In the meantime, the Mayor's Office and Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association pushed for temporary use of the neglected site. They approached the urban farming collectives MyFarm and Upcycle. Later, Rebar was brought in to design and coordinate the project.
Now the group known as the Hayes Valley Farm Team has an ambitious plan for the area: part urban garden, part social gathering spot, and part educational space. There will be an orchard of fruit trees, a portable greenhouse, demonstrations on urban farming, and a regular farmers market.
"The different topography of ramps allows for different growing conditions. These ramps are prime exposure to the south," Merker said. "They create these areas that can produce some really great growing conditions, so it's kind of funny that this freeway is responsible for that. The ramps actually create different microclimates."
Most remarkably, the whole project is temporary, designed to be moved in three years. "We're interested in developing infrastructure and tools and machinery and implements that are sort of coded for the scale of the city: a lot of pedal-powered things, a lot of mobile infrastructure, and smaller things that are designed to be useful in a plot that is only 2.5 acres," Bela said. "Then when we need to move on, we'll be able to do that. It's about being strategic with some of the investments so we can take some of the tools we develop here and move it to the next vacant lot down the street."
The project has lofty goals, ranging from creating a social plaza in Hayes Valley to educating the public about productive landscaping. "We're getting away from ideas of turning parks into food production — it can be both," said David Cody of Upcycle. "We want to just crack the awareness that cities can be multi-use and agriculture doesn't mean farm."
This is perhaps the most ambitious temporary project the Mayor's Office has taken on. "Rebar pushed the envelope on what is possible. I told them it would be a tough one," Farrah said of the project. But he loves the concept: "You can argue that putting gardens in temporary spaces changes attitudes."
Symbolically, this land seems the perfect place for such an experiment. "This really is a special spot. If you look at a map of the city, Hayes Valley is in the very center, and this is right in the heart of Hayes Valley," Aguilera said. "And right now, in the heart of a neighborhood in the heart of the city, there's this vacant, fallow reminder of what used to be there. We're looking to turn it into a new beating heart that brings together lots of different parts of the community."
ACTIVATING DORMANT SPACES
Activating dormant spaces in the city isn't easy, particularly for properties with pending projects. In Hayes Valley, for example, the Rebar crew was required to develop a detailed takedown plan.
"A lot of development is hesitant to get involved with these interim uses because at the end, they're worried that it's going to be framed as the evil, money-hungry developer coming in to kick out artists or farmers," Passmore said. "But the reality is, they are very generously opening up their space is the first place."
With last year's crash of the rental estate and credit markets, development in San Francisco stalled, leaving potentially productive land all over the city. "As the city has gone through an economic downturn, like now, the city has a lot of vacant lots with developer entitlements on them, but nothing is being built right now. Those are spaces the public has an interest in," Merker said, citing Rincon Hill as a key example.
Michael Yarne, who facilitates development projects for the Mayor's Office of Economic Development, has been working on how developers might be encouraged to adopt temporary uses of their vacant lots.