Case Studies 

Please note that these Hall of Shame nominations were written in a moment in time (most over a decade ago) and likely have since changed or even been transformed. If the above entry is now great, or still not so great, go ahead and comment below on how it has evolved or nominate it as a great place.


Golden Gate Park

San Francisco



Contributed by 
Nick Wirz
Project for Public Spaces
January 7, 2002
May 1, 2024

The fourth-oldest major urban park in the U.S. gets more than 12 million visits each year.

What makes it Great?

Why it doesn't work?

Golden Gate Park, the fourth oldest major urban park in the U.S., extends from Haight Ashbury to The Pacific Ocean. Golden Gate Park includes woody and lush vegetation, several museums, a Japanese Tea Garden, botanical gardens and an arboretum, and a wide variety of recreational areas.

Golden Gate Park has provided San Franciscans, as well as visitors from around the world, a wonderous experience since its creation in the 1870's. The 1,017 acres of the park see over 12 million visitors each year, enjoying a vast array of environments and activities. Whether one is strolling along the Pacific Ocean at the West End or taking in a day at a world class art museum, there is something for everyone in Golden Gate Park.

Access & Linkages

As large as it is, Golden Gate Park is very easy to find. It is accessible by almost a dozen bus lines, as well as automobiles, bikes and pedestrians. The north and south sides of the park, consisting of 3.5 miles of park frontage on each side, are most easily penetrated by pedestrians and bicyclists, which decreases the congestion and noise of auto traffic.

A main east-west artery in the park is also closed to cars on Sundays and holidays when the road is flooded with bikers, walkers, runners and rollerbladers. This road brings one within close walking distance of all the major attractions in the park, yet traffic does not dominate. A planned underground parking garage beneath the museums will eliminate parked cars from the park's surface, yet maintain access for museum-goers.

Comfort & Image

Crime is relatively low and the grounds and facilities are well-maintained and clean. Historic and unique buildings tend to enhance their surroundings. The Conservatory of Flowers is the oldest structure in the Park and for most visitors the most impressive.

Consisting of a large central dome, with two wings flanking each side, the all-glass, whitewashed structure sits elegantly atop a hill over a perfectly manicured flower garden. But beyond the obvious, Golden Gate Park's charm lies in the discovery of the "favorite spot." It seems everyone has his or her own unique place in the park, stumbled upon while out on a stroll, that instantly became "theirs."

Uses & Activities

The uses of Golden Gate Park are as diverse as the people who live in San Francisco. Soccer and baseball fields, tennis courts, an equestrian area, hiking paths, lawn bowling, angling pools, a golf course and an athletic stadium attract the sports and recreation-minded. Nature lovers enjoy the nine lakes and ponds spread throughout the park, along with a herd of buffalo, a network of dazzling gardens and an impressive arboretum. Those looking for a cultural experience visit the two museums (the California Science Academy and the De Young Art Museum) sandwiching a music concourse and bandshell, which plays host to regular free summer concerts. Families enjoy the vast lush open space to picnic and play.


Many areas of the park are heavily used. On weekends, one can see people from all over the city and the Bay Area congregating for family picnics, balls games, kite flying and bike rides. The mood is festive and friendly.

How Light?

How Quick?

How Cheap?

History & Background

Shortly before 1866, the residents of San Fransisco began to petition for a public park. Prompted also by a desire to identify San Fransisco as a new modern urban center, city authorities moved to obtain a parcel of land for the city's central park. After a battle with squatters and a negotiation of land rights, what was then known as the "outside lands - a barren 1,017 acre plot of loamy dunes - became Golden Gate Park.

The young and ambitious William Hammond Hall was contracted to design the park in 1870, and was appointed the first Park Superintendent on August 14, 1871. Mr. Hall crafted a parkland that maximized topography, incorporating native species and sculpting the sandy soil with hills, ridges and verdant meadows. Hall's deliberately serpentine roadways shelter visitors from ocean winds, and reduce traffic speed.

John McLaren, a Scottish native, became the Park's master gardener beginning in 1890 and continued at his post for five decades until his death at the age of 96. Honored worldwide and beloved by the city for his contributions to Golden Gate Park and the wider field of horticulture, Mclauren is credited with transforming the barren dunes into a forested parkland we know today.

Related Links & Sources

Golden Gate Park
The Chinese Pavilion, a gift from the city of Taipai
Golden Gate Park
The historic Conservatory of Flowers
Golden Gate Park
Conservatory and gardens
Golden Gate Park
Kite Festival at the Park's West End
Golden Gate Park
Sharon Meadow and the Sharon Art Studio
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park

*Please note that these Hall of Shame nominations were written in a moment in time (most over a decade ago) and likely have since changed or even been transformed. If the above entry is now great, or still not so great, go ahead and comment below on how it has evolved or nominate it as a great place.


Corrections or additions? Email