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Posts from the Parks Category


A Vision For Transforming San Francisco’s “Unaccepted Streets”

Local_Code.jpgA proposed design for an unaccepted street, from Local Code, courtesy Nicholas de Monchaux
Throughout San Francisco's history, from the early street grid to the more recent expansion of freeways, slivers of land that don't fit into the master plans of architects and designers have been cast aside, lumped into a category the Department of Public Works (DPW) refers to as "unaccepted streets." These "paper streets" are mapped but not maintained by any agency. As Chris Carlsson so beautifully chronicled in his Ghost Streets tour, many of these alleys and street stubs are cared for by neighbors and transformed into small gardens or pocket parks.  Many more, however, are forgotten urban scars and latent public space.

Berkeley Professor of Architecture Nicholas de Monchaux estimates that there are 529 acres of unaccepted streets, just over half the land area of Golden Gate Park. In Local Code [PDF], one of six finalists in UCLA's WPA 2.0 design competition ("Whoever rules the sewers, rules the city"), de Monchaux details his vision for replenishing 1514 of these unaccepted streets by linking contemporary geospatial planning tools with existing public processes through the DPW to implement  "a range of local infrastructural gestures, from soil remediation, to victory gardening, to playgrounds and pastures."  

Local Code borrows from the work of  "anarchitect" Gordon Matta-Clark, who in the early 1970s discovered that New York City auctioned off pieces of unusable land that resulted from surveying anomalies and public-works expansion, so called "gutterspaces," fifteen of which he purchased and developed for Fake Estates, an architectural intervention meant to dissect notions of materiality, property ownership, and prestige.

With Local Code, de Monchaux hopes to accelerate the pace of converting streets into green spaces, particularly in the underserved neighborhoods in the shadows of freeways, where unaccepted streets are abundant.  "If you look at the unaccepted streets, it is like heat map of all the areas with health problems, pollution issues, and neglected spaces," he said.



UC Planners Envision “Bay Line” Park on the Old Bay Bridge Span

climbingwall.jpgImages: Rael Fratello Architects
When Joshua David formed Friends of the High Line in 1999 and started raising money to transform abandoned train tracks in mid-Manhattan into an elevated urban park, more than a few people thought him nuts. With the opening of the High Line in June and the warm reception it has received by the public, however, planners who have their eyes on other abandoned rail infrastructure are feeling emboldened and hopeful their projects will receive more serious consideration, including a new proposal to preserve the existing east span of the Bay Bridge for a park and development.

Ronald Rael, Principal at Rael San Fratello Architects and Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley's graduate program, has developed a plan that would preserve the existing cantilever and truss section of the Bay Bridge and transform the span into a park and mixed-use development. In homage to the High Line, Rael's project is dubbed The Bay Line (PDF).

Rael and Berkeley have submitted their proposal to a design competition sponsored by UCLA, but have not made a formal proposal to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) or Caltrans, both of which are not likely to support any more changes to construction of the Bay Bridge.

Though MTC spokesperson Randy Rentschler hadn't seen the proposal, he called any attempt to preserve the old span a "pipe dream." "We won't leave it up for the same reason we are taking it down. That is, there is a real chance this bridge segment won't stand up in a quake. Also, keeping it maintained is cost prohibitive."

He added, joking, "Past that, it would be a great permanent location of the Summer X Games."



San Francisco’s Two Newest Trial Plazas Nearly Complete

IMG_5148_1.jpgSan Jose/Guerrero plaza. Photo: Michael Rhodes
San Francisco's two newest Pavement to Parks trial plazas are both on track to open by Thursday, with only the finishing touches remaining. Jane Martin, who helped about 40 neighbors plant trees and shrubs in the planter beds at the San Jose/Guerrero plaza this Sunday, said the space has already begun to come to life.

"It's socially already working really well," said Martin. Judging from the reaction of neighbors who passed by today, the plaza is already being embraced. From Martin's experience as well, there's been a very positive response from the community.

Both plazas are nearly complete, except for their taller planters, which also function as oversized traffic bollards. At the San Jose/Guerrero plaza, these planters are made of stainless steel. Over at the Lower Potrero plaza, surplus sewer pipes are being used for the same purpose. At both locations, the planters will have soil and plants added to them in the next couple days.

The San Jose/Guerrero plaza, or Guerrero Park, still has a few trees that need to be planted in the ground as well. Once that's finished, the surface will be coated with a special paint, in time for a Thursday launch if all goes well.


