From Freeway Underpass Blight to Urban Nursery: A SOMA Success Story

Written by: Juliana Choy Sommer
Published: December 13, 2023
Category: Featured Clients

On November 9th, 2023, San Francisco unveiled a centerpiece $6.55 million dollar project aimed at transforming a freeway underpass of Highway 80 on 5th Street between Harrison and Bryant Streets in the South of Market neighborhood into an urban nursery. Formerly the site of a homeless tent camp, the 14,000 square foot area now hosts facilities which will be used to grow approximately 1,000 trees, part of the city’s urban street tree program. Priority Architectural Graphics was contracted to provide design assistance, manufacture, and install the exterior signage for the new development. Public Works provided landscape architecture, construction management and landscape services while Yerba Buena Engineering & Construction, Inc. served as the general contractor, and UrbanBloc created the on-site modular buildings.

San Francisco has among the poorest urban tree coverage in the nation, with less than 14 percent tree cover overall versus the U.S. average of 22%. As part of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), thirteen cities and local organizations around the San Francisco Bay received a total of $42 million from the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program with San Francisco receiving $12 million. The street tree nursery was also partly funded by a $3.8 million grant from a state program “Clean California Initiative” that aims to beautify areas along state freeways.

The Priority team worked closely with their counterparts at the Department of Public Works to carefully plan the branded exterior and wayfinding signage for the project.  The bright graphics are visible from outside the nursery from the Fifth, Harrison and Bryant Street boundaries and draw eyes to the lushly redesigned space.  The structures in the nursery are refurbished shipping containers painted and decorated with colorful graphics and signage.  The timeline for the project was incredibly condensed and collaborating closely with the design and construction team was critical to open the space up on time.  Additionally, a strict budget needed to be met, so budgeting procedures and guidelines were presented and reviewed several times by the team before moving forward quickly with construction.


“We were so excited to be asked by the city to collaborate in this very community-centric project with Public Work’s Bureau of Urban Forestry. Not only does this new street tree nursery further Bay Area goals around positive climate change but it also creates jobs as well as being an ongoing beautification program to help us plant more trees across our urban landscape. What could be better?” notes Company President Juliana Choy Sommer.


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