San Francisco

Presidio Plans for New Tunnel Top Park

It’s not every day a city as old as San Francisco gets a chance to design a new park — then again — it’s not every day a new 13-acre parkland drops from the sky.

But that’s essentially what the result will be as work on the new Presidio Parkway, the replacement for the old Doyle Drive, nears completion.

When the project’s twin traffic tunnels are completed next year, they’ll be covered in grass and turned over to the Presidio Trust which will then sculpt it into a brand new park — which for the first time will create a pedestrian link between the Presidio’s upper grounds and Crissy Field and the bay.

“Right now, people who come up to the main post and around the Presidio are disconnected from the lower landscapes of the marsh and the field and the bay and vice versa,” architect James Corner said.

The Presidio Trust picked Corner in a design competition to help plan the new 13-acre park. Corner, who designed New York’s celebrated High-Line linear park, is tweaking a slew of ideas - as well as interfacing with the public to get its ideas.

“We’re really inviting a very broad spectrum of the public to comment to input their own ideas to reflect on possibilities,” Corner said

The Presidio Trust is holding five public meetings a month to gather public input and gauge its enthusiasm for some proposed features. The trust hopes to narrow down design proposals by the summer and chose a final design in September.

“What we’re really focused on right now is bringing in the public,” Presidio spokeswoman Dana Polk said. “Talking to them about the site, what they’d like to see here? What they’d like to do here?”

Among Corner’s proposals is the building of a terrace on the newly formed bluff which would boast sweeping views of the bay, Alcatraz, all the way to the city skyline. There are also plans to create an amphitheater and gardens set among the coastal dunes, with possible landscape designs to shield the area from the wind.

“For us, it’s really about not overdoing it,” Corner said. “It’s really about creating something that’s very sincere and simple.”

The Presidio Trust erected several large boards inside the Presidio Visitor Center, giving the public an opportunity to post notes commenting on the designs. Some notes posted already called for the planners to keep the design simple, to reflect on the area’s history, to amplify wild nature instead of formal landscapes. Corner acknowledged the project is generating a multitude of opinions.

“You have to acknowledge that this place is special,” Corner said. “It’s an amazing center point in terms of the view.”

The new park is scheduled to open in 2018, resulting in a new corner of a National Park that includes the site of one of San Francisco’s oldest settlements.

“This is a site to create a new history,” said Corner, “a place that future generations will look back on our time — what we did in this location.”

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