Shared vision: San Francisco Golden Gate and public-private partnerships

Golden Gate Bridge

Shared vision: Golden Gate, San Francisco, CA USA

During the Great Depression, the world’s then longest suspension bridge (4200 feet) was constructed to connect San Francisco to Marin County. To finance the bridge, six counties agreed to collectively take out a $35 million bond that would later be repaid through bridge tolls. As part of the bond, residents would be required to put their homes, farms and businesses up as collateral to support the bond and building of the bridge. The citizens voted 3 to 1 in favor of the bond, demonstrating their desire and faith in the project. The Golden Gate opened to pedestrians on May 27, 1937 and to cars the following day, May 28.

Can you imagine trying to get agreement from six counties and thousands of residents in an era of great financial hardship with much fewer means of communication than we have at our fingertips today?

The Golden Gate holds a special place in my memories. I grew up in Marin County and the bridge has and always will be a symbol of my passage from childhood to adulthood. After high school, I left Marin, crossed the Golden Gate and entered UC San Diego to start my adult life. While I still have family in Marin and two sons in San Francisco, I’ve never moved back home, but love to visit and marvel every time I see or cross the Golden Gate.

What does the Golden Gate teach us about public-private partnerships?

  • Create a shared  and compelling vision
  • Carefully consider all the various constituents who have a stake in the project’s success or failure and understand how the result will affect them – both real and sometimes imagined.
  • Have patient, ongoing discussions to bring each stakeholder into the shared vision and mission for the project, recognizing that it’s a process that may take years
  • Openly acknowledge the important financial, technical and operational risk that each stakeholder is assuming with the project
  • Listen, listen, listen and understand all points of view
  • Respond in a tangible way that says “your voice was heard and we listened”
  • Bring different groups of stakeholders together to build mindshare and trust
  • Develop community engagement thru town hall meetings, design reviews, ongoing communiqués and positive news stories and interviews

Tell us about one of your public-private partnership experiences.

Part of a series: Causeways-business insight from the world’s most celebrated bridges
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