US Mayor Article

Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence Recognizes Two San Francisco Projects

March 20, 2000

Two San Francisco projects won awards recently from The Rudy Bruner Foundation, the top 1999 Gold Medal Winner as the Yerba Buena Gardens and another project, the national Aids Memorial Grove, as winner of one of four Silver Medals.

Recognized for their innovative thinking and contributions to the urban environment, the projects led national award winners from other cities including Philadelphia and Portland, Maine.

Yerba Buena Gardens, recently completed under the auspices of the San Francisco Redevelopment Authority, received a $50,000 prize, and the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park received on of four Silver Medal prizes of $10,000 each. The other Silver Medal winners included Parkside Preservation in Philadelphia, ARTScorpsLA, and the Portland Public Market in Portland, Maine.

Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco’s new South of Market destination, represents the coming of age in urban redevelopment and embodies an array of important new ideas about urban placemaking. Begun over 30 years ago by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, the guiding vision for this 87-acre project has evolved from a corporate enclave to a multi-use project which welcomes and serves a wide variety of users. Although at its initial inception Yerba Buena reinforced the national agenda in urban renewal; the long history of Yerba Buena has resulted in a re-definition of “highest and best use,” on that today includes:

  • A wide range of rental and condominium residential facilities, including complexes for low-income seniors and working poor as well as market-rate units;

  • A major new public open space;

  • A full-scale convention center (largely underground), supported by a mixture of hotels, commercial and entertainment facilities, and office buildings;

  • More than 20 museums and galleries including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art;

  • Zeum, which focus on technology-based facilities and programming for the city’s youth;

  • A Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial; and

  • A 10 acre complex of children’s facilities including an ices skating rink, bowling alley, and child care center.

As a new destination for San Franciscans and for visitors to the city, Yerba Buena’s rich mix of facilities and programs, and design excellence have brought new energy to a formerly marginalized section of downtown, extending commercial and cultural activity South of Market.

Yerba Buena has had many new beginnings. Early opposition to residential displacement, subsequent economic downturns, and changes in political climate have caused Yerba Buena to go back to the drawing board again and again over its 30 year history. Early grand-scale corporate-based concepts for Yerba Buena were re-defined in 1976 when then-mayor George Moscone appointed a Select Committee to conduct public hearings and produce a consensus plan for the central blocks. That plan included key decisions for the area such as a major new public park, inclusion of subsidized housing, preservation of key historic buildings, and the underground placement of the Moscone convention center.

Since that time, the Redevelopment Authority has continued its dialogue with the community as economic and demographic conditions have evolved. The development process has by economic necessity been a sequential one, with major components of the project being completed at different times, producing an eclectic mix of uses, a rich variety of architectural styles, and a combination of culturally and commercially oriented programs which keep Yerba Buena populated and alive at all hours of the night and day. Yerba Buena is a tribute to strong mayoral support and a proactive Redevelopment Authority that has continued to work with the community and with outstanding design talent to produce a place which enlivens its urban context.

The 1999 Rudy Bruner Award Selection Committee, which included mayor Tom Murphy of Pittsburgh, Lawrence Goldman of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and others, attributed the success of Yerba Buena to the ability of Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr., and of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, to remain flexible and responsive both to community input and to changing economic realities. Based upon community response, early visions of a corporate center were modified to include both market rate and affordable housing. Later grand-scale mater plans were abandoned due to economic downturns that precluded mega-development schemes. Instead, the development of Yerba Buena has been slow and patient, reflecting a measured and participatory process which has brought individual components on line, one at a time, as economic conditions would permit.

Through this process, San Francisco has developed a new model of urban redevelopment – one that demonstrates how the Mayor, working closely with his or her redevelopment authority, can combine community participation, excellence in design, and programmatic diversity to create urban places that enrich the cultural and economic opportunities of a world-class city.

At the other side of San Francisco, in the east end of Golden Gate Park, a group of San Franciscans who had lost loved ones to the AIDS epidemic in the 1098’s banded together to conceive of, and ultimately to create the National AIDS Memorial Grove ­– a living memorial to those whose lives have been touched by AIDS. Forging a unique public/private partnership with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, this group of citizens negotiated to obtain control of a derelict corner of Golden Gate Park, and to turn it into a living memorial that has been carefully designed to provide places for quiet reflection, personal memories, and a tranquil yet dramatic landscape. Recently added to the roster of national memorials, the AIDS Grove is unique in the nation, if not the world.

The work of creating the Grove has been, and continues to be based largely on volunteer labor. With one gardener whose salary will ultimately be underwritten by the Grove organization, monthly work days provide the labor required to continue to plant and to maintain the Grove. They serve the added purpose of building bridges among diverse populations who have been touched bye the epidemic, and providing ritual ceremonies at every work day to remember those whose lives have been lost, and to support those who have survived them. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who has been personally involved in the creation of the Grove, commented on the importance of memorializing the nay thousands of lives lost to the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco.

Rudy Bruner Award Selection Committees have included mayors on each of its seven Selection Committees: Hon. Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore (1997), Hon. Norman B. Rice of Seattle (1995), Hon. Harvey Gantt of Charlotte (1993), Hon. Vincent Schoemehl of St. Louis (1991), Hon. Joseph P. Riley, Jr. of Charleston (1989) and Hon. George Latimer of St. Paul (1987). The 1999 Rudy Bruner Award Selection Committee included Mayor Tom Murphy of Pittsburgh as part of an inter-disciplinary group of six urban experts from across the country.

The other 1999 Silver Medal winners also included Parkside Preservation in Philadelphia, which has restored a series of late 1800’s mansions and townhouses bordering Fairmount Park in Philadelphia; ARTScorpsLA, Inc., which has transformed blighted parcels of abandoned land within the inner city of Los Angeles into vital, public art places; and the Portland Public Market, a new constructed indoor fresh food market exclusively featuring products produced by Maine growers and food producers.

Additional information on all projects may be obtained from the Bruner Foundation at 130 Prospect St., Cambridge, MA 02139. E-mail: 

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