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community building

LaToya Cantrell, President of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, on the anniversary of the levees flooding New Orleans in 2005, shares with NENtv an update on the process of restoring her community and the Andrew H. Wilson School. Specifically she thanks the City and County of San Francisco for all of its support in helping secure funds and resources for her neighborhood.

See more images from the NEN’s trip(s) to New Orleans here.

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by Elisa Chavez

The last time I can remember visiting New York, I was sixteen years old and staying in the southernmost tip of Manhattan. The entire city seemed like a blur of fast walkers, overpriced boutiques, and homicidal taxis, and I decided then and there that I could never, ever, ever live someplace that was quite so overwhelming.

Last week, I got on a plane and flew out to NYC for a week’s vacation, where I found that things had changed. Sure, people still walk like they’re out to burn rubber, the price of a sweater will make you cry, and traffic laws appear to function more as abstract guidelines than actual rules, but the city will surprise you. Sometimes tucked away down side streets, sometimes in plain view, and sometimes if you just happen to be in at right place at the right time, you’ll see a reminder that New York City is full of people who are working to make their neighborhoods vibrant and welcoming for themselves and their families.

The really interesting part is that a number of these public-space and support-our-locals initiatives bear a striking resemblance to what’s going on in our very own San Francisco.

1. Summer Streets

Bikers and skateboarders cruise down Lafayette Street in NYC.

Kind of like: SF’s Sunday Streets

I first came across New York’s Summer Streets program in the form of almost being flattened by a convoy of bikers. A little girl teetered happily on her tricycle while I flailed, so it seemed that navigating the whizzing throng of wheeled death was a skill that locals of all ages had mastered. It turns out that bikes are only a small part of NYC’s Summer Streets initiative; each summer, for three consecutive Saturdays, the city closes down a major Manhattan thoroughfare to cars, and promotes biking, walking, dancing, yoga, and occasional rock wall climbing.

I didn’t feel the need to boast that SF’s Sunday Streets program extends from March to late October this year  and even if I had, I don’t think anybody would’ve hopped off their bikes to listen.

2. Madison Square Park

Kind of like: Patricia’s Green, Hayes Valley

I ventured to Madison Square Park for what my Jersey-born friend assured me was the main attraction, the Shake Shack. Calling the one-by-three-blocks a park rather than a lawn or five trees, would have seemed bizarre to me before I moved to San Francisco, but due to my urban acclimation I found it downright expansive. The Shake Shack provides what is arguably the park’s central hub (we waited in a thirty-minute line for our milkshake and custard), but Madison Square Park also has free wifi, a dog run, a playground, a lively music program, and installations of public art.





Although we had our Shake Shack adventure after dark, the congenial vibe, attention-craving dogs, and outdoor art reminded me a lot of noontime at Patricia’s Green– though the Shack’s peanut butter fudge custard, while delicious, can’t quite match up to Smitten’s made-while-you-wait daily ice cream flavors. The real advantage to NYC’s scene is the heat: August in New York provides the type of weather that makes you feel as if eating ice cream is not only justified, but required.


3. The Market NYC

Kind of like: San Francisco Arts Market

The Market NYC at 268 Mulberry Street.

Ditching our guide on a New York pizza tour, we staggered aimlessly through the neighborhood called NoLita (North of Little Italy) until we came across a bright sign reading The Market NYC. A gym by weekday, from Friday to Sunday the space becomes a warehouse full of local designs, featuring screen-printed tees, handmade jewelry and apparel, leather goods, and more. The vendors were all unfailingly gregarious, chatting with me pleasantly even when all I wanted to do was gawk at their creations and add to my growing pile of business cards.

The Market is protective of its local vendors. When I asked if I could take pictures for this blog, I was told that only official photography was permitted. (Indoors, that is; my outside shot of their sign was kosher.) We’ve had Urban Outfitters copy somebody’s bag, they explained. I’m glad that the Market NYC is doing their thing; it was a real privilege to witness some of the craftsmanship and imagination of New York’s local designers. I’m even glad that they’re a little suspicious of outsiders like me: I think it shows a commitment to creating a safer arts community.


