San Francisco Market Street Prototyping


The San Francisco Planning Department's Urban Design Group established a prototyping competition to invite public ideas for interventions that would make Market Street -- San Francisco's main thoroughfare -- a more vibrant, active, inviting, and enjoyable place to be

Credit: City of San Francisco Market Street Prototyping Festival Instagram Feed

The Better Market Street project is a five-year effort led by the Department of Public Works and involving multiple city agencies in the improvement and enhancement of Market Street. Survey conducted determined that placemaking was identified as the highest priority, which the city defines as "a planning and design strategy that draws inspiration from the local community to create public spaces that promote health, happiness, public engagement, and well-being." The City adapted a Street Life Zone within the existing sidewalk that intends to strengthen the street as a destination; encouraged by a major funder, the City partnered with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) to implement this festival, which aims to promote community engagement and foster the arts in people-centered placemaking in the Zone. The City had prior interactions with YBCA -- city planning staff previously served on a jury for a prototyping festival that YBCA implemented in an alleyway; planning staff are also assisting YBCA with navigating the permitting process so the prototypes can be implemented.


San Francisco Planning Department's City Design Group and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a nonprofit contemporary arts center offering visual arts, performing arts and film and media exhibitions.


A Knight Foundation grant awarded to the City of San Francisco and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.


Urban prototyping is a global movement exploring how participatory design, art, and technology can improve cities. The market street prototyping festival invited individuals, businesses, and organizations including artists and designers to submit a proposal for a prototype or model that would make Market Street a more vibrant place to be. Proposals could be submitted by individuals or teams. Selected individuals or teams received a $2,000 stipend for materials, workspace, and mentorship from design and community leaders appointed to one of five Festival Districts on the street. Completed prototypes displayed their work for three days in selected areas along the Street. For the 2015 festival, the ten selected projects include: seating that doubles as instruments that generate music from visitor's presence; an installation of light, fabric, and shadow; creative kiosks of stories and information; a compostable street theater; interactive light installations; public ping-pong tables; a free-standing community chalkboard; storytelling stations; and an interactive wall that changes as people approach it.


This project has resulted in several positive changes:

  • temporary activation of areas along Market Street through temporary prototypes;
  • an increase in the City Design Group's competencies with integrating creative placemaking into planning; prior to this project, the Design Group had experience working directly with artists and designers on a temporary urbanism project to implement parklets - the Pavement to Parks program; and
  • an increase in the City Design Group's relations with artists and designers in the community and experience with directly collaborating with a nonprofit arts organization to advance creative placemaking
  • a clearer understanding of the permitting barriers in place that may inhibit creative placemaking projects -- providing space for education and coordination with other agencies

Market Street Prototyping Project website: