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Grand Prix Cafe on Tillman Way, Union Square
Grand Prix Cafe on Tillman Way, Union Square
Union Square Hidden Alleyways
Union Square Hidden Alleyways
Union Square Hidden Alleyways
Union Square Hidden Alleyways
June 3, 2011

Lighting up Union Square’s Alleyways and Side Streets

Here in Union Square, we have a dream where every alleyway and side street is lit up with positive activity, and there are no dark corners of the district not reaching their full potentials. What do we mean by positive activity? This could be as simple as an art installment or mural and as complex as a calendar scheduled with street food vendors or street performances.

We’re lucky enough to have a very talented Streetscapes & Beautification Committee filled with landscape architects, city planners, designers and other movers and shakers in the community. This Committee is tasked with ‘identifying and activating projects to demarcate the district, beautify and enhance the pedestrian experience of the area’. As part of the Committee’s work, a series of recommendations have been made to develop new pedestrian zones such as the upcoming Powell Street Promenade project and to improve existing public spaces like Hallidie Plaza (the plaza you walk into as you exit Powell Street BART Station to the North). 

The Committee’s latest project is looking at the potential to activate backstreets and alleys in the Union Square district. There are about a dozen of these areas within the district, each with its own unique character and situation. Right now, some of the backstreets are used primarily for service and others provide access to hostels and restaurants. Many, though, lie fallow and unused, and that’s where the Streetscapes and Beautification Committee comes in.   

A group of designers walked the district and did a street by street analysis of opportunities to activate these areas. Despite the fact that the district is already filled with shops, restaurants, hotels, theatres and other businesses, there was still a large amount of potential to rethink these sometimes neglected areas. Activating these areas with art, food and people could engender a generally cleaner and safer atmosphere in the district. It would also be a great way to create unique and memorable experiences for visitors to the area. Developing these areas as points of interest could even encourage residents and visitors alike to extend their movement within the district beyond the center and free up some pedestrian space along Powell Street and around Union Square Park.

In this study, each street was evaluated for potential moveable seating or restaurant expansion, art installations or performances and/or as a likely candidate for food trucks or food carts. The next step in this process is to present these findings to vendors and property owners within the community and raise funds needed to help these places shine! Stay tuned for updates as we pursue this unique and exciting project.   

**Guest Post by Streetscapes & Beautification Committee Chair Manuela Anne King