Archive for the ‘New Urbanism’ Category

POPOS! Privately Owned Public Open Spaces

January 25th, 2013 by

Last week I attended a very interesting talk at SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research) focused on POPOS in SF and POPS in NYC. POPOS is an acronym for Privately Owned Public Open Space, while POPS stands for Privately Owned Public Space. The talk had an amazing panel of landscape architects, planners, and professors and was moderated by John King, the well known design critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. The talk filled the entire floor of SPUR building, spilling into the lobby and down the stairs…it was quite impressive!

The panel came together to discuss POPOS and answer questions such as: what are POPOs and where can you find them, what makes a successful publicly owned open space (both in design and regulation), and how do the POPOS help the city– do they help the city?

POPOS are spaces that came about as an incentive by the planning department to allow developers to increase vertical development in exchange for making an open space for public use. The concept was to create little bits of nature in the downtown area that could be a welcome escape from the bustling city environment. Now these spaces are required as part of new development, and as such, there are some amazing designers exploring how to create wonderful public open spaces, regulations being refined to ensure quality areas are developed, and controversy over both.

Tom Balsley (Thomas Balsley Associates, New York) started the discussion with how to make great public open spaces from a design perspective. In NYC there are over 500 POPS, and therefore, the City has learned a lot of lessons such as how to keep a space activated, where it should be located, how much fencing is appropriate, etc. It seems as though in NY the regulations are pretty defined and dictate a lot of the design decisions (for example, POPS can’t be on the north side of a building). Perhaps this is a direction SF regulation should move?

NY POP with Cafe Seating

Next Jerold Kayden(Professor of Urban Planning Design at Harvard) talked for a bit about how we should think of creating public spaces, and what needs to happen from a planning perspective so that cities are encouraging creation of well purposed and enjoyable open space. He talked about how 41% of NYC’s POPS are really “bad spaces” (not a lot of daylight, poorly programmed, etc) and that 50% are out of compliance with current regulations. He thinks we need to focus on making bad spaces good, and focus on regulations to make proposed spaces “worth it” for the cities and residents. We should be thinking holistically about an area and what it needs. He coined “decentralized central park” as a way to think about what types of open spaces are needed in certain areas.

Josh Switzky represented SF Planning and discussed how the planning department is thinking about all these concepts. They are trying to determine how to create some roof top spaces, some plazas, some sidewalk expansions, and how to make sure that SF doesn’t land up with all roof top open spaces that are hard for the public to access.

Access seems to be the number one thing that San Francisco could improve. Very few people know about these spaces, generally there is only a very small plaque distinguishing them, and they can be very complicated to get to. When telling my roommate about this talk, she was psyched I went just because now I had the “inside scoop” on how to find some new, fun lunch places. While that is true, it’s probably not a good thing that she thinks you have to be a designer and SPUR member to find out about these “public” spaces.

Margret Crawford (Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley, College of Environmental Design) discussed something I hadn’t thought of yet. These spaces are good at breaking up the urban fabric of the downtown area, and a nice place for the working class to sit and eat lunch, however they are limited and do not invite ALL types of public. The very fact that they are limited to the financial district/downtown area of the city limits them to a primarily working public that is comfortable in a corporate environment. It’s interesting to think about how to strike a balance between designing a space for everyone, and one to serve your downtown target audience.

Lastly, Marta Fry (Marta Fry Landscape Architecture, SF) who just designed a beautiful rooftop POPO at 1 Kearny St in San Francisco discussed how some POPOS really aren’t very public at all. For example, 1 Kearny, requires you to check in at the front, travel up to the 11th floor (go back down for a key to the restroom if needed) and really doesn’t make one feel like an invited guest. How can the city change that? There are innate controversies when you have private investment developing a space that for public improvement– what is the best way to make the investment beneficial to both parties?

1 Kearny Rooftop POPO: Designed by MFLA

This got me thinking about other public open spaces that I know about through working at Sherwood. Two of our past projects, Mint Plaza and Davis Court, seem like POPOS, however they are a bit different. Both of these spaces are very inviting public areas, but what sets them apart from other POPOS, and how could new POPOS be designed in similar ways?

Mint Plaza: an inviting plaza for the public

Mint Plaza is actually publicly owned, however it was redeveloped privately and is maintained by the “Friends of Mint Plaza.” Davis Court is privately owned, however, as it is part of Davis Street, it needs to function as a corridor for vehicular and pedestrian traffic; the developer also wanted it to be a space that was inviting to public to walk through and maybe stay a while.

