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SFMTA Projects Honored as Exemplars of Community Engagement

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Ambassadors helping people at Union Square Station on opening day of free weekend shuttle service in Central Subway.Ambassadors helping people at Union Square Station on opening day of free weekend shuttle service in Central Subway, November 19, 2022.

The Central Subway and the Potrero Yard Modernization Project were both nationally recognized by the International Association for Public Participation at the IAP2 USA Core Values Awards in Seattle, Washington this September. Each year, the awards go to projects that demonstrate public engagement best practices and advance the field of public engagement.  

Both the Central Subway Project and Potrero Yard Modernization Project are prime examples of the positive effects that community engagement and effective public participation can have on public projects and programs. Both projects embody IAP2’s core values centered on the belief that the people affected by a decision have a right to be involved in decision-making and participate in shaping outcomes.  

Central Subway 

The Central Subway was awarded the Diversity, Inclusion and Culture Core Values Award and the Project of the Year Award for engaging with the diverse communities and neighborhoods impacted by the project. Our team focused on ensuring community voices were heard from day one of project planning up until the opening day of service for San Francisco’s first new subway in 50 years.  

Public input was critical in determining the locations of four new Central Subway stations, station design and station elements such as gathering spaces, retail spaces and a police sub-station. Diverse communities across San Francisco helped to shape the future of the subway thanks to a culturally appropriate outreach approach that ensured the community was heard and respected over the two decades of planning and construction.  

“The consistent commitment to outreach and involvement over a 20-year period is remarkable, through all the demographic changes, neighborhood transitions, changes in city administration and more recently the COVID pandemic. Most often, public participation occurs during the planning stage with only infrequent updates during construction,” said IAP2 USA President Heather Imboden. “[The] SFMTA provided a very good explanation of the initial problem and how additional problems that came up over time were addressed. They made strong use of multilingual ambassadors from the community while providing funding for initiatives to help the community.”  

The agency worked closely with valued community partners, including the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), Community Youth Center (CYC), Chinatown merchant groups, Union Square Alliance, Yerba Buena Alliance, the Bayview community and many others. 

Potrero Yard 

A tour guide standing in front of a Muni bus presents to a group of people inside of Muni’s Potrero Yard facility.

Members of the public take a tour of the Potrero Yard in 2019 as part of the award-winning outreach program recognized in September by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2). 

The Potrero Yard Modernization Project was awarded the General Project Award with its work to build a new state-of-the-art bus maintenance and storage facility that integrates affordable housing. It is the first joint development project of its kind in the United States.  

The project not only expands and modernizes a 100-year-old bus yard but also provides much-needed housing, community spaces and services that have been co-designed with the community. Community input continues to shape the project through initial planning, a sensitive procurement process and the launch of the City’s first public-private partnership to the 100% schematic designs we have today.  

IAP2 President Imboden commented, “It was remarkable that what could have been approached by [the] SFMTA as a simple modernization of a bus yard project instead acknowledged the community’s gentrification issues and created a multiple benefit project that addressed the community’s affordable housing challenges in a meaningful way.”  

A key part of the project’s engagement has been the Potrero Yard Neighborhood Working Group that was created in 2018. This group serves as a conduit to the greater community. Bilingual English-Spanish communications have also been part of public engagement from the start. 

For more information on the project, visit the Potrero Yard Modernization Project page (SFMTA.com/PotreroYard). 

The International Association for Public Participation’s guiding principles have been the foundation for the SFMTA’s Public Outreach and Engagement (POETs) program since its inception. To view the awards submissions and videos, visit the IAP2 2023 USA Core Values Awards website.