Honor Milk with new plaza

  • by Andrea Aiello
  • Wednesday December 6, 2017
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The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza, or FHMP, is excited about the community dialogue to reimagine and reinvigorate Harvey Milk Plaza. First and foremost, we want to assure all that the reimagining process is just beginning. We also want to reassure everyone that we agree that easy and accessible use of the transit station will be an essential component in a successful design resolution. To this end, we can assure everyone that we recognize that the sole entrance to the station should not be relocated to the western end of the plaza, near Collingwood Street. There is no plan to implement this design idea generated during the competition. The renderings from the competition should be understood by all to be conceptual sketches, not finished design proposals. The design process is just getting started and there will certainly be opportunities for the public to participate.

The current design of Harvey Milk Plaza struggles to reconcile the needs of the transit hub with the need to properly and appropriately honor a man who, for so many, stands as a beacon of hope for LGBT rights; a man who reminded us to have "hope for a better world." As an out and proud gay man, Milk, who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, has very special significance to the worldwide LGBT community, and we proudly claim him as one of our own. But Milk understood the importance of hope to all marginalized people, and he included women, Latinos, blacks, Asians, and seniors in his mission, giving Milk special significance to many disenfranchised populations. This is why people from across the globe still come to visit the Castro and to stand in Harvey Milk Plaza to show their respect. Milk's history is our history and his mission is our calling.

The history

The Castro Muni Metro station and plaza debuted in 1980 and was designed as a transit hub for the district. Planning and design work for the Castro Muni Metro station began in the early to mid-1970s. It was not originally conceived of as a tribute to Milk, who was assassinated in 1978. On September 15, 1985, Mayor Dianne Feinstein, Board of Supervisors President John L. Molinari, and Milk's successor, Supervisor Harry Britt, dedicated Harvey Milk Plaza, thus enshrining the plaza as sacred ground for LGBT civil rights history. In 1997, to recognize the 20th anniversary of Milk's election to office, the giant rainbow flag, designed by another former Castro citizen, the late Gilbert Baker, was installed and dedicated.

In January 2017, to kick off the reimagining of the plaza, we held two meetings to hear from the community and to gauge public support. Collectively, the feedback gathered from these meetings indicated the community's strong desire to make significant changes to the current space, to align it with the importance of the individual for which it is named. There was a general consensus and understanding that for millions, the Castro is not just a neighborhood, it is an internationally recognized mecca for those on personal journeys of truth and discovery. It is easy to forget that the rest of the world looks to our city for hope and that, for so many, Castro and Market is hallowed ground. We believe that, as citizens of the Castro, we have a special responsibility to honor Milk at the plaza that bears his name. If we do not take up this mission now, then who will, and when?

The future

The FHMP is spearheading a privately funded reimagining and reinvigorating of this public space. This opportunity to reimagine the plaza coincides with a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency accessibility project addressing some required updates at the site. Harvey Milk Plaza, in its current state, will necessarily undergo significant change with this project and FHMP is working closely with SFMTA regarding the timing of the planned improvements. Beyond the planned SFMTA project, there are known issues present in the current plaza - drainage issues, an awkward stair configuration, and shallow bus stops on Market Street. Our goal is to address as much as possible all known and anticipated issues at once, to reduce disruption to commuters that would result from a series of ongoing smaller projects. Further, this public space must be reconsidered to meet the needs of the growing population through 2040, based on increased ridership projections. We believe a holistic rethinking of the plaza creates a unique and timely opportunity to optimize the function of the transit station while also providing an opportunity to create a public space befitting the civil rights icon for whom it is named. Our vision for the new plaza will encourage locals and visitors of all ages to come experience LGBT history, to feel rooted in the beloved Castro, and to inspire them to create change in their own lives and their own communities. The FHMP wants to build a place where hope will live, forever.

We need your participation and help with this project of global import. Join with us and stay involved. Go to http://www.friendsofharveymilkplaza.org to stay informed, attend the community meetings if possible, and participate in other opportunities to provide input. The FHMP is filled with great optimism that this newly reimagined Harvey Milk Plaza will cement LGBT history into the fabric of the Castro and inspire generations to come about Harvey's message of hope, inclusion and equality. #honorharveymilk.

Andrea Aiello is the executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District and serves as president of Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza, a Castro neighborhood organization committed to maintaining and improving the public space named in honor of the civil rights icon.