At the moment of writing this post, 40 % of the funding goal has been reached – by 128 contributors, with 35 days left on the campaign. Why is crowd-funding a public space project interesting? Well, a part of this pilot is actually testing a way of democratically delegated private initiatives in public spaces – where the general citizen, in principle, can engage and take desired ownership for creating initiatives to finance good ideas that change the city’s public spaces into something better.

Time will tell how this initiative fly, but the overall experiences from this first LIZ, will create a foundation for the development of a manual for future LIZ projects in San Francisco. A manual which Gehl Architects is developing, in cooperation with MOCI and San Francisco’s planning department.

Read and see more:
Yerba Buena LIZ
Exploratorium Living Innovation Zone


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