SFSU: How the Community Plays – Balboa Park

Balboa Park Grand Opening

Balboa Park, located at the intersection of Ingleside, the Outer Mission, and Excelsior in San Francisco, is easily accessible to visitors by both BART and Muni. The surrounding streets are lined with homes, full of residents who also benefit from this park’s many offerings. The varied landscape of the 24 acre