Living in San Francisco, I find myself drawn to the multilingual ads on Muni buses and at public libraries. They remind me of Singapore where I grew up and how languages represent a big part of our identities.
I never thought I would one day be involved in public-facing projects until I joined the Parks Conservancy¹— a community-supported nonprofit organization with a grand mission: Parks for All Forever.
Visualizing the big picture
Last October marked the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA)² and the Parks Conservancy was tasked to design street banners as part of a year-long celebration.
When we received the spreadsheet of available streets (and cross streets) from the banner production company, it felt like a test of local street knowledge: do we have the entire city’s grid pattern in our heads?
- Lombard St (Broderick — Pierce)
- Van Ness Ave (Lombard — Union)
- Masonic Ave (Geary — Bush)
- Stockton St (Pacific— California)
- Pacific Ave (Powell — Kearny)
- California St (Powell — Kearny)
- Pine St (Powell — Kearny)
- 1st St (Market — Mission)
- Mission St (14th — 16th; 26th — Brook)
- Valencia St (17th — 20th)
- 3rd St (Evans — Palou)
But, with the help of a map-making tool called Felt, viewing these streets at a glance was made possible! It was exciting to know that our street banners would reach various neighborhoods.
Expanding our worlds
Aside from English, we included Chinese and Spanish in our banner design — based on the language demographics of San Francisco³. Instead of splitting them into two bilingual designs (English and Chinese; English and Spanish), we kept them as one. Simply because people move around and our message doesn’t need to be segregated. The streets are free and open, just like our parks.
For the finishing touch, mountain slopes and starry sky were extended beyond the light green frame of the 50th-anniversary logo to illustrate how our worlds expand when partners collaborate.
Our Conservancy Orange was applied as it echoes the International Orange of the Golden Gate Bridge and would make these banners stand out from trees along the streets. (Thanks, Angela, for the emphasis on trees!)
After weeks of revisions and patiently awaiting production, our banners were finally installed!
From the less winding part of Lombard Street to the skyscrapers downtown, I embarked on a new weekend mission to document the locations of every banner.
Reflecting on the journey
I grew up with four official languages in Singapore. Having constant visual exposure to other languages (especially in public spaces) was perhaps what shaped my awareness of cultural diversity at a young age.
I might not be fluent in all four languages but I am proud to be Rojak — an eclectic mix of several cultures in a dish (or a person).
With this colorful blend and a little Spanish, I feel fortunate to be part of an organization that teaches me about Ramaytush Ohlone Land Acknowledgement and hard history lessons. There is much more to learn, digest, and translate to design.
If celebrating fifty years is quite the feat, being part of the next fifty is a whole new level.
¹The Parks Conservancy is a longtime partner to National Park Service (NPS) and other public agencies such as the Presidio Trust.
²Golden Gate National Recreation Area is one of the largest national parks in an urban setting with more than 80,000 acres of parklands and 60 miles of coast north and south of the Golden Gate Bridge.
³As of 2020, 54.58% of San Francisco residents aged five and older spoke only English at home, while 18.60% spoke a Chinese language, 11.68% Spanish, 3.42% Tagalog, 1.86% Russian, 1.45% Vietnamese, 1.05% French, 0.90% Japanese, 0.88% Korean, 0.56% German, 0.53% Italian, and Pacific Islander languages were spoken by 0.47%.