One of the best public spaces in San Francisco is South Park. It reminds me of Place des Vosges in Paris, writ small. Linear instead of square and much less pomp. But similar in the memory it creates. Every time I walk into this space I am in a decidedly more human realm within the city. A more crafted place, clearly designed with communal intent. Because it narrows at both ends, it has a sense of containment and enclosure so that you do walk “into” the space. It has an intimate feel compared to the scale of the surrounding neighborhood. It is compressed to just the right proportion. The park is at the center and the cars go around to the edges. The landscape is nothing fancy, just beautiful, mature deciduous trees lining the perimeter with a grassy interior and a few child’s play structures and picnic tables. Some benches line the walks. The result is a peaceful space filled with sunlight.
This place has developed in that fine-grained way that can only come about as the sum of many individual, ever-refining calculations. It takes long periods of time for these places to emerge. They go through phases and begin to take shape and coalesce. They evolve into an authentic place where people live, work and socialize. For certain, they do not spring up overnight with contrived variety or purely commercial purpose. The human sense cannot be fooled by the commercial improvisation of such places—the made-to-order destination. Open for shopping.
My office is located just across the street from South Park, so this place has become ingrained in the fabric of my daily life. South Park has become one of my rituals; a mantra. My coffee house.