Davis Court: A urban plaza that also functions as a vehicular corridor


Davis Court: inviting to sit a while while still functioning as a “street.”

In both cases the developer wanted to make the space attractive, safe and accessible to the public as that helps attract businesses to the surrounding retail space and customers to those businesses. The developer was also helping to embrace sustainability goals with open space and community concepts (not to mention wonderful, green, LID Stormwater Management designed by Sherwood!)

Is there a way to make POPOS that are easy to find and used by all types of public more common? Maybe allowing some retail/cafes at POPOS would help incentivize the private shareholder to make them more accessible. Tom Balsley mentioned that in New York, POPS can have cafes as long as they have as much seating for the general/non-paying public as the customers. Maybe this model would be good for some of the POPOS in SF.

As you can see from this lengthy post, the talk was very interesting and changed my perspective from “of course POPOS are good, what could be bad about an awesome, new, rooftop garden I’m allowed to go to…” to really thinking about what makes a good space vs. an unused “waste of space.” Luckily, planners and designers have been thinking about this for a while and are trying to build those elements into POPOS that are in design now, and into regulations for the future.

So get out there and visit POPOs when you can, below are some links to help you find them all!


Get a POPOS Map on your Smart Phone!

See the POPOS on Google Maps!


Bayview Opera House Renovation

May 29th, 2012 by

San Francisco’s Bayview Opera House Ruth Williams Memorial Theatre (aka South San Francisco Opera House) is currently undergoing structural and accessibility renovations. The project is run by SF Arts and funded by a collection SF agencies. Sherwood is working with Tom Eliot Fisch architects and Hood Design Studio landscape architects on a number of site improvements, including a collaboration with Walter Hood in site layout while specializing in stormwater systems.

El Cerrito Recycling Earth Day Grand Opening This Sunday

April 20th, 2012 by

El Cerrito Recycling & Environmental Resource Center, our project with Noll & Tam Architects, Pankow and the City of El Cerrito, is having its grand opening this Sunday, aka Earth Day!

The highly sustainable El Cerrito Recycling and Environmental Resource Center, a design-build collaboration between Noll & Tam, Pankow Builders, and ZETA Communities, features solar photovoltaic panels, a rainwater cistern, rain gardens and native landscaping, and a 2,200-square-foot net zero energy Administration Building manufactured by ZETA. The new facility is on target for LEED® Platinum certification.

Please join us this Sunday, April 22nd, 4-6pm, for an open house, tours, kids’ art activity and light refreshments:

7501 Schmidt Lane
El Cerrito, CA 94530

For more about the El Cerrito Recycling and Environmental Resource Center click here.


April 13th, 2012 by

Sherwood worked with Nelson Nygaard to complete the design of a multi-block green streets project located at the edge of Santa Monica’s border with Venice, CA. The design implements a woonerf style livable street by incorporating multifunctional urban stormwater best management practices as well as low impact design philosophies into a pedestrian friendly design.

Sherwood focused its efforts on making this alternative streetscape a reality by working to develop the design, from concept through construction documentation, as well as determining the cost and maintenance implications for the City of Santa Monica. A highlight of this project was Sherwood’s design to manage all stormwater runoff from the site using hardscape infiltration areas and plantings with no conventional piped stormwater infrastructure. The design represents a critical component of the Santa Monica Sustainable City Plan to realize a better city for its citizens.

Article: LA Streets Blog

Article: Santa Monica Daily Press

Project Update: Orange County Great Park

February 3rd, 2012 by

The Orange County Great Park, with its 1,347-acre master plan, is the focal point of the redevelopment of the 4,700-acre former Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro. Phase 1 of development includes the 28-acre South Lawn, including extensions to the Ken Smith-envisioned timeline and a first of its kind large scale overland stormwater harvesting system for reuse as irrigation. Among many of the forward thinking sustainability goals of the project, Sherwood is working is to decrease the irrigation demands of the park and reuse as much water on site as possible. The Park will be harvesting and storing all available onsite and offsite runoff in a series of design-oriented storage basins.  Stormwater from these basins will then be treated and reused for irrigation, with the aim of reducing the reclaimed water use significantly. One of the project’s goals is to be a new model for water resources planning within the LA basin.