Poof! San Francisco’s Mason Street Has Become a Temporary Park

surface5small.jpgCross sections of tree stumps for seating on Mason Street. Photo: SurfaceWork
A coalition of community volunteers, pro-bono landscape architects and personnel from several city agencies this weekend swooped in to North Beach to transform the roadway of Mason Street between Columbus Avenue and Lombard Street into a temporary park in conjunction with the two-month street closure for a traffic study. The resulting open space combines elements from various city agency supply yards to bring trees, plants, and picnic tables into an area that just last week was exclusively used by cars.

The Mason Street trial closure is meant to test in real time what the traffic models and transportation engineers predict will result in minimal traffic disruptions should the city decide to close the street permanently. The traffic studies are required for environmental review of the expansion plans of the North Beach Branch Library, with one of the build options compelling the removal of the roadway to transform it into park space.

"Everyone thought there would be a real advantage from moving away from computer models and theories," said Julie Christensen of the Friends of Joe DiMaggio Playground, a public playground that abuts Mason Street here. "We said if you are going to have this road closure for two months, and there is so little public space in the area, why not create a new public space?"

"I think we had three weeks to prepare once they decided on the closure date," said Christensen. "What do you do with a tight deadline, you look to your strengths. Rec and Park and DPW bent over backwards to put their staff at our disposal to get this done."



Finding Unused Pavement for Parks and Plazas in Lower Potrero

Axis_2.jpgAxis Cafe and Wolfe's Lunch across 8th Street, which could be closed for a pilot pedestrian plaza. Photo: Matthew Roth

When Mayor Gavin Newsom dedicated the trial pedestrian plaza at 17th Street and Castro last week, he took a significant stride toward improving his record on livable streets issues. He demonstrated engagement with local community groups and advocates by taking symbolic and institutional steps that incrementally nibble away at the paradigm of streets that gives primacy to the movement of cars.

When he announced that the city was considering three other underutilized intersections that could receive similar treatments, transforming excess street space into pedestrian sanctuaries, he signaled that the 17th Street plaza was merely the beginning of a process that could continue throughout the city over the next few years. While it's still very early in the game, at least two of the three new plaza locations have strong stakeholder support and could happen in very short order, should the transportation and engineering conditions pass muster.

Astrid Haryati, the Mayor's Director of Greening, should feel good about the speed with which they were able to design and install the plaza at 17th Street, which was one of her most visible tests since moving to San Francisco from Mayor Daly's administration in Chicago. The subsequent trial plazas will reflect her work and will need to be well organized for success.

At 8th and 16th Streets in lower Potrero Hill, the first of the three new projects Mayor Newsom announced, most of the pieces are in position to make the plaza a triumph, said Tony Kelly, President of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association, assuming the community is brought to the table at subsequent steps of the planning process.



Eyes on the Street: It’s Beginning to Look Like… a Livable Street!

_1.jpg Photo by Nick Perry.
no access to market street_1.jpgNew sign at the corner of 17th Street and Noe. Photos by Bryan Goebel.

A portion of 17th Street in the Castro is being closed to cars at Market this weekend, marking the beginning of San Francisco's first trial street closure. The two DPT workers installing the new signs late this afternoon were a little taken aback by my excitement at first, but they happily directed me around. The street will be transformed into a pedestrian plaza by Tuesday afternoon, according to DPW. A press conference with Mayor Gavin Newsom is scheduled for Wednesday morning and a community celebration is planned for next Saturday. It will include a speech by Supervisor Bevan Dufty and a blessing by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.


Cars Invade Golden Gate Park, Inner Sunset as Institutions Reopen

IMG_2684_1.jpgPhoto by Bryan Goebel
The Music Concourse in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is living proof of that ancient maxim dating back to the movie Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come.

In this case, however, it isn’t the spectators to a baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield, but people traveling in their cars through the Inner Sunset and along MLK Jr. Drive to an 800-car garage below the concourse with two entrances, one in the south near 9th Avenue, Lincoln Way, and MLK Jr. Drive and one in the north near 10th Avenue and Fulton.  The ultimate destinations of many of the occupants are the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum, which sit on either side of a manicured, European-style bowl that is the concourse.  Both attractions have been rebuilt in recent years and seem to be drawing vastly increased numbers of visitors.

“Today is an example of the potential for what could happen when King Tut comes,” Inner Sunset resident and public parks watchdog Chris Duderstadt said Wednesday.

Make no mistake – he wasn’t referring to hordes of people escaping tax collectors by hiding in the park.  Instead, he was referring to academy patrons who descend on the concourse en masse on the third Wednesday of every month.  That’s when the academy waives the $25 entry fee.  Starting June 27th, the de Young will be showcasing the finery of Egyptian boy king, Tutankhamun, and then, suggests Duderstadt, traffic congestion could start to resemble what it was around Woodstock four decades ago – but every day of the summer, not just the third Wednesdays, and certainly not just for one, long bacchanalian weekend.