Now I’m back in San Francisco– back to my own streets, my own pizza, and reliable recycling bins on every corner. But in mulling over my trip to the East Coast, I find that I’m warmed by what I experienced there. In New York, as in SF, people are claiming urban public spaces as their own. The steps they take are familiar– if it were a dance, we’d all know how to do it and sometimes I felt a kneejerk, hipster reaction of but my city did it first/better/first and better. However, I realize that when it comes to building stronger communities, originality is overrated. What really matters is that everyone feels they have a place at the table.

Or in the bike lane.


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For decades, Adah Bakalinsky, author of “Stairway Walks in San Francisco” has been helping walkers discover new parts of San Francisco. NENfm talks with Adah about how she finds SF’s treasures and why she thinks exploring the city on foot is so rewarding.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Show Information

Guest: Adah Bakalinksy, Author of Stairway Walks in San Francisco
Area: San Francisco
Host: Adam Greenfield
Additional Credits: Moontan (music)


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Daniel Homsey, Director, Neighborhood Empowerment Network

Over the last century, astrophysicists encountered a major hurdle in their efforts to understand the fundamental nature of our universe.  As they began to build more powerful mathematical models and measurement instruments, the Universe seemed to become less and less predictable. In a nutshell, the visible bodies in space were not behaving in a way that was defendable by the great minds of earth. Their behavior reflected a universe with substantially more mass than was visible to our measuring devices (i.e. visible, infrared, radio). The only explanation was that the majority of the matter of the Universe was invisible or “dark”. Once scientists embraced Dark Matter’s existence, virtually all of their formulas and projections were applicable.

The Disaster Management universe is entering such a period of discovery.

In the recent decade, there has been consistent and over whelming evidence that the sum of the traditional disaster response assets do not necessarily equal the desired impact necessary to respond to a hazard.  Hotwash after hotwash showed that all too often, although the presumably necessary assets needed to respond to a hazard were deployed, the desired outcomes (minimal loss of life and destruction of property) were not achieved.  Consistently the evidence showed that it wasn’t a lack of physical assets or individual capacity that was the problem, but rather a more intangible asset that seemed to be the underlying culprit. In the professional response world it’s called interoperability: in the neighborhoods it’s called Social Capital.

The classic definition of social capital is “The web of social networks, norms of reciprocity, mutual assistance, and trustworthiness” (Putnam & Feldstein, 2003), and like Dark Matter, social capital is almost impossible to see, and yet its impact is readily identifiable.  In the response phase of an event, the way the Fire Dept.


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The Noe Street Experience from NENtv on Vimeo.

On Noe Street, in San Francisco’s Duboce Triangle neighborhood, there’s plenty of places to sit, the traffic goes slowly, plants and trees are everywhere, each building is unique, and neighbors wouldn’t live anywhere else.

How did this street become one of San Francisco’s jewels and what can other neighborhoods learn from this example? NENtv visits Noe Street to find out.

[Also viewable on Youtube here.]


Mohammed Nuru, Deputy Director for Operations, SF Dept of Public Works

Every month the Department of Public Works (DPW) dives into each of the eleven Supervisorial Districts around San Francisco to rally volunteers and partners to make San Francisco residential districts, commercial districts, schools, and parks safer and cleaner through our Community Clean Team program.

Arbor Day – March 12, 2011

Created over 10 years ago, by then Public Works Director, San Francisco’s current Mayor, Ed Lee, Community Clean Team has become a mainstay in the DPW’s operations.

This year we brought the Community Clean Team in with a bang at the Ping Yuen Housing Development on February 12th where we celebrated the Clean Team kick off and Chinese New Year with fireworks and Lion Dancers; volunteers helped with landscaping projects, school improvements and even repainted the Broadway Tunnel.  In March, we celebrated Arbor Day at Washington High School in the Richmond District where we planted dozens of trees along Geary Boulevard, and in April we worked in and around the Tenderloin and South of Market cleaning up trash, and removing graffiti in honor of Earth Day.  In between those Community Clean Team events, we’ve hosted special events with volunteer partners from all around San Francisco and the greater Bay Area – our partnership with Starbucks’ Global Month of Service event helped us clear over 60,000 pounds of green waste from the Great Highway, and plant over 500 plants.

