As part of last month’s Architecture and the City Festival GOOD magazine took it upon themselves to match San Francisco civic leaders with well-respected designers to attack city problems head-on. In a packed lecture hall at the SPUR building, Alyssa Walker moderated a breakdown of design stalemates and enlivenings. It was all about remixing the streets: “What GOOD Design can do for San Francisco.”

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Design team Mike and Maaike proposed a series of city-sponsored glowing “Signs of Good Fortune” to combat the neon bombardment on Broadway. The signs would be perched on expanded sidewalks along a more inviting pedestrian pathway, complete with its own “steps of Rome” up Kearny street. Other design solutions included: neighborhood trash collection sites instead of curbside bins (courtesy of Volume), the encouragement of bike corrals and free Beater Bikes (a suggestion by Stamen), and a series of huts for the Ferry Building Plaza Farmers’ Market. The last is part of a redesign that would include floating gardens and a performance space (the brainchild of Surface Design).

Some of the designs really struck a chord (bike! parking!), others seemed a little garish (do we really need huge safety logos emblazoned along the Embarcadero sidewalk?), but each of the designers approached their problem with the idea of creating a real and respectful solution. Nothing was too pie-in-the-sky, all of it seemed digestable (even the idea of getting rid of curbside pickup).

Design firm Kuth Ranieri really stood out with their proposal for the San Francisco Unified School District. Their idea is to address the problem of student enrollment and inequity by designing a magnet school — Willie Brown Junior Academy — and creating “a safe environment for learning.” The school currently exists as a series of less than glamorous buildings in the Bayview area. It is one of very few local schools in a community where most kids have a long bus ride to take every morning: 90% of Bayview High School students go to school outside of their community. “We’ve dismantled that community . . . nobody goes to school there, they’re not raised with each other,” bemoaned Carlos Garcia of SFUSD.

The conclusion is clear: designers give really good powerpoint presentations. The civic leaders who had submitted the problems– everyone from developers to representatives of the Mayor’s office and MUNI– had positive things to say about the solutions. The response almost universally was “Great job, thanks for your work, I hope we can implement this.” Good design is nothing if not a catalyst for inspiring discussion.

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