Happy Earth Day everyone!
This weekend 1,700 square feet of excess sidewalk in Noe Valley was transformed into beautiful gardens that bring natural habitats to our barren sidewalk and percolates rain water back into the ground rather than overflowing our sewers in a big storm. And it brought together a neighborhood to beautify their block.
Now, that’s the way to celebrate Earth Day!
After almost 20 years, I still don’t get bored walking around my neighborhood. Where ever I look – at the sidewalk, buildings or towards the sky – there is always something different, something interesting, something new. One of my favorite things about San Francisco, and a topic that I keep returning to, is the way residents personalize public space – creating a little piece of individuality in a concrete jungle. So, while I work on a post about biking around my favorite cities, I thought I’d share some of my favorite views with you….
I started this blog a few years ago, after I was laid off from my landscape architecture job and needed an outlet for discovery. I spent a lot of my time walking around San Francisco, geeking out. San Francisco Sidewalks is where I could write about the little pockets of individuality within the uniform expanse of concrete I found through the city. Recently I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to use my passion for adding a touch of personal space to public space by busting up some sidewalk and replacing it with beautiful gardens.
Over 5 years ago the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed legislation to allow excess concrete sidewalk to be removed. In 2006 Mayor Gavin Newsom signed into law, the “Permeable Sidewalk Landscape Permit“ - revolutionizing the city’s largest public space. Now for $215 (discounted to $160 if 5 neighbors submit together) a property owner can get a permit through the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Urban Forestry and transform exess sidewalk into beautiful gardens!
But its not just about passing pretty gardens as you walk to the corner store. Creating permeable surfaces completes the natural water cycle of our planet – allowing rain and know to soak into the ground and waterways where its naturally filtered and cleansed before it makes its way to ocean and is evaporated into the atmosphere and becomes rain and snow again.
Covering the ground with concrete, asphalt and buildings disrupts the Earth’s natural water cycle. Instead of filling underground aquifers and waterways, rain fills sewers that often overflow in big storms and dumps minimally treated sewage into rivers and oceans. Its bad enough to have pathogens, and toxic chemicals and dumped into the ocean and San Francisco Bay, but minimally treated sewage also destroys the natural ecology of water bodies. The nutrients in sewer overflowstimulate algae and other plant growth, decreasing the level of oxygen in the water and causing the ocean and bay ecosystem to die.
This is particullary an issue in San Francisco, one of the only cities in California that is served by a combined sewer system, where both sewage and stormwater is collected in the same network of pipes. treated and then discharged into the San Francisco Bay or the Pacific Ocean. Most other cities have separate sewer systems; one set of pipes takes sanitary waste to the treatment plant while a second set carries storm water runoff from street drains directly into creeks, lakes, or the ocean.
The combined sewer system moves 80 million gallons of wastewater a day on non-rainy days, according to the PUC. But in a rain storm, the sewers can fill with 500 million gallons a day, resulting in minimally-treated sewage overflowing into – and polluting – the bay and/or ocean throughout the rainy months. If you are a surfer or a masochist and like to swim in the frigid bay, you can check if there has been a sewer discharge at your favorite San Francisco beach here.
This is where busting up concrete comes in.
Maybe its a bit of an overstatement to say that sidewalk gardens can save planet, but clearly disrupting the water cycle is destroying our planet. And there is a simple solution. Reducing the amount of pavement that rainfall encounters, reduces the amount of runoff that goes down the drain and into our combine sewer system. Opening the pavement allows more storm water to be absorbed into the soil, and reduces strain on the infrastructure. In the west side of the city, it allows water seeping into the ground to replenish the underground aquifer, which someday the PUC hopes will supply some of our drinking water, easing our dependence on Hetch Hetchy.
And so, just maybe, protecting the ecosystems of our ocean and bay and adding to our potable water supply could someday save our city. And the benefits of sidewalk walk gardens don’t end there.
