Urban Design: The City Design Group

All great cities are designed for people, and the City Design Group's purpose is to enhance San Francisco's status as a truly great city. It does this by advocating the human dimension as central to city design and design of the public realm.


The San Francisco Planning Department has long been a leader in the field of urban design. Combining the disciplines of city planning, architecture, and landscape architecture, the department's team of urban designers works to improve San Francisco's livability through concern for the physical qualities of the city. In 2005 this important role within the department's long-range Citywide Planning Division was formalized via the establishment of the City Design Group (CDG). 

The City Design Group's goal is to recognize the positive qualities of San Francisco's built environment and its relationship with the natural setting, and to create and foster initiatives that build upon these qualities in ways that strengthen the city's sense of place.

The Built Environment

Perhaps the single most important component of the City's sense of place is the relationship of San Francisco's built environment to its spectacular setting. Sense of place is strengthened when changes to the built environment balance this relationship. Three-dimensional form of the city and its skyline, the relationship of city scale to human scale, and good building design are the subjects of good city design. Recognizing and fostering a balance among these is a foremost focus of the City Design Group's work.

The Public Realm

The public realm is much more than a utilitarian system of connections to get from here to there. It is where people walk, meet, and where they socialize. It is where they take in the views, where they see what merchants have to offer, and where they come to know their neighborhood and their fellow citizens. The public realm connects us socially and economically. It can even be a place where people play. The public realm is the setting for civic life, and whether it is safe or dangerous, a place to spend time in or to avoid, determines the kind of civic life San Franciscans enjoy. In its public realm design, the City Design Group seeks to balance all the functions of a street, to make San Francisco's public realm a truly gracious civic space, and to put people and the quality of place foremost.

Our Work

The San Francisco Planning Department's City Design Group provides the primary urban design function for the City and County of San Francisco. Our primary goal is to make San Francisco a more livable place through people-oriented design. We accomplish this through these five core functions:

1. Placemaking

City Design Group: Complete Street Plans

Placemaking is our primary function. We lead community-based public realm design projects that help build community and strengthen the sense of local identity by designing people-centered places.

Examples Include:

  • Major streetscape design plans
  • Public space designs
  • Public realm plans

2. Urban Design Policy Development

City Design Group: Urban Design Element

We help to define and maintain the urban design policies that shape San Francisco's built environment.

Examples Include:

  • Urban Design Element of the San Francisco General Plan
  • Design guidelines and urban design policy in area plans
  • Public realm plans

3. Design Review

City Design Group: Design Guidelines and Review

We advocate within collaborative, inter-agency processes for enhancing the quality of life in San Francisco through human-focused design.

Examples Include:

  • Urban design
  • Building design
  • Street and streetscape design
  • Public space design

4. Innovation

City Design Group: Pavement to Parks

We strive to keep San Francisco on the forefront of urban design best-practices by creating opportunities for innovative solutions to urban challenges.

Examples Include:

  • Pavement to Parks
  • Parklets
  • Technology in the Public Realm

5. Research & Education

City Design Group: Public Life Studies

We seek to improve the public realm by building knowledge through research and education.

Examples Include:

  • Public Space and Public Life Studies
  • Academic Collaboration Conferences and talks
  • White papers 

Our Team

The City Design Group is part of the Citywide Planning Division of the San Francisco Planning Department. Our projects often involve staff from other divisions and public agencies. At the core of the City Design Group is an inter-disciplinary team of urban designers with backgrounds in planning, architecture, and landscape architecture. Individual staff contact information is listed below.

For a list of City Design Group projects click here.

Contact Information


Amnon Ben-Pazi
Urban Designer
(415) 575-9077
Ben Caldwell
Urban Designer
(415) 575-9131
Paul Chasan
Urban Designer
(415) 575-9065
Kay Cheng
Urban Designer
Groundplay Lead
(415) 575-9094
Neil Hrushowy
Manager, City Design Group
(415) 558-6471
Jessica Look
Urban Designer
(415) 575-6812
Robin Abad Ocubillo
Urban Designer
(415) 575-9123
Nicholas Perry
Urban Designer
(415) 575-9066
Patrick Race
Urban Designer
(415) 575-9132
Ilaria Salvadori
Urban Designer
Groundplay Lead
(415) 575-9086
Maia Small
Manager, Design Review + Urban Form
(415) 575-9160
Joshua Switzky
Urban Designer
(415) 575-6815
David Winslow
Architect and Urban Designer
(415) 575-9159


Links and Resources

Partner Agencies

Public Interest Organizations