Before the clouds and wind really rolled in last Saturday, I went to Dolores Park to do an informal survey. Where are all these people from, I wondered. Has the park become a tourist trap? A local hotspot? A Bay Area wide phenomenon?
I asked about 150 people where they currently live, though not everyone as focused as any data analyst would like. Sean Manning, sitting in the park that day with a friend, wasn’t sure, for example, how to answer the survey question about where he lived. He had just gotten into an argument with his girlfriend and wasn’t sure about his living situation.
Michael Renta lay squinting into the sunlight as he rested his head on a large backpack. He, too, had an unconventional answer. When I asked him where he lived, he hitched a thumb at his backpack and said “out of this.” He’s been “a vagabond,” as his friend Barry described him, since he was 19, traveling from one city to the next. On Saturday, he had come from Golden Gate park to meet with his friend and enjoy the weather.
Even with less than perfect data, however, some conclusions can be reached.
Most people in the park live in San Francisco, but they come from all over the city and all over the world.
More than half of those surveyed, roughly 56 percent, live in San Francisco, but only around 10 percent live in the Mission. Yes, this number probably shifts based on the day of the week and the weather.
Of the outsiders, only nine were international!
Just under six percent of visitors surveyed currently lived abroad and were in town to visit. A few more came from other states, but the majority of visitors were from within 10 miles of the park. So, not a tourist trap then. Yet.
And, what about liquor – banned in the park, but only hypothetically.
Only a handful of people explicitly said they stopped at a liquor store or bar, even though a quarter stopped for food or drink first.
Okay, so this is not particularly statistically robust. I didn’t target very large groups of partying people for this survey, in part because of the enormous time investment required for talking to drunk strangers in a public space, and in part because it’s tough to break into knots of people engrossed in enthusiastic, inebriated discussions with survey questions. So, consider that statistic a little deflated — my bad. If I had to hazard an eyeball guess as to how many people in the park had some kind of alcohol with them that day, I would probably say a third to half.
If we include people who had stopped somewhere that sells beer or other alcohol (Safeway, some taquerías and delis, intersections where I happen to know there is a liquor store), whether or not they explicitly said they bought booze or clearly had bottles, then we get up to about a quarter of people surveyed who might have had alcohol with them.
Did they make a beeline for the park? Or just happen to end up there?
Plenty of people were at the park for the park’s sake. But I was surprised that only 17 percent of people surveyed had stopped somewhere on the way that serves takeout or groceries to go (Safeway, a taquería, Ike’s), meaning the majority of visitors surveyed apparently wanted to go there for the sake of being in a park, not necessarily to eat or drink. This was around 2 p.m. on a Saturday. Is there a hotter lunch break spot / drinking hangout I don’t know about?
So what brings people to the park? And what do they think about the trash issue?
A great many of those surveyed said the park was their primary destination that day, and almost a third said they had come directly from home. Friends, good weather, and the promise of a relaxed atmosphere brought most of those surveyed to the park.
Andrew Rogers, a concerned neighbor who has started up a group calling itself Friends of Dolores Park, was at Dolores that day with a few companions passing out trash bags and flyers about how excessive garbage has prompted stricter enforcement in the park. The original tone of the action, then under the call to action “Fight for your right to party”, characterized the parks enforcement as “harassment.” After some community feedback, Rogers said, he toned down the aggression and came out with a more positive message.
“That’s not the message we want to spread,” he said. “I’m just trying to help.”
Willi Cohen and two friends lounged in the park Saturday afternoon with food from Taquería Cancún.
“Cancún is oh so convenient to Dolores” they said, by way of explanation of what had brought them to the park that day.
Rogers came by to hand Cohen and her friends a flyer and a garbage bag. “We are avid trash collectors and composters,” Cohen said, happy that someone was making an effort to clean up the park. One of her friends, Slate Warner, also voiced his appreciation for a cleaner park, but still demurred, “I don’t want the man up my butt.”
Dave, a Bernal Heights resident, sat by himself, enjoying the sun in the park.
As the clouds kept coming in and the wind kept picking up, I ran into Jenise Araujo and Steven Edouard. Araujo said she was wishing for better weather. It was only her second time, and Edouard’s first, in Dolores, though Araujo has lived in the Mission for almost two years.
“It’s pretty dope!” Edouard said. “It’s like waiting for the show to start at a music festival, only the show never starts.”