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Jane Martin is a Force of Nature

12:59 PM PST on January 8, 2009

jane_cu_gardening_5826.jpgJane Martin gardening at 23rd and Harrison, Jan. 3, 2009.

Jane Martin is a longtime resident of San Francisco's Mission District, a licensed architect, and an avid gardener. She is the founder of PlantSF, an informational website dedicated to reconfiguring the design and use of urban spaces, primarily sidewalks and to a lesser extent, residential streets. PlantSF started in 2004 after Martin had spent considerable effort establishing a sidewalk garden in front of her then-home on Shotwell between 17th and 18th Streets.

"Before I thought to organize [PlantSF] I just wanted to put in a garden. We have these really wide sidewalks all over town and they're relatively underutilized. [The garden] also had the added benefit of reducing driving and parking on the sidewalk."

orig_sidewalk_garden_w_palm_longer_view_5919.jpgMartin's original garden with flourishing palm tree, on Shotwell between 17th and 18th Streets.

This block of Shotwell was infamous for sewage backups and blackwater flooding during heavy rainfall. Only a few years ago most of the neighbors had to stockpile sandbags during winter to stop their garages from flooding with sewage. After Martin figured out how to get through the city bureaucracy, and ultimately helped create a streamlined permit process for anyone to follow (downloadable here), many of her neighbors on the same block opened their sidewalks and put in permeable driveways and gardens. Even PG&E, just south of 18th between Shotwell and Folsom, got into the act.

view_across_shotwell_from_odc_5915.jpgNE view across Shotwell, permeable driveway and sidewalk gardens in abundance.
shotwell_at_18th_5908.jpgShotwell near corner of 18th.
so_side_18th_pge_5907.jpgSouth side of 18th at Shotwell, alongside PG&E property.

She started out as something of a lone ranger, using her professional skills to navigate the city's many rules and regulations, and originally thought the sidewalk-as-park would generate its own enthusiasm.                   

"I didn't get very far trying to convince people that it was a nice place for a park. When I realized the connection between the depaving part of the project and getting storm water out of the sewer system and into the ground, that's when it got more attention, especially from the City because our aging infrastructure with the sewer system is at the point of collapse in a number of areas."

Now the idea is taking off, partly because of the easier-to-use 1-page permitting process, and partly because Jane was ahead of her time by a bit, but now depaving and reinventing the urban landscape is just the zeitgeist of our moment. While we were sitting and talking at the 23rd and Harrison bulb-out (which was first built by the City 30 years ago, but left as a large cement island until Martin and her neighbors coordinated their own depaving and sidewalk gardening in 2007 with the Dept. of Public Works, and got the DPW to help depave much of the sidewalk extension) we could hear machines and pick-axes breaking up cement just a half block away."These are happy noises," Jane assured me. Turns out Saturday January 3rd was a big work day for the 3rd phase of the Harrison Street gardening program that Jane Martin helped kickstart, with 23 households participating in opening sidewalks in front of four buildings on the block between 23rd and 24th, and six buildings between 24th and 25th. Here are some photos of the work-in-progress:

working_plot_on_Harrison_5859.jpgWorking a fresh plot on Harrison between 24th and 25th, Jan. 3, 2009.
cutting_concrete_5850.jpgCutting the concrete, freeing the soil!

"I host as an informational website with a how-to section so people don't have to hire a pro to do this." Martin happily fields queries about process, materials, utilities underground, and more. "The main thing is to contribute what you can. As an architect I understood what the City needed in terms of checking off their concerns. My role is finding ways to identify the obstacles and then address them in a way that meets the needs of the City as well as of the citizenry." Not to mention the needs of Nature, of which Jane Martin is one of our best advocates--but an urbanized nature that holds great promise for a reinvention of city life on a much deeper scale.

jane_gardens_bulb_5828.jpg Jane Martin at the 23rd St. and Harrison "sidewalk extension."

Plant*SF Tours: Take a guided walking tour of permeable sidewalk gardens in San Francisco's Mission District with Jane Martin, architect, landscape designer and founder of Plant*SF. This easy one-hour walk views several gardens while discussing their benefits and challenges as well as the process of creating them. $20 (cash only). Rain or shine. Advance registration required - space is limited. To register, specify date in an email to Leaves from 23rd and Harrison Street.

Saturdays in January; 11-noon:

January 10, 2009

January 17, 2009

January 24, 2009

January 31, 2009

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