Living Innovation Zones (LIZ) Break New Ground in San Francisco

Living Innovation Zones (LIZ) Break New Ground in San Francisco

As a leader in innovation and home to cutting-edge companies and organizations, San Francisco is always looking to break barriers and create new, exciting solutions for urban settings. Along Market Street, the nation’s first Living Innovation Zone Program (LIZ) has become an integral part of life, as the city and top innovators partner to provide thought provoking attractions through a series of public projects.

The Yerba Buena Community Benefit District (YBCBD) provided a $25,000 grant for the Living Innovation Zone and worked with the City and Exploratorium to design and implement the project. “The LIZ activates a large open-space and serves as interactive welcome mat to Yerba Buena. It’s a captivating way to let everyone know they’re entering a neighborhood known for its ingenuity, art and technology,” said YBCBD Executive Director Cathy Maupin.

Steve Gennrich is the Exploratorium’s Director of Studio for Public Spaces and led a team that designed the LIZ, located on Market Street and Yerba Buena Lane. Unveiled in late 2013, the LIZ is getting rave reviews from the residents, visitors and people who work there every day.

“We’re happy that the neighborhood has adopted this mini-exhibit,” Gennrich said. “It’s been a great experience. People stop and use it. It’s lit well at night and we’ve even seen people interacting with it at 2:00 a.m., for example, so we know it’s had an impact on the neighborhood and people are responding positively to it.” The LIZ is an example of the Exploratorium museums’ mission to change the way the world learns.

Three interactive displays are included in the LIZ, consisting of a musical bench, a pair of whisper dishes and a pedal-powered mobile device solar charger. “The musical bench requires two people to sit at each end of a bench,” Gennrich said. “When they touch their hands together while also touching the arm rests, the music plays, so it requires two people to make it work. And the solar bicycle generator is ideal for this LIZ, because it combines a green approach with innovative technologies.”

Paul Chasan, an Urban Designer for the San Francisco Planning Department, believes it’s a win-win for the neighborhood. “San Francisco is a one of the world’s leading cities when it comes to innovation, but we don’t have monuments showcasing the fact,” said Chasan. “These LIZ projects represent the first initiative of this type in the country and they’re perfect for activating areas along Market Street. We want these zones to represent our people and some of the exciting companies and organizations that thrive in this City.”

Bill C. works for an insurance company across Market Street from the LIZ and enjoys watching people interact with the display. “It’s brilliant, because it’s hands-on. I watch kids and entire families using these exhibits—they’re laughing and having a good time,” said Bill.

With nine more remaining public spaces along Market Street (from Octavia Blvd. to the Embarcadero) earmarked for future LIZ projects, this program has an exciting future, said Chasan. “Some big names are showing interest in being involved,” he said. “With the success of this first LIZ, we’re certain that soon we’ll see more cutting-edge, highly interactive and dynamic displays along Market Street.”

The LIZ is one way the YBCBD is working with the City and partners on its Yerba Buena Street Life Plan to improve public spaces. “In Yerba Buena, home to the City’s highest concentration of galleries, museums and theaters, there isn’t a more fitting place for the nation’s first LIZ,” said Maupin. “It’s a fun way to combine science and art to reinforce the City’s reputation as a place of limitless creativity.”

By: Edmund Attanasio