Seizing space - Page 5

How Rebar and other artsy renegades reignited a movement to reclaim the urban environment
The Parkcycle from Parking Day
Photo by Andrea Scher

As a professional architect, Martin was used to dealing with city permits. But her experience in obtaining a "minor sidewalk encroachment permit" to convert part of the wide sidewalk near a building she owned on Shotwell Street into a garden convinced her there was room for improvement.

"At that point, I was really jazzed with the result and response [to her garden] and I wanted to make it so we could see more of it," she said. So she started a nonprofit group called PlantSF, which stands for Permeable Lands As Neighborhood Treasure. Martin worked with city agencies to create a simpler and cheaper process for citizens to obtain permits and help ripping up sidewalks and planting gardens.

"We want to de-pave as much excess concrete as possible and do it to maximize the capture of rainwater," she said.

Martin said the models she's creating allow people to do the projects themselves or in small groups, encouraging the city's DIY tradition and empowering people to make their neighborhoods more livable. More than 500 people have responded, creating gardens on former sidewalks around the city.

"We'll get farther faster with that model," she said. "It's really about engaging people in their neighborhoods and helping them personalize public spaces."

San Francisco has always been a process-driven city. "We in San Francisco tend to plan and design things to death, so as a result, everything takes a very long time," Power said.

But with temporary projects under Pavement to Parks, the city can finally be more nimble and flexible. Three projects have been completed so far, and the goal is to have up to a dozen done by summer.

"We're working feverishly to get the rest of the projects going," Power said.

One of those projects involves an impending announcement of what Power called "flexible use of the parking lane" in commercial corridors like Columbus Avenue in North Beach. "We're taking Park(ing) Day to the next level."

The idea is to place platforms over one or two parking spots for restaurants to use as curbside seating, miniparks, or bicycle parking. "The Mayor's Office will be announcing in the next few weeks a list of locations," Power said. "There have been locations that have come to us asking for this."

"The idea is to do a few of these as a pilot to determine what works and what doesn't. The goal is to use their trial implementation to develop a permanent process," Power said. "We want to think of our street space as more than a place for cars to drive through or park."

Rebar was responsible for the last of the completed Pavement to Parks projects. Known as Showplace Triangle, it's located at the corner of 16th and Eighth streets in the Showplace Square neighborhood near Potrero Hill. For Rebar, it was like coming full circle.

"We started doing this stuff about five years ago, finding these niches and loopholes and exploring interim use as a strategy for activating urban space," Bela said. "And to our surprise, what we perceived as a tactical action is now being embodied by strategic players like the Planning Department."



The Rebar crew was like kids in a candy store picking through the DPW yard.

"These projects are all built with material the city owns already, so we had the opportunity to go down to the DPW yard and inventory all of these materials they had, and figure out ways to configure them to make a successful street plaza," Bela said.

So they turned old ceramic sewer pipes into tall street barriers topped by planter boxes, and built lower gardens bordered by old granite curbs.