Portsmouth Square

Chinatown
San Francisco, CA

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

San Francisco's Chinese community has taken this western-designed square and adapted it for its own uses.

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Why It Works

Portsmouth and Washington Squares in Chinatown and North Beach, respectively, are only six blocks apart, each a wonderful reflection of its surrounding community. Just sitting and observing for a few hours in each of them, you can discover the rhythms that make each neighborhood so unique. While the design of Portsmouth Square is western in origin, the Chinese community has adapted it for its own purpose. There are spaces for Chinese games, for children to play, for women to gather and for the elderly to take it all in. On Saturday night there is a night market that brings major activity to Chinatown.

Washington Square has a similar pattern of use, playing to different audiences who use it for different purposes. While it has more grass, the edge uses both within the square and across the street are fully integrated into the square. Both squares define their community and the design of each allows that to happen in a largely self-managing way. They are the best public spaces in San Francisco.

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