Plans for the park to be created at 17th and Folsom streets have gone through many changes since the design phase began more than two years ago. Last Thursday evening, planners revealed the most recent development: communal gardens.
About 40 people gathered at the Columbia Park Clubhouse for a sneak peek at plans for the still-unnamed park. John Dennis, a landscape architect for the project, said it will undergo construction in summer 2013 after the city’s Arts Commission approves the final design, and will likely be open by the following year. The park is just one part of a larger project that will split the space, currently occupied by a UCSF parking lot, into two areas, one for housing and the other for the park.
The park is currently set to take up roughly 32,000 square feet, according to Dennis, about 8 percent of which will be used for garden plots. A majority of the gardens will be designated for shared use and can be used to grow produce, said Dennis. But whether any member of the public will be allowed tend to the gardens, or whether they will be reserved for community groups, is still being worked out.
What is certain is that only 5 percent of the gardens will be designated for individual use. Under the city’s current system, anyone can apply for a plot that’s designated for individual use in any park and gain exclusive control over the growing space.
Shared-use plots at new parks like the one at 17th and Folsom have been a long time coming, said Teresa Almaguer, the youth program director at People Organizing to Defend Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER).
Individual-use garden plots “don’t work for giving access to kids,” she said, referring to garden space that’s currently off-limits at Parque Niños Unidos, on 23rd between Folsom and Treat. PODER fought for 10 years alongside students from multiple local schools to create that park, she said.
“The garden’s there, but it’s all locked up.”
Almaguer said that PODER learned an important lesson from Parque Ninos Unidos: unless they make sure the garden plots are shared-use, people from outside can claim them as their own.
“You could live in Pacific Heights, and you could be on a waiting list for a plot at this new park, and you could get it,” said Oscar Grande, the PODER community organizer who has been working with the city on the new park.
And once you’re in, you can keep that piece of land for good.
But these policies may soon get a second look, as more and more San Franciscans, especially young people, develop “an awareness of the importance of local farming” and want to use community gardens to grow food, said Connie Chan, a spokeswoman for the Recreation and Park Department.
“We’re going to work with the community members who live in the neighborhood to see what is the best management model,” said Chan.
Community groups hope that the shared spaces will be open to schools, youth groups or other members of the neighborhood to share and manage on their own terms.
“Instead of having one individual [working] one lot, maybe six people from your building are working one lot,” said Grande, who considers the gardens a lifeline for homes in the neighborhood with no access to yards.
The meeting wasn’t all about gardens, however. Planners said the park’s other vegetation will include roughly 50 fruit-bearing trees, coloring the landscape with pears, apples, cherries and citrus – a community request from the first design stage, said Dennis.
What’s more, children will be able to splash and play in an interactive shallow pool set atop a low wall; the water in the pool will bubble and flow when someone spins on the roundabout or operates the exercise equipment, said Dennis. Current designs place it in the northeast corner, taking up nearly a quarter of the park.
Park benches will have armrests halfway across their spans to discourage sleeping, Dennis said. An 8-foot-high fence will run the perimeter, though that part of the design is not yet finalized, said the parks department’s Steven Cismowski, who will manage the park when it opens.
At night, lights lining the park’s walkways will illuminate its interior, deterring crime by maintaining visibility from the outside, said Cismowski. The fence and paths will also control the flow of foot traffic throughout the park, protecting the community gardens from being trampled underfoot.
Shared garden space victory aside, one of the meeting’s highlights came when Dennis announced that San Francisco artist Carmen Lomas Garza would beautify the park’s entry gates, and a wave of applause traveled the room.