Since February, over 3,000 volunteers rolled up their sleeves and dedicated at-least three hours to work side by side with Department of Public Works employees. Volunteers help leverage the city’s resources tremendously; DPW employees alone cannot complete the amount of work our volunteers complete.  And during these challenging economic times, utilizing volunteers has become one of the most cost-effective ways to accomplish our work.

Over the past three months, our 3,000 plus volunteers contributed at-least 9,000 hours of community service to the Department of Public Works, totaling $270,000.00 worth of labor.  I can comfortably state The Department of Public Works San Francisco works more with volunteers than any other Public Works organization in the nation.

Help us continue our momentum by volunteering for the Community Clean Team May 21st in honor of National Public Works Week at Balboa High School beginning at 9am.  For more information email us at volunteer@sfdpw.org

Along with Mayor Lee, all our volunteers, our key partners like Recology, PG&E, Walgreens, Luxor Cab Company, Clean City Coalition, the Academy of Art University, Starbucks, Hilton-Financial District, and the Emerald Fund help sustain the program.

Thank you to all our partners, all who have volunteered, and all who will volunteer.  Together we have and will continue to make a difference in San Francisco.

Mohammed Nuru is Deputy Director for Operations at the San Francisco Department of Public Works (SFDPW).  Follow him on twitter @MrCleanSF

Starbucks Event 4/9/11


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San Francisco’s Policy Thumb Gets Greener

By Isabel Wade & Eli Zigas

On a spring morning last week, Mayor Ed Lee signed a bill that places San Francisco at the forefront of major cities supporting urban agriculture.  The law, which changes the city’s zoning code, was the culmination of a year of collaboration between the Mayor, Supervisor David Chiu, the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance and supporters from across the city.

The new law does two things:

1) Makes clear that gardens are welcome in every part of the city.

Previously, the city prohibited the establishment of gardens in certain zones of the city.  Going forward, San Franciscans can start a garden or farm less than one acre in size anywhere in the city with a simple over-the-counter permit.  These gardens can be traditional community gardens or they can be market gardens that grow for sale. Gardens and farms one acre or larger are allowed in the industrial zones of the city, and can also be permitted in other parts of the city after a more lengthy application and hearing process called Conditional Use Authorization.  Home gardens cultivated for personal use are unaffected by this new law.

2) Allows gardeners to sell what they grow. 

Whether it’s to make a little extra cash or to make a living, gardeners and urban farmers in San Francisco can now sell what they grow no matter where they grow it.  A backyard gardener can sell to their neighbor, a community garden can make a deal with the local corner grocer, and an urban farm can start a CSA or supply produce to a restaurant.  Sales are permitted both at the garden site itself as well as off-site.  And, San Francisco took a unique step among cities by explicitly allowing gardens outside of residential areas to sell value-added goods such as jams, pickles, and other processed products so long as they follow health code regulations and the primary ingredients are grown and produced on-site.

By passing this law, San Francisco is encouraging the development of urban agriculture throughout the city. Theunanimous support of the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor demonstrates an understanding that urban gardens and farms provide open space in our dense city, offer “green thumb” jobs, serve as a source of fresh produce in “food deserts”, build community, and allow city residents to connect with and better understand the food system.  This understanding comes from the success of numerous model projects that have sprung up in recent years.  Gardens such as the Quesada Gardens InitiativeFree Farm, and 18th & Rhode Island Garden all provide examples of vacant, untended areas turned into vibrant, welcoming greenspace.  Those gardens, and others such as Alemany Farm and Hayes Valley Farm bring together hundreds of volunteers to dig in the dirt and build something meaningful together.  Meanwhile, small businesses such as Little City Gardens and SF Landscapes will now have the legal backing to sell produce grown in residential areas to their neighbors and others throughout the city. Altogether, these gardens — whether they grow for sale or not  — strengthen their neighborhoods and communities by bringing people together out of their homes and around a specific place and their harvest.

