365 Wow Places & Wisdom
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Wow Place #244: Salesforce Park, San Francisco, CA, USA

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan

This is one of my favorite Michael quotes, highlighting the plight of pretty-much all professional athletes – that they fail far more often than they succeed. In fact, ask any athlete, no matter the sport, and they’ll tell you that most of their career is about overcoming constant setbacks. If they’re exceedingly lucky, and keep at it, they’ll be fortunate enough to experience a few brief moments of transcendent success in their careers.

I wonder if the designers of the new San Francisco Transit Center had the same perspective when, in September 2018, their long-awaited structure – one of the grandest SF infrastructure projects in decades – closed after only a month due to a crack in a steel beam underpinning the bus deck. Thirty bus lines had to be directed to the temporary Transbay transit hub nearby, and traffic was nightmarish for weeks. What must that have felt like?

It wasn’t until July of 2019 that the repairs were completed and the center re-opened – ironically, just a few months before a world-wide pandemic would once again render the place a ghost town. Talk about snake-bit!

If you were to visit the glittering Salesforce Transit Center today, you would never know that the complex had a troubled history. It’s a lovely, lovely place. Wrapped in an undulating awning featuring a non-repeating, geometric pattern, the center stretches four blocks – about 4.5 football fields. Although the atrium and bus center are impressive, what grabs your attention is the stunning rooftop park. Planted with more than 600 trees and 16,000 plants, the living green roof cools the surrounding environment, filters exhaust and improves air quality.

Upon arriving at Salesforce Park for the first time, my wife, Donica, and our friend, Adam, have a choice: take the elevator from street level to the rooftop OR ride the gondola. Kind of a no-brainer! The gondola it is — all 40 seconds of it. Upon disembarking at the top, we’re charmed to discover an expertly-crafted, green, urban oasis in the middle of the financial district. We wind up spending the whole afternoon there, wandering the walking trail that spans half a mile and features 13 small botanical gardens with flora and fauna representing different regions of the world. Along with the trail, the park features a children’s play area, a bamboo grove, and an amphitheater that holds up to 1,000 people.

My own favorite part of the park is the Bus Fountain – a permanent public art installation where jets of water correspond with the comings and goings of the buses below. In other words, when a bus rolls by in the transit center, a series of fountains on the floor above activate, one by one, shooting plume after plume of water into the air along the path of the corresponding bus. It’s very cool – unless, of course, you’re a little kid wanting to splash in the fountain, wondering where all the water went to.

I’m not a city planner, but as an admirer of urban art and architecture, I’d say the Salesforce Center does just about everything right. You can even gather here for regular musical performances, storytelling, and even Zumba classes. While there, Donica, Adam and I wind up jumping into a regularly-scheduled Bollywood dance tutorial. I’m sure I made at least 9,000 mistakes and missed at least 300 dance steps that day. But hey, that’s how I’ll succeed, right? Be like Mike!

(Failing sucks! I hate it, you hate it, everyone hates it. Unfortunately, there’s no way around it if you want to succeed at something. As IDEO founder David Kelley famously said, “Fail faster to succeed sooner.” I don’t know about that. I feel like failure is just something to be endured, like a bad head cold. You put up with it because you know that consistent effort pays off, eventually. I’m sure there is some way to gamify it, to make failing fun – but I haven’t found it yet. About all we can all do is roll into a somersault like Gene Wilder’s Willie Wonka, pop to our feet, tip our hat and take a bow. “Ta da!”)