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Powell Street Promenade, Union Square SF
Powell Street Promenade, Photo by Brandon Herman
SF Ribbon Cutting Powell Street Promenade Union Square
Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony with SF Mayor Ed Lee, Photo by George Nikitin
Powell Street Promenade, Union Square SF
Detail of Powell Street Promenade, Union Square
Powell Street Promenade Union Square
Powell Street Promenade, Union Square
July 21, 2011

The Story Behind Powell Street Promenade

It emerged from a simple idea – wouldn’t it be nice if pedestrians had more room to walk, stop and enjoy the Powell Street area? From this, the Powell Street Promenade was born.

Today’s Powell Street Promenade is a result of a unique partnership between the Union Square BID, the City and County of San Francisco and Audi of America, whose generous funding made the project possible. It extends the sidewalk out 6 feet in four different areas on Powell Street from Ellis to Geary, creating a comfortable public space for all to enjoy. Award-winning landscape designer Walter Hood was recruited by Audi to create a contemporary design for the project. Made of gleaming aluminum and wood grating, the promenade features sleek modern planters, café tables, benches and solar panels used to create ambient light below the grating for a soft glow at night.

Prior to Audi’s involvement, Manuela Anne King from Royston Hanamoto Alley & Abey and chair of the Union Square BID’s Streetscapes Committee, in partnership with BAR Architects, conceptualized a similar design more centered on wood that was instrumental in  helping to  inspire and identify a sponsor for the project. Projects like this take many hours of work, including community outreach, sponsorship identification, design and finally construction. It was through this process and with the input from the community and other stakeholders in the district that the project evolved into what it is today. The new design has been created to meld old with new, to seamlessly bring modern technology to a historic pathway. After all, Powell Street has been a busy thoroughfare for over 100 years. In fact, it has been on the crest of modern technology since 1888 when the Powell Street cable car line first opened. So, it is fitting that the Promenade incorporates forward-thinking and environmentally-friendly details like Wi-Fi access, solar panels, LED lighting, drought-resistant greenery and bike racks. All elements of the promenade are also modular and can be adjusted to accommodate the community’s needs.

It remains to be seen how the Promenade will affect the streetscape on Powell. Moving forward, the Union Square BID and its Ambassadors will monitor usage on the new installation. Timing couldn’t be better as a little extra pedestrian space provides a welcome respite from the construction along nearby Stockton Street related to the new Central Subway project.

The Powell Street Promenade is considered a “temporary to permanent” installation of two to five years that will be re-evaluated and possibly modified as time goes on. For now, families of tourists can been seen planning their days on the café tables with maps and cups of coffee in hand, locals have been spotted taking a quick phone call on one of the aluminum benches and workers busily hustling toward their destination can breathe a little more easily as they swiftly navigate an open and airy pathway.