I know that I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I gotta to say it anyway – in addition to repairing the Earth’s water cycle, sidewalk gardens provide a habitat for birds, butterflies and bees, pollinators and important members of our ecosystems. They remove CO2 from our atmosphere and sequester it in vegetation – important to do along our roadways.
What you might not know, is that sidewak gardens improve neighborhoods. They create unique and cohesive streets and brings neighbors together. Its been documented that gardens reduces crime in San Francisco by improving community vigilance, awareness and ownership. Realtors say that sidewalk gardens increase property values. And a Mission business owner says he’s had more business and pedestrians walking by since sidewalk gardens were installed a few months ago.
I love transforming San Francisco, block by block. Last year I helped remove over 3,000 square feet of excess concrete, and it has been a dream come true. The icing on the cake, is that the sidewalk garden installations are almost completely subsidized by local and federal grants, so that the sidewalk garden installation is very affordable for property owners. For this reason, the sidewalk installations have been a community event, an entire block comes out to plant their gardens and then celebrates with a potluck lunch. For more information about installing sidewalk gardens, check out the Friends of the Urban Forest website.
Happy New Year, ya’ll!
Its been forever since I’ve taken the time to blog. Its not because I don’t have a million cool photos to share. 2011 was a great year for wandering and exploring. Stay tuned for my reports about transforming barren sidewalk into beautiful gardens, my bike trip through North Holland and the amazing edible gardens that are spreading throughout San Francisco.
We did it, San Francisco -
We achieved the 350 Kitchen Garden Challenge!
On October 10, 2010, hundreds of people came out to show our politicians and the world that we have a solution to climate change – growing our own food! San Franciscans joined people all over the world to create new ways to decrease the CO2 in our atmosphere. With your help, San Francisco was one of 350.org‘s 7347 events around the globe and we had fun at the same time!
Thanks to the boundless energy of volunteers a network of kitchen gardens is spreading across San Francisco like hypha centered around a neighborhood resource center that provided finished compost, mulch, plants and seeds. The network also included local community gardens, farms, school and parks that shared volunteers and resources and opened their gates on the special 10.10.10 workday.
The great synergy created a closed loop of waste and renewal. Hayes Valley Farm, located on a former freeway on and off ramp, hosted the 350 Garden Action Day to decrease carbon emissions. Hundreds of people came out to celebrate growing food together. Recology, San Francisco’s waste management providers, delivered 60 cubic yards of finished compost made from San Francisco green waste to Hayes Valley Farm where it was used in food gardens throughout San Francisco.
The 350 Garden Action Day brought out hundreds of garden actions, volunteers, local food enthusiasts and bicyclists interested in the growing urban agriculture movement in San Francisco, read more.
Lower your carbon footprint with a local root print!
Are you a city-dweller with a green thumb? Do you want to learn more about growing fresh-off-the-farm ingredients in your own house, condo or apartment? Then mark your calendars for 350 Garden Action Day, presented by Kitchen Garden SF, on October 10, 2010. We’ll be offering a day of bike tours, workshops, music, and urban farming with materials from Hayes Valley Farm.
On 10.10.10, Kitchen Garden SF will transform 350 balconies, community spaces and yards into plentiful food gardens to promote food gardening in San Francisco. Kitchen Garden SF and Hayes Valley Farm are issuing a challenge to San Francisco residents to register over 350 kitchen gardens. From potted herbs on windowsills to sidewalks, backyards, and reclaimed lots, no planting is too big or too small to be included. Sign up now at http://kitchengardensf.org/register and be counted as having a solution to climate change. Hayes Valley Farm will provide seedlings, compost and volunteers to assist with planting. Kitchen Garden SF will provide garden design and consultation. Cole Hardware and Sloat Garden Centers are offering a discount to all registrants.
The 350 Garden Action Day is part of 350.org’s 10.10.10 call to action for solutions to climate change, and is one of over 1,000 work parties happening simultaneously in 110 countries and throughout the Bay Area.
