Quantifying the Value of San Francisco’s Unaccepted Streets

As we have reported, Berkeley Professor Nicholas de Monchaux’s Local Code proposal for activating San Francisco’s "Unaccepted Streets" called for transforming the patchwork of 529 acres of underutilized alleys, street-ends, and pathways into a network of green spaces. Were San Francisco to build out the more than 1500 identified sites, de Monchaux estimates that the city would save $4.8 million in air pollution mitigation, $6.9 million in energy savings, and a staggering $1 billion in stormwater infrastructure.

From the proposal:

The final outcome of our proposal is a pedestrian network of
places, and a virtual network of spaces as well. A focused web threaded
through real and virtual fabric; our systematic interventions turn away
from the idea of urban infrastructure driven by cars and highways to a
more robust, and perhaps natural, notion of urbanity. Instead of the
old metaphors of lungs and circulation, we propose a robust, networked
logic of health and social welfare, a distributed immune system for the
21st-century metropolis.

While the project didn’t win UCLA’s WPA 2.0 design competition, Professor de Monchaux and the five other WPA 2.0 finalists were afforded an audience in late November with President Barack Obama’s Director of the Office of Urban Affairs Adolfo Carrion and HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims, who both apparently showed great interest.

"My goal now is to initiate some of those conversations with local agencies," said de Monchaux. "I think a very interesting next step would be to implement some of the
designs locally, create a community based laboratory to see how these designs
would perform."

  • Very cool.

  • Interesting ideas and it would certainly make the city more pleasant to live in. The killer is maintenance costs, especially given how Park and Rec and Street Tree maintenance budgets have already been cut. Even something as small as the Shotwell Greenway project, which I think is a great idea and totally support, needs maintenance that it’s not getting. Projects like this look great at first when they’re installed, then weeds sprout, litter collects, people steal the rocks acting as mulch, etc., and it starts to look like hell. Low maintenance is not the same as no maintenance.

    I am wondering how they are coming up with a billion dollars of stormwater infrastructure savings? Is it solely from just not replacing the already existing sewers under these new green spaces?

  • the greasybear

    If the provision of proper maintenance is a major problem, perhaps some appropriate parcels could host community gardens. Gardeners would theoretically tend their own plots–no Park and Rec workers needed.

  • Greasybear,

    I agree, if the spot has decent sun, then turning vacant lots or unused streets into community gardens is a great idea, especially if they can be accompanied by water cisterns to capture winter rains that can be used for irrigation of the gardens. (This may not be able to supply water all through the dry season, but might be enough for the first couple months.)

    It looked like a lot of the potential spots were in the eastern half of the city which generally has a pretty good climate for growing fruits and vegetables. The city Peak Oil task force recommended turning Lincoln Park golf course into vegetable gardens, but I think scattered small plots on the east side of town would be far superior due to better climate and greater population density (and, hence, accessibility) to the folks who would actually be doing the gardening.