MOMA Foreclosed

January 3rd, 2012 by

Our work on the exhibit “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream” for the New York City MOMA is complete, and we are working with the museum to finalize the exhibit for an installation this winter. The show, in which five teams of architects have been rethinking housing in American cities and suburbs in light of the foreclosure crisis, has been getting a great deal of press recently, including the New York Times, New York magazine and a feature on NPR.

“Foreclosed” is the second program in MoMA’s “Issues in Contemporary Architecture” series, which started in 2009 with “Rising Currents,” which addressed New York City’s rising water levels. Feedback has been provided by the design and lay community on ours and other alternative design approaches to the current suburban model. The model and our work will be refined by the museum’s curators and then be put on display in the main museum in Manhattan in February, 2012.

St. Pete Pier: Design Finalists!

December 5th, 2011 by

Sherwood, working as part of the Michael Maltzan team, is one of three finalists selected from a field of nine diverse semifinalists for the St. Petersburg, FL pier design competition. All three designs, which can be seen here, will be open to the public for review starting tomorrow at the “Look, Think, Share External Link exhibit at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, 335 Second Ave. N.E. The exhibit is free and open to the public from Dec. 6 to Dec. 30 and a finalist will be chosen in January 2012.

As lead civil, Sherwood came up with a number of key sustainability concepts that helped provide the foundation for our team’s leading entry. For example, the new pier and upland developments will need to be a constantly evolving landscape that will adapt to sea level rise as the polar ice caps melt and claim more coastal land areas. Our group based a number of architectural and landscaping ideas on this key underlying concept.

Another fundamental idea we brought in included that of passive solar desalination, the idea that the canopy structure of the pier could be fitted with a desalination system using solar heat energy to heat up salt water, condense it, and turn it into fresh, potable water without using any outside energy. That system as well as additional roof area could also be equipped with solar panels to harness the UV energy from the sun, providing supplemental energy. Similarly, the canopy of the pier can harvest rain water to be reused on site for toilet flushing and irrigation. For stormwater treatment, we intend to treat 100% of the runff by means of flowthrough treatment planters.

Another major idea we contributed was that of having a number of man-made fixed and floating islands with multiple uses. These could include a self-sustaining water park; an island dedicated solely to energy production, harnessing solar, wind, tidal and wave energy; a floating filtering wetland with sea grasses, oyster beds and mangroves; and a floating recreational pool that filters the bay water through passive membranes, similar to New York City’s +Pool, which floats in the East River.

Balboa Park Groundbreaking this Saturday

October 20th, 2011 by

There will be a groundbreaking ceremony for the Balboa Park project in San Francisco this Saturday, October 22 2011 at 11:30am. Sherwood has been working on the design and construction drawings for this park renovation project since 2009. Here’s more information from the Trust for Public Land’s invitation:

The Trust for Public Land, the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department, and our many generous partners invite you to a community picnic celebrating the groundbreaking of Balboa Park site improvements. Bring your favorite picnic food! Beverages will be provided.

The makeover includes a school age play area, picnic area, renovated tennis courts, and a skate park.

Saturday, October 22, 2011
Picnic: 11:30 a.m.
Ceremony: 1:30 p.m.
Balboa Park, Children’s Playground, Sgt. Young St. at San Jose Ave. (Click for map/directions)
RSVP to Joy Gutierrez-Pilare, joy.pilare@tpl.org or 415.800.5269.

Click here for a downloadable and printable version of this invitation.

Many thanks to our generous partners, including:
Banana Republic
Levi Strauss Foundation
Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Wells Fargo
…and our local community!

Landscape Architecture Magazine Feature on Mint Plaza

August 23rd, 2011 by

Last month’s issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine featured Mint Plaza, our project with CMG, on their July 2011 cover. Mint Plaza, which won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in 2010 has been called a “groundbreaking project that pairs robust ecological function with a vibrant, socially diverse public space reclaimed from a former derelict and underutilized street.”

The article, “Fresh Mint Taste” appeared on pages 68-75 and is available to download here.

Another Award for San Francisco Better Streets Plan

July 26th, 2011 by

We’ve just learned that the San Francisco Better Streets Plan has received a California APA Award for Best Practices. This is in addition to the Charter Award the project was awarded earlier this year by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), one of only nine award winners selected this year. The plan is a unified set of standards, guidelines, and implementation strategies to govern how the City designs, builds, and maintains its pedestrian environment.