Joining us for the Lots of Abundance bicycle tour on Sunday morning, hosted by the San Francisco Parks Trust, the San Francisco Permaculture Guild and the Wigg Party. Bring your bike, a lunch, and ride around our beautiful city while learning more about opportunities for urban farming around town. The bike tour will commence at 10:45 AM at the only apple tree in Golden Gate Park, near Oak & Stanyan (map), and end at the Hayes Valley Farm at 1:30 PM. The bicyclists will then be deployed throughout the city to deliver materials, volunteer in a garden and document garden actions.
What is a kitchen garden? Well, it’s any space in which you grow food. Whether it’s a pot of herbs on your balcony, or some tomatoes in your backyard, kitchen gardens help bring local food production to urban areas. Kitchen Garden SF is a network of gardeners, farmers, garden educators and permaculture designers who have been dedicated to helping San Franciscans grow their own food since 2009. Swing by the Hayes Valley Farm on October 10th, 2010 to help San Francisco grow.
To celebrate all our hard work, we will be having an after-party at Hayes Valley Farm that will feature live music, a twilight potluck, a seed swap, and much more. Pack up a picnic dinner and head over to the farm as the sun sets, because at twilight, the Pocket Seed Library Press will release its first publication: The Alphabet Garden Booklist. Stick around for some rousing performances from some of San Francisco’s finest local musicians and reward yourselves for all of your contributions to the urban farming community.
I went to the desert in Southern California for the first time last week and I was totally blown away – I mean that quite literally. There was a high winds advisory the entire time we were there – and high winds take on an entirely new meaning when you are clinging to the top of a mountain or standing in one of the windiest places on the planet. The winds at Van Ness and Hayes streets are mild compared to the winds that whip through the San Gregorio Pass in Coachella Valley – which wikipedia says is one of the windiest places on the planet, although I couldn’t find any proof of that. But I really can’t imagine any place windier – it almost ripped off the car door when I stopped to take a photo. Its a good place for a wind farm and we passed many as we drove through the valley. Check out a map here.
z & I took our annual spring getaway and did a little Southern California tour ending in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park. But we started on the 101 with a stop in Santa Barbara where we searched for fragrant roses at the Mission Santa Barbara rose garden and wandered through the neighborhoods nearby with friends. All the sweet little houses and gardens totally appealed to my inner landscape architecture geek. And of course, I love to wander a sidewalk, where ever I am. And Santa Barbara is a lovely place to take an evening walk. We headed up Laguna Street to the Mission, along a urban creek and found a Australia Tea Tree on Olive Street that had completely grown over the sidewalk.
We didn’t get to stay long in Santa Barbara but went on to Los Angelos. I’ve lived in California for over 16 years, but I’ve only spent probably no more than 10 hours in LA. So I thought it was high time to hang out in LA a bit. We stayed with one of my oldest friends who lives in West Hollywood – which i erroneously always imagined was quiet and tree lined. I’m not sure how I came up with that image, but I was completely mistaken. He lives two blocks from tourist ground central – where I got to see a very different kind of sidewalk.
We didn’t have nearly enough time to wander and explore LA before we were back on the road – although we didn’t go far. Thanks to a free hotel stay, we stopped in Orange County for a few days . Just about everyone else there was headed to Disney World across the street, but z and I headed to Huntington Beach (and the pool).
According to the Moon travel guide that I got at the library, surfers began populating the beaches around Huntington Beach in the 1920′s. But it all exploded in the 1960′s with the classic surfing film, Endless Summer, Dick Dale and The Del-Tones and the Beach Boys and of course the song Surf City USA by Jan and Dean – which was inspired by Huntington Beach. In 2006 the town was awarded the trademark of “Surf City USA,” so I guess now its official.
Maybe if the weather was better, I would have been more interested in the beach, but I had spotted tidal marshes along Pacific Coast Highway – and people working in them - so I had to investigate. At one time 3,000 acres of wetlands protected the California coast, 90% are now gone. Recently the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy bought up 140 acres to begin reconnected the marshes, separated by the Pacific Coast Highway, to the ocean tides. Checkout some awesome construction photos at this blog. The Magnolia Marsh opened just a few weeks ago and the Brookhurst Marsh opened last year connecting the marshes to the tide for the first time in 100 years and increasing the animal and plant life. But the importance of tidal marshes go beyond the plants and animals - they buffer stormy seas, slow shoreline erosion, and a absorb excess nutrients before they reach the oceans and estuaries. All of this is really important when you live on the coast – just ask the residents of the Gulf Coast.
