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PAUSE For Placemaking
Living innovation zones transform San Francisco's sidewalks.
Shawn Lani / Courtesy The Exploratorium

A new experiment in placemaking is taking shape on San Francisco’s sidewalks. Called the Living Innovation Zones (LIZ) Program, the project, a partnership between the SF Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, SF Planning, and SF Department of Public Works, encourages the creation of temporary, flexible spaces for community interaction.

The LIZ Program combines SF Planning’s efforts to revitalize Market Street with the Office of Civic Innovation’s interest in using city assets to showcase emerging technologies. “In this case we’re looking at how technology can be used to activate public space,” said project manager and planner Steve Gennrich. “San Francisco is the innovation capital of the world, [yet] walking down the street there are few monuments to that.”


The first LIZ, called PAUSE, opened last year at Yerba Buena Lane and Market Street. A cross between an art installation and a science exhibit, PAUSE was designed by Josh Bacigalupi of the Exploratorium’s Studio for Public Spaces with support from Gehl Architects (who helped develop the program and select sites) and the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District. It comprises a pair of “whispering dishes” modeled on one of the Exploratorium’s longtime exhibits, a musical bench activated by hand-holding, and a pedal-powered cell phone charging station.

The city hopes to open a total of ten innovation zones, but is not yet ready to share the remaining locations. As for how the LIZ Program compares to conventional city planning, said Gennrich, “We’re really asking people to push us. With permitting you often get this culture of no. We’re asking them to push our limits.”

PAUSE is an exercise in boundary-testing for the Exploratorium as well. “We did a lot of place-based learning, but we didn’t do a lot of placemaking,” said Shawn Lani, director of The Studio for Public Spaces. “We got very interested in the merging of these. Hopefully you develop proficiencies for seeing space, and that’s a type of learning—it’s not always about delivering that science punch line.”

Anna Bergren Miller