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Old Posted Dec 13, 2019, 7:29 PM
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The New Yorker takes on a bit of New York's favorite little sibling-city: San Francisco's Salesforce Transit Center Park.

San Francisco’s newest public space reflects Big Tech’s influence—and a city’s anxieties.
By Anna Wiener
December 11, 2019

Salesforce Park, in downtown San Francisco, sits atop the Salesforce Transit Center, above Salesforce Plaza, in the shadow of Salesforce Tower. It is a lush, five-and-a-half-acre rooftop arcadia of rolling meadows and meticulously landscaped, climatically harmonious, drought-tolerant flora. It contains a prehistoric garden of cycads, ferns, and Wollemi pines; plots dedicated to the plants of Chile, South Africa, and Australia; and a small wetland hydrated with gray water. It is a linear park—longer than it is wide—and is elevated about seventy feet above the sidewalk. Its lush, verdant lawns, deliberately overgrown, are two googly eyes short of a Jim Henson character. The buildings that surround it are a kaleidoscope of black and aqua glass. Millennium Tower, a ten-year-old, fifty-eight-story luxury development near the park’s eastern tip, tilts to one side, because it is sinking.

On a recent afternoon, young professionals in microclimate business-casual ambled through the park. A thousand-foot “water sculpture” by the artist Ned Kahn, titled “Bus Fountain,” runs along its northern perimeter; from time to time, streams of water shot upward, triggered by the movement of buses through the terminal below. The benches, pathways, and bathrooms were pristine. The mood was peaceful and upbeat. Light bounced off the surrounding high-rises, scrambling the shadows. In the central plaza, by a cabinet of board games and a foosball table, children paged through books from a mobile library. Strollers were pushed. Knowledge workers in sunglasses and fleeces sat at primary-colored chairs, munching on takeout from a fleet of culinarily diverse food trucks stationed below. In front of the on-site Starbucks—located inside Salesforce Tower and marked, confusingly, with Salesforce branding, as the Trailblazer Cafe—a topiary bear stood in a fixed salute. Everyone seemed to be talking about work. Snatches of conversation floated through a bamboo grove: A.P.I.s, banking, Stanford.

San Francisco is famous for its parks, and for its beaches, secret gardens, and open expanses; it is perhaps the only city in America where one can wander through a eucalyptus forest, stop for lunch on a bustling commercial strip, reënter a two-mile stretch of pine and redwood groves, emerge at the Pacific Ocean, buy a cup of coffee, and then hike along shoreline cliffs. Today, when most public parks in the Bay Area also double as dwelling places, Salesforce Park feels like a slice of another reality—the Sky Club, not the gate. (The park’s designers—and signage—insist that all are welcome.) Beneath the Salesforce Transit Center is a vast underground space. It’s currently empty—slated, in part, for California High-Speed Rail, which does not and may never exist. Taxpayer-funded, corporately branded, suspended above the homeless, the park is an irresistible metaphor for the city’s socioeconomic tensions. It also feels like a bid, or a prayer, for a certain vision of its future.

Salesforce Plaza is in a rapidly developing part of South of Market, in a slice of the city that real-estate agents have taken to calling the East Cut—a rebrand spearheaded by the local Community Benefit District, conceived by the branding firm behind Chobani and Mailchimp, and affirmed by Google Maps. South of Market’s stark economic disparities, which see multibillion-dollar software companies standing catercornered to homeless encampments, are largely responsible for the ascent of juxtaposition as a literary device in writing about San Francisco . . . .
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