Not to belabor the point (or the puns …), but the view from the Presidio’s Inspiration Point truly is inspiring. Pack a sweater and a picnic and head for Arguello Gate, and you can experience this gorgeous vista firsthand! When the NEN stopped by, some people were having an impromptu dance party up here– clearly getting into the inspirational spirit.
Alemany Farm, in the north-east of San Francisco, is the city’s largest food-producing plot. But this place is more than about food: skill-sharing, opportunities for residents from nearby low-income housing, and community all thrive in this remarkable space. NENtv delves deeper into why Alemany Farm is so unique.
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.
As construction of the new span of the Bay Bridge is well underway, we were able to get a visual tour of the progress and future outlines of what will become a new icon for the Bay Area. With a newly constructed pedestrian and cyclist pathway alongside, this landmark will allow Bay Area residents an unprecedented look at their environment.
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.
Aside from a small number of schools and playgrounds, there seems little evidence that the needs of children are reflected in our built environment. As a parent and a community-builder down in Menlo Park and founder of theÂ Playborhood blog, Mike Lanza has become a passionate advocate for children’s right to play outside in their neighborhood streets. Mike shares his insights with NENfm.
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 Initiative, Free 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.Â Foremost among them is land access and land tenure.Â 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.
You probably understand community as knowing your neighbors, helping each other out, feeling a sense of commonality and connection, and so forth. But how does one actually begin building community? In this writing, I focus on one element â€“ an element without which full community cannot happen: Bringing civic life back to the streets.
Why is the street so important?
Whereas the street was once the place for connection and for lingering, it is now a place of hypermobility and danger. That this common space could, in daily life, be for anything else is now unquestioned; it is apparently rude and dangerous to act otherwise. When we retreated from the streets, the roar of traffic then pushed us off the sidewalk into our homes. The retreat was complete.
In the street, recurring faces become familiar and familiar faces become friendly. From there we begin sharing our lives. Pushing back into the streets is essential; it is also easy, cheap, fun, requires little time, and is liberating. Below I’ll list some ways that you can do this, ranging from instantly doable to achievable with some resources or a little courage.
There could be said to be two main parts of the street: The sidewalk and the road. Reversing the retreat into our houses will likely involve pushing first back onto the sidewalk and then into the road (with parking spaces as a mid step between the two). Thus, I divide the below suggestions into these different areas.
I intend to motivate you to act. Don’t spend too much time thinking; start doing something as soon as possible. Below are my suggestions but you’ll probably get more excited about your own ideas. Think for yourself about how you could push into the street.
We need a culture shift in how we view the streets, especially in moving beyond seeing streets as places dominated by automobiles. I think that culture shift would include the following:-
Performing as many daily functions in the street as possible.
Considering the street as a place for lingering, not just movement.
People depend less on laws and rules and more on negotiation and compromise.
Step 1. Start with the sidewalk
The sidewalk is the place to begin bringing community back to the public realm. These daily activities are suitable for individuals or groups to do on the sidewalk:-
Drinking tea or coffee
Doing physical exercise
Smiling or waving at passersby
Chatting, or doing any of the above, with friends
Due to their tendency to degrade the public realm or to make people feel excluded, I recommend keeping the following away from public places:-
Step 2. Move out to parking spaces
Once you get used to sidewalk activities try moving beyond and doing the below in parking spaces.
Music, acting, or other performances
These activities can be more enjoyable if you create a living room feel outside. Loot your house or build a street reclaiming kit by visiting garage sales. To create such a space, you could bring:-
Materials to create a border around your space on the road side
Some people go a little further and create “linger nodes” that can be left outside all the time. Such nodes can involve benches, potted plants, and community notice boards. I recommend visiting theÂ City Repair website for more ideas on this subject.
There are two San Francisco-based initiatives that deal with using parking spaces as civic gathering spaces:-
Park(ing) Day: This event began in San Francisco in 2005 and happens once a year in September. Organizations or groups of people transform parking spaces into small parks in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways.
The parklet program: I theorize that this is the City of San Francisco’s official response to Park(ing) Day. Parklets, which are becoming very popular, are “sidewalk extentions” that stay out all the time and anyone can apply. Applicants submit a design, get approval, find funding, and build the parklet. As far as government programs go, this is still relatively unbureaucratic but you do have to find all your own funding. There’s no next application round confirmed but I hear that round should come eventually.
Step 3: Reclaim the roads
Right now, in San Francisco there are two main City-sanctioned ways for communities to use the road for something other than storing or moving automobiles (theÂ Sunday Streets event also offers possibilities for street activity if an event’s route passes through your neighborhood). Both are temporary approaches – seeÂ here for more information on these approaches.
Apply for a block party permit ($150 to close one block for the benefit of the residents of that block)
Apply for a street fair permit ($480)
However, these options are expensive and time-consuming for communities and require months of advance notice. In the long term, to properly make our streets places of community once more, we are going to need to forge new flexible, low-cost solutions that work better for communities…
…Solutions like the “Playing Out” scheme in Bristol, England, where streets are closed regularly for short periods after school hours for children to play in the streets. This short video may inspire you:-
Start talking with groups in your neighborhood, and elsewhere, about how schemes like this might happen where you live.
Your street, your home
Your street is part of your home. This is your space and you should feel welcome there. In fact, the more you are there the more everybody benefits. Using the street is a service to yourself and your community.
Whatever you do out in the street, make sure it’s fun and promotes community and harmony. I promise that if you push back into the street, your life and that of your community will never be the same again. You can change the world on your own street and now is the time.
The NEN and AII Release the First Episodes of NENtvâ€™s KIOSK
The Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN) and the Art Institute of California San Francisco have collaborated through the NEN University Academic Alliance to produce the first two NENtv episodes of â€œKioskâ€.
Kiosk is a 30 minute broadcast quality TV show dedicated to elevating and celebrating the community building work that is happening in the neighborhoods every day. Each episode features both in studio guests as well as video profiles of people and organizations from around the City who are making a difference in their communities.
KIOSK was produced and directed by students enrolled in instructor Marc Smolowitzâ€™s Studio Production course. â€œAs an instructor, itâ€™s my goal to help the students achieve the academic goals of the curriculum.â€ Stated Smolowitz, â€œIf we can do so while at the same time helping the communities of San Francisco celebrate the great work happening in their neighborhoods, it only enhances the learning experience.â€
Daniel Homsey, the program manager of the NEN, stated â€œThe ability to collaborate with an organization such as the Art Institute of California San Francisco with its talented instructors and students, helps the NEN achieve its mission to help the communities of San Francisco no only be acknowledged for their work, but also present their efforts in a way that is easily consumable for other residents.â€
To view the episodes of NENtvâ€™s KIOSK, visit empowersf.org/nentv.
The Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN) was launched in the fall of 2007, when the City and County of San Francisco partnered with residents and community serving non profits to create a new platform to nurture collaboration and community centric problem solving. The NENâ€™s mission is to develop tools, resources and strategic partnerships that empower communities to steward themselves to being safer, cleaner, greener and healthier places to live and work.
This debut episode of the NEN Kiosk focuses on community gardens. Join NEN’s Daniel Homsey as he talks about this growing trend with Blair Randall of Garden for the Environment, Fran Martin of the Visitacion Valley Greenway and Mei Ling Hui of the SF Department of the Environment. These community leaders join in to share their experiences with community gardens and how they play a major role in uniting neighborhoods.