Eyes On The Street: Potrero Median Fence Is Partially Built

Potrero_Fence_1.jpgPhotos by Matthew Roth

A five-foot tall median fence that some advocates fear will actually make the area more dangerous for pedestrians is now being installed on Potrero Avenue between 25th Street and Cesar Chavez. As my colleague Matthew Roth has reported, DPW and MTA are erecting the fence to to prevent people from making "illegal and unsafe crossings" in the middle of the block between Rolph Playground and Potrero del Sol Park. Some neighbors and advocates pointed out the city reopened the park, which has become wildly popular, without any consideration for pedestrians who want to cross back and forth. The fence idea was initiated after the Mayor noticed people were crossing in the middle of the block.

After protests from advocates about the lack of a community process (the fence was planned to go up without any public input or outreach), a meeting was held March 25th. At that time, the Planning Department presented a conceptual design for a permanent mid-block ped-activated signal, crosswalk, and pedestrian refuge, which garnered strong support from advocates. The signal and crosswalk would cost between $150,000 to $300,000.

For now, the fence will be completed and remain up until the agencies can agree on a long-term solution, backed with funding. In an email, Fran Taylor of CC Puede said she still very concerned:

I think it will encourage people to cross at the most dangerous point, at the southern end of the fence close to the offramp onto Potrero, where cars will be traveling fastest and have the least time to see someone and slow down. I also think agile young people can jump it, but while they’re stuck on the median, now they’ll have only half the space on either side of the fence that they did before The meeting did produce some near-consensus that a broader solution involving traffic calming should follow what everyone seemed to recognize was a stopgap measure.

She added, "I hope no one gets hurt because of this fence, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone does."


What’s in a Neighborhood

International_Blvd.jpgA Sunday Stroll on International Boulevard, Flickr photo by madpai
How would you define the boundaries of your neighborhood? Is it the streets that describe it? Is it the people who live in it, a cultural or demographic group that you belong to, or that excludes you?  Do you think your neighbors would describe your neighborhood the same way you do?

I live on Mission Street, a few blocks south of Cesar Chavez, on the side of the street that the Post Office includes in its Bernal Heights boundary.  If I tell people I live in Bernal Heights, most assume I'm up on Cortland Street in the commercial center of Bernal Heights, a fifteen minute walk.  If I say Mission, they assume the area north of Cesar Chavez between 24th Street and 14th Street, a 10 to 20 minute walk.  No one knows what I mean if I say Precita Valley.  Inevitably, I just say I live across the street from the bar El Rio and most people know exactly where I am.

Berkeley landscape architecture graduate student Robert Lemon was recently awarded the Landscape Architecture Foundation's Dangermond Fellowship to examine questions of neighborhood identity in the Oakland districts of Fruitvale, West Oakland, and Chinatown. He's hoping the information he gathers will inform city planners and politicians not only about how members of a community define themselves, but ways the city can improve the neighborhood according to those geographic and cultural identities.

Mapping Oakland is based on previous experience Lemon had as a planner in Columbus, Ohio, and research he did for a Berkeley class on the relocation of the I-880 in West Oakland after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed a section of it. 

Lemon has completed most of the survey work he intends to collect and is now filtering through the data for patterns, which he expects will vary by demographic and cultural subsets.  Lemon and a Berkeley counterpart will create GIS maps to give a visual representation to the dynamics of those neighborhoods.  He explained that three respondents will have three different perspectives on the boundaries of a neighborhood and, using GIS, he will map the errors of disagreement among all respondents.  If a block within a neighborhood is repeatedly excluded from the boundaries, he wants to know which that is and why it is defined the way it is.



News From New York: The ABC’s of Trial Plazas and Complete Streets

Picture_18.pngThe trial plaza at Madison Square
When we wrote about the trial pedestrian plaza on 17th Street and Market Street that DPW expects to start this May, the story generated numerous doubts about how the city would create a successful public space out of a busy street abutting a gas station. 

As commenter Josh said, "This truly is a ridiculous idea! Why would anyone want to "enjoy" a small patch of cemented area that's filled with salvage yard leftovers while inhaling unhealthy fumes from not only the cars on the busy streets that surround the designated area but by the gas station?"

Though we can't make guarantees on a pilot project that hasn't been built, we thought we'd highlight some of New York City's temporary plazas and street treatments as best practice analogs, knowing our DPW and MTA are also looking to the Big Crabapple for inspiration. 

DPW Director Ed Reiskin explained to Streetsblog by email that his goal is to keep expenses low. "As for cost, it should be minimal, since materials cost should be close to zero," he said.  "There will be some labor cost to us and MTA to put up signs, transport and place materials, and install any pavement treatments and cuts."

In New York, even the "salvage yard leftovers" have become very nice public amenities.