They both were founded in the mid-1800s and are located smack dab in the middle of the commercial heart of their respective downtowns, yet San Francisco’s Union Square and Los Angeles’ Pershing Square are worlds apart when it comes to their current status as public spaces. The former is the attractive centerpiece of one of the most prestigious shopping districts in the country. The latter,  flawed in design and seldom used by nearby residents and office workers.

In his latest article on, The Agency’s Brigham Yen dissects the history and design of both squares, and explains how L.A. city planners can learn from the efforts of San Francisco to re-design and revitalize Union Square.

As Yen explains, “Union Square faced the same challenges [as Pershing Square] with the homeless and sad decline of the square that ultimately led to a successful $25 million redesign in 2000 that took 18 months to complete.”

Now, Yen notes, Union Square and the surrounding areas are the main commercial, shopping, and cultural district of San Francisco. “Union Square is surrounded by high-end department stores and boutiques, restaurants, hotels, and office buildings creating a vibrant urban community that is both fun and exciting to experience,” says Yen.

San Francisco’s Union Square (Photo: Michael Walzman

According to Yen, if the city invests in turning Pershing Square into a beautiful public space, the effect will “naturally raise the value of all buildings surrounding the square nearby, and as a result, transform the area into a viable and vibrant commercial district akin to Union Square.”

While the issues with Pershing Square are many, Yen highlights two fundamental design issues that should be initially addressed. To discover his recommendations, head over to and be sure to read the comments for additional suggestions from readers.