Lawns to highrises - Page 3

Radical redevelopment for Parkmerced raises the question: What do we do with the suburbs?

"Sorry to be so cynical."

Goodman wonders just what's so sustainable about demolishing buildings that the owners have just sunk millions of dollars into for fix-ups and cosmetic repairs. "When you look at the overall site, it's a functioning community — and it's essential housing," he says, wondering why it can't be reused and expanded," he says.

Hartman says he views the site "as an architect," and finds it to be incongruous with San Francisco's character. "To be frank, the architecture is unworthy of this extraordinary site," he says. Instead, he sees potential for what it could be: a pioneering example of a green neighborhood that uses urban density to meet the challenge of climate change.


At a public meeting held in June to discuss the future plans, residents shared their anxiety about being forced to move. Some tenants, particularly seniors, have lived there for decades in rent-controlled units. Parkmerced Investors has promised that those residents would be able to maintain their current rents in brand new, comparatively sized apartments. But Goodman points out that many would lose their meticulously cared-for garden plots and be forced to adapt to life in a high-rise instead.

About half the tenants are college students who attend San Francisco State, which lies adjacent to Parkmerced. District 7 Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who represents the neighborhood, told the Guardian that he often receives complaints from his constituents about "keggers" that go on until the wee morning hours.

"Parkmerced is such a fascinating societal study," Elsbernd noted. "You've got a lot of folks who've been there since it was built, but really the vast majority now are students at San Francisco State who are so transient and really aren't terribly invested in the neighborhood."

Elsbernd said he also shares a different concern, which came across at the meeting loud and clear: traffic. Although development plans emphasize cycling, Muni access, and a shuttle that would carry passengers to the Daly City BART, the redesign would come with a grand total of more than 11,000 on-street and off-street parking spaces. And it's situated along the 19th Avenue corridor, which is already notorious for traffic snarls (and for pedestrian deaths). Some fear the combination of two new developments would fuel perpetual, dangerous gridlock.

"At minimum, we're talking 5,000 additional vehicular trips a day," said Calvin Welch, a longtime affordable housing activist. "You couldn't build housing further from where people work if you tried." Welch regards the smart-growth school of thought, enthusiastically endorsed by SPUR, with skepticism. The pitfall, he says, is "allowing high-density development in transit-oriented neighborhoods ... and then finding out that people drive."

On the other hand, Welch said, market-rate rental housing is much more affordable than market-rate condominiums, so Parkmerced will provide a service compared to the condos that are pricing so many middle-class families out of San Francisco. And the eastern half of the city has had its share of new residential development, so building new rental units in the western half might be an appropriate counterbalance.
Goodman said he has his own vision for Parkmerced, which would employ adaptive reuse of the existing structures and ensure truly affordable housing for people of modest means. "If I had money and tons of land and all the power in the world, I'd do it a completely different way," he says. "But I don't. I'm a tenant living on site."