Hillsdale Master Plan + Engagement

Project information
San Mateo, CA, USA
Bohannon Development & Northwood Investors

Together with the community of San Mateo, we are crafting a vision for the future of Hillsdale.

Ghigo DiTommaso
Project Director at Gehl
The Challenge

Retail is in a critical moment of change - Hillsdale will adapt to that change

Throughout its 80-year history, Hillsdale Shopping Center has evolved and changed to meet the demands and expectations of its community. Online retail has changed the way people shop — and the pandemic has accelerated this trend. Department stores have always been the foundation of shopping centers, but they are on the decline across the Bay Area and nationwide. These changes have accelerated the evolution of shopping centers nationwide – from shopping centers to neighborhood centers with a diverse mix of uses.

The shopping center ownership team at Hillsdale engaged Gehl as urban design and community engagement lead to reimagine the future of Hillsdale. The 52-acre site adjacent to Caltrain commuter rail consists of commercial retail uses, some portions of which have not been revitalized since the 1980’s. Together with the client team and community, Gehl envisions a future for Hillsdale which is vibrant, economically successful, and sustainable. It will be anchored by shopping, dining, and community space, and complemented by a mix of new places to live and work in a people-first and highly walkable neighborhood.

A "Vintage Hillsdale"

Present day Hillsdale Shopping Center is alongside a busy train station and surrounded by large parking structures. Creating a divide from the residential neighborhoods and the use of surrounding nature.

Video Reimagine Hillsdale Open House 1 (3:36)
From Gehl

We built trust with the community and the client and were able to change the narrative, creating something good for the neighbors, the process and the project.

Laura Johnson
Associate and Project Lead - Gehl
The Approach

Local engagement

Gehl has been working together with the client team and community leaders to develop a Master Plan which creates a great place, is economically successful, and meets the community’s needs. This work has included internal design workshops, public ‘open house’ workshops, and even the design and staffing of an ‘Ideas Store’ in the shopping center.

The engagement process has been designed to give community members a place to share their voices in making the shopping center a more livable people-first space. During each open house, visitors are invited to learn about the project, speak to Gehl team members 1 on 1, and give their insight through a number of platforms. The feedback received at these open houses has assisted Gehl in understanding how Hillsdale should look and feel. An important part of Gehl’s community engagement process is taking what is heard from customers and community and distilling it into guidance for the team. The priorities the community has shared with over the last several years will inform Gehl’s Plans moving forward.

Video Reimagine Hillsdale Open House 3 (3:36)
Get in touch

Want to know more about this project?

Partner, Team Director
A. Ghigo DiTommaso
Laura Johnson
Our services

Delivering impact through a multidisciplinary approach

Urban Strategy

Urban Strategy is the foundation upon which form, function and behaviour are created. Our holistic approach always starts with asking what life should exist in place, what spaces invite for that life, and what buildings and facilities support this. People and life first, always.


Inclusive engagement that meets people where they are. Listening to the community through research to build trust and better shape the environment to its users and visitors.

Master Plan + Design

There is no business as usual here! By advancing people-first, evidence-based designs our Master Plans not only create the framework for great architecture to unfold, they create meaningful and memorable places that support quality of life for all.