Mission Greenbelt Zig-Zags Across the Neighborhood
Amber Hasselbring is the instigator of a lovely effort in San Francisco’s Mission District, aptly named the Mission Greenbelt Project. The plan is to create a connective corridor of native plants to serve as wildlife habitat between Dolores Park (Dolores and 19th streets) and Franklin Square Park (Bryant and 17th streets). The first planting was done along the Mission Pool on 19th street, where over 200 native plants were enthusiastically given a new home along the sidewalk in front of the park.
Earlier this month, while several dozen local residents were planting their “Mission Roots” into newly depaved sidewalk gardens along Harrison and side streets, Amber brought the Greenbelt to the corner of 22nd and Shotwell, outside the Sangati Center.
With the help of local ornithologist and city repairer Josiah Clark, and the friends and community around the classical Indian art house, the Greenbelt gained a new notch, this one slated to become a “Garden for Birds.” As the digging began, a native orange-crowned warbler made an appearance across the street, as if to welcome and encourage the effort. The expectation is that coffeeberry, hummingbird sage, native grasses and wildflowers, and the common ceanothus will attract a great diversity of insect and bird life, while the spiky plants will deter the nearby students of Cesar Chavez elementary school from doing too much damage to the streetside garden. (The students have their own small garden on Shotwell a short distance south of this spot.)
I asked Amber about the circuitous pattern established by a garden at 22nd and Shotwell as a midpoint between the two parks that are the anchors of the Greenbelt, and she confessed: “I’m willing to let the Greenbelt determine itself… We’re just doing them wherever we have willing and excited people who are ready to take care of them… Originally I wanted to do [the Greenbelt along] Mission Creek, but I realized that Mission Creek also meandered, it popped up where the sand dunes weren’t.”
When queried on her fantasy for how the Mission Greenbelt would be used in five years, Amber had this to say:
“In an urban place, it’s really about people, making people aware that they’re just part of this whole environment, and that we’re along a flyway. We’re a peninsula and we have a lot of birds flying through. We need to be aware that there are many more species here than just us. The bees, for example: we can plant plants that will boost the bee population; butterflies—we’ve lost a ton of them in the last fifty years. The more plants that they’ll lay their eggs on and eat, the better off we’ll be. It’s just all the small things. Giving people a chance to be aware of them give us a better chance to work together.”
The ambiguousness of “working together” is embedded in the Greenbelt concept, because only humans can now choose to design and implement a corridor for other species to share this space we call San Francisco. But our ultimate goal is to reconnect to the simple truth that we, too, are natural beings, and without a dense web of biodiversity our own survival is at stake. Thankfully, organizers like Amber Hasselbring, working with hundreds of San Franciscans, are beginning to reshape the city in pursuit of a real intelligent design!
Amber Hasselbring digs the garden on Shotwell.