From the ocean, we drove east through the Inland Empire, for a brief family visit in one of the sprawling communities that were once covered with orange groves before we went on to Palm Springs – an oasis in the middle of the Coachella Valley and the edge of the Colorado desert. Everything about Palm Springs is spectacular, from the wind the greets you as you drive in on hwy 10 to the intense power of the sun and the views of snow covered mountains.
Some of the things I loved about Palm Springs area:
the cool retro “desert modern’ architecture
the beautiful alpine wonderland above the desert
the interesting desert landscaping aesthetic
And then of course there is the issue of water – being, as we were, in the desert, which by definition lacks water. But oddly enough, you don’t have to venture far into Palm Springs before you are hit by a soft cool mist – a wonderful little gift when you feel like the desert is quickly sucking every bit of moisture out of your body. And then you wonder, a cool mist on the sidewalk in the middle of the desert? And you realize that this is a gift is actually a gift from the devil and it comes at a high price – parts of Coachella Valley have sunk 12″ in the last decade because of the depleted aquifer and then there is the Salton Sea. Agriculture in the area has increased significantly since the All American Canal was built to bring water from the Colorado River to Coachella Valley, also increasing the irrigation runoff that pours into the Salton Sea – the depth of which is 226 feet below sea level and is now 25% saltier than the ocean and increasing by 1% every year because of the agriculture fertilizer.
You don’t have to be in the desert very long before you realize the importance of saving water. The inanity of sidewalk water misters is possibly only superseded by irrigating a lawn on a windy afternoon in the middle of the desert (the wind blows the water into the street and what is left on the plants is quickly evaporated by the afternoon sun – leaving the plants thirsty and the irrigation water wasted).
But once we entered Joshua Tree National Park, I forgot all about the tragedy of the Salton Sea and Palm Springs sinking. No matter how old you are, you have to put Joshua Tree on your bucket list. It is truly an incredibly amazing place – I’ve never seen a natural landscape like it. The park is located on the transition zone where the Mojave desert meets the Colorado desert with all kinds of crazy rock formations and the elusive Joshua Tree, which doesn’t grow anyplace else on the planet. We entered the park from the southern entrance in the lower elevation Colorado desert and drove all the way through the park to the northern entrance in the higher elevation Mojave desert.
Stopping along the way we hiked to a palm oasis
climbed up to view the entire Coachella Valley from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea
We drove through enormous washes surrounded by mountains and dotted with bushes.
and wandered through groves of cholla, ocotillo and Joshua trees
Joshua Tree National Park was full of surprises. When you look out into the distance, the desert looks like a boring mottled green – its not till you look up close that you see the incredible color and texture diversity of everything – the rocks, the mountains, the cactus, the shrubs and the trees. And of course I was there for the flowers – I had been dreaming of the spring cactus flowers for years. But I wasn’t prepared for all the flowering shrubs and wild flowers. And sometimes it almost caused a car accident – like when I yelled at z to stop the car when I spotted the beautiful tropical-looking Sacred Datura.
Mountains of rock are everywhere, sometimes looking like a giant pile of marbles or gravel.
I was amazed at the pockets of plants – it was so bizarre, occasionally you’d see an ocotillo or cholla or red barrel cactus, but there was only one place where you’d see a big grove of them in one place.
And by far the most amazing part of the desert was the beautiful flowers of the funky looking Joshua Tree.
I’m already planning my trip to the desert next spring, making a list of all the places I didn’t have time for on this trip: hiking the Tahquitz Canyon, visiting the Salton Sea, view wild flowers at the Anza-Borrego national park and check out a Palm Tree orchard for a date milkshake.