Starting last week along Tiffany Street near 29th Street, contractors started cutting up sidewalks, jackhammering them and taking the crumbled pieces of concrete away in trucks. By the end of the week, what looked like an ugly construction zone began to get the personal touch of residents hoeing and digging in the dirt underneath the concrete, preparing it for a block party planting day this last Saturday, when the street was closed to cars and neighbors came together to work and throw a street party.
24 property owners on Tiffany Street and 29th Street banded together to transform their long block from a concrete jungle into something a little closer to a real jungle, using a $24,000 Community Challenge Grant and enlisting the support of Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) along the way.
Rita Roti, a resident on Tiffany Street for over 13 years, had had enough with the lack of greenery and started organizing the neighbors she knew around the concept of the concrete planter boxes.
"There’s just so much concrete everywhere, I’ve always wanted to change it," said Roti. She said as a result of the organizing around the planters, her neighbors had met with California Pacific Medical Center on Valencia and Cesar Chavez to discuss the plans for reconstruction there and now they were talking about adding additional traffic calming at the corner of Tiffany Street and 29th Street. This stretch of Tiffany is already a virtual bicycle boulevard because of traffic calming and a bicycle cut-through at the north end, where if meets Valencia.
"It used to be 4,000 cars a day before the traffic calming," said Roti, and many of them were flying down the street at dangerous speeds.
John Oram, who lives across the street from Roti, said people on the started adding palms and succulents in pots in front of their houses, a trend which led to others trying to keep up with their neighbors in greening. With the formal removal of concrete, the process had accelerated.
"I’ve had more people, I can’t even count how many, ask me what’s going
on," he said. "You can tell people walking by, they are impressed, but
also a little bit jealous."
Most of the grant FUF secured from the PUC has gone into the removal of the sidewalk pieces and the purchase of the many plants and trees going in on the street. Each property owner also contributed to the project to pay for the permits and some of the concrete removal.
Naomi LeBeau, project manager from FUF, said the phone is ringing off the hook for similar projects around the city. "It is hot, there’s a lot of people who are really interested in this
stuff right now. Putting in these
gardens is like turning a light on on your street."
In addition to the community work days, FUF organized two volunteer work parties of 30 people each through Sales Force, which LeBeau said had a strong volunteer program.
Roti and Oram said the planting was only the first step and the neighbors were now organized to further improve the street. They envisioned the push for the traffic calming project at 29th and Tiffany, saying they wanted to see a three-way stop added and bulb-outs to narrow a very wide intersection. They also wanted larger signage at traffic levels letting cars know they were entering a street that was closed at the north end by traffic calming to avoid the very frequent occurrence of hapless drivers going all the way to the end before realizing they had to turn around.
Oram noted the sense of camaraderie amongst the neighbors because of the work they were doing and the pride they were taking in their street.
"You can tell there is something going on," he said. "It’s nice to be able to have kids run around on the street."