This weekend, some friends of mine and I finally made it to the new biergarten at Proxy, a temporary urban project delivering a series of food and retail experiences via a cluster of converted shipping containers in the SF's Hayes Valley neighborhood. After a freeway was torn down post-Loma Prieta eartquake, a swath of empty lots waited for their condo-ification which has recently been postponed. Rather than let these spaces drag the surrounding blocks down a bit with their emptiness, they've come back to life in an inspiring new and dynamic form.
I think this type of urban intervention is happening at the intersection of a lot of interesting moments in our urban evolution. And this is only the beginning.
First, there is our new found sense of urgency to transform our public space to be what the citizens want it to be. Neighborhoods like Hayes Valley which have always been very active in transforming their own destiny, the removal of the highway is proof, and Hayes Street has seen a renaissance in its wake. But today we chose to make these demands from the ground up rather than waiting for municipalities to make change happen. Better yet this new sense of urgency can accelerate the pace of change to regulations in a combined effort of both the people, property owners/developers and the city administrators as was no doubt the case with Proxy. This project took quite a bit longer than it was originally suppose to in order to come to life, but the break neck speed still outpaced the usual time it takes to see a project come to life in San Francisco.
Second, A lot of the impetus for these urban interventions is focused around an increased sense of delight in our public spaces. Proxy is, if nothing else, a delightful experience that would otherwise be a stagnant fenced-in parking lot if it wasn't for the vision of Envelope A+D and the community that made it happen. We can make our neighborhoods into magical experiences that benefit everyone who engages, if we chose to participate.
Finally, We are just beginning to see the first examples of cities that adapt quickly to changing conditions of the citizens and businesses that inhabit them. For one, brick and mortar retail is beginning to respond to changing consumer behaviors evolving from online retail and in response they are seeking more visibility and a more frictionless purchase experience. Products like Square enable many small merchants like Smitten Ice Cream (try the Bay Leaf!) are able to execute transactions wherever they set up shop, and this portability makes them far more nimble than their tethered competitors who can't bring their product to where the people are as easily. Some retailers may also only need space for a brief period of time while they wait for a more permanent facility as is the case for the Museum of Craft and Design gift shop which is closing this week at Proxy. The increased visibility in a new location like Hayes Valley was no doubt a benefit to their brand awareness. Can't wait to see what will be there next.
Cities around the world should look to all of their empty lots and imagine what could be their, if only fleetingly. Proxy is a superb example. With the exception of the chain link fences, a relic of the lots' days as a parking lot that would be better left behind (if the site is truly public and containers are completely sealable at night, why have fences?), the site is completely open and full of potential for whatever delightful urban experiences are yet to come.