While this change to the zoning code is a great step forward for San Francisco, we believe it is only a first step forward.  Other actions that would enhance food production and the city’s sustainability deserve attention as well.  Foremost among them is land access and land tenure.  San Francisco is a dense city where available land commands a pretty penny. Though the zoning code change allows gardens throughout the city, it doesn’t create any new ones nor does it protect spaces that are obvious choices for food production or neighborhood greenspace.  The City has begun to look for vacant public land suitable for urban agriculture, but we should also consider other space that could be converted to gardens.  Taking advantage of our urban setting, San Francisco could follow in Seattle’s footsteps by allowing rooftop greenhouses dedicated to food production to exceed existing height limitations. Moreover, building codes could be altered to require roof strengthening and appropriate plumbing in all new structures in order to allow rooftop gardening. Another critical step to foster more food production is the establishment of Neighborhood Food Hubs where residents could pick up mulch, compost, and tools for their backyard and community gardening efforts. Further north, the City of Vancouver, Canada envisions these hubs to also offer places to cook, taking cooking lessons, can and pickle. These are just a few examples of further policy steps the City could take.

After the Mayor signed the zoning ordinance into law, we all raised our plates for a “salad toast” to celebrate the occasion. We look forward to many future “salad toast” to a more resilient city at garden ground-breakings, rooftop plantings, and more.

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On May 7th, Shareable Magazine will be bringing together the Bay Area’s best and brightest for a day of connection, innovation, and action.  During our event called SHARE San Francisco, we will challenge you to discover new opportunities for impact, connect with leaders across sectors to boost your innovative potential, and explore the use of sharing as a powerful change strategy that addresses multiple social goals at once. 

SHARE San Francisco is partially inspired by a quote by author and instigator Lisa Gansky. She said “Cities are a platform for sharing.”  When I first heard it, a myriad of images flooded my mind – bike and car sharing, knowing my neighbors, community gardens, street fairs, potlucks, parks, libraries – I pictured a city in which sharing and connection was a way of life.  But then I had an unsettling thought: Why did that vision feel so far and distant – like a dream in a city, in a city supposedly full of those things?

Don’t get me wrong, the Bay Area has a lot going for it. From our vibrant neighborhoods and the tech industry, to our unified commitment to the environment and our love of good food – we are a mecca of ideal urban living.  But how much do we really share? And, as my 5 year old cousin used to always ask “Do we HAVE to?”

If we care about the future of our city, our economy, and our planet, the answer is a resounding yes – and we need to do a lot more of it.  To meet the constantly changing and complex challenges our world is currently experiencing, our governments need to become more open and democratic, our workplaces more flexible, creative, and agile, our food, more local, our transportation and energy use more sustainable, and our neighborhoods more personally connected.  We have to create new, cross sector and stakeholder networks that will help us have greater impact in our work to face the economic, environmental, and social challenges of both today and tomorrow.  And as shocking as it might sound to some of you, the kindergarten lesson of sharing might be our best hope.

Sharing (of space, time, work, food, resources) is a triple threat to what ails us – it’s good for the environment, creates jobs and is easier on the wallet, and helps you connect and take action in innovative and collaborative ways.  And we at Shareable believe it is the foundation on which any societal progress must be built.

For those of you already tuned into the NEN, you understand that the future of our city, and the resiliency of our communities depends on how quickly we can connect and build networks.  SHARE San Francisco is our attempt to build a new and powerful network around sharing. We’re meshing Gov 2.0 leaders, non-profit and community activists, students, social entrepreneurs, makers, bikers, and all those with a stake in developing our city as a platform for sharing for a powerful day of inspiration, connection, and action.  We believe that sharing both online and offline will result in more connected communities, through which real and meaningful resilience can develop.  We hope you’ll consider joining us in reimagining our city as a platform for sharing on May 7th.

For more information, scholarships, volunteer opportunities, or press passes contact milicent@shareable.net

And keep up to date on SHARE SF with our Twitter hashtag, #SHARESF and our SHARESF channel on Shareable


Meet Your Partner: Neighborhood Parks Council from NENtv on Vimeo.

Every year, the Community Challenge Grant Program awards thousands of dollars for community improvement projects throughout the city. One of the driving forces that helps grant recipients see their project through is the assistance of groups like the Neighborhood Park Council which serves as a fiscal and organizational partner in the community. Join Neighborhood Park Council Executive Director Meredith Thomas as she explains the NPC’s role as an active community partner and how they’re helping to make San Francisco green, one park at a time.

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