Broadway Brainstorm: Neon Fortunes and Spanish Steps

Tuesday, Oct 6, 2009  |  Updated 5:30 PM PDT
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Broadway Brainstorm: Neon Fortunes and Spanish Steps

Can Broadway be beautified?

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What to do with Broadway? The challenge with the commercial strip (no pun intended), as posed by the city, is its night-time rowdiness and daytime emptiness, along with storefront vacancies and turnover.

That brings us back to that multiparty fellowship of good that sponsored a talk several days ago, including a hypothetical retooling of the space behind the Ferry Building. Images show a similar intervention— solutions proposed by industrial design team Mike and Maaike. 'Course, unlike the previous team, which was comprised of experienced architects in the urban realm, Mike and Maaike are industrial designers whose portfolio includes a smartphone and a bookshelf.

That led to some feelings of guilt on the part of the Mayor's Office rep, who thought maybe he had gotten the designers in over their head. But to everyone's pleasant surprise, Mike and Maaike presented an interesting, if bold, take on the strippy strip.

In essence, they would create an "authentic" attraction that would connect North Beach, Chinatown, the FiDi, and Jackson Square. The proposal starts by "broadening the public realm" by drastically widening sidewalks and narrowing car traffic on Broadway down to two lanes.

Business incentives would bring in more, say, family-friendly shops and restaurants to give the street a more diverse feel. But the proposal that got the most audience response was something the designers called "Signs of Good Fortune," a sort of take-back-the-neon interactive art project that would have bright signs light up when people step on or drive over activators. They're like culturally aware fortunes, divorced from their cookies.

Then there are the Peter Macchiarini Steps on Broadway and Kearny. With the area's Italian influences, say Mike and Maaike, the steps were a good opportunity to fashion some public open space in the mold of Rome's Spanish Steps. And so they did. As with last time, the whole thing is an exercise meant to test design's reach in tackling urban-level problems— not a real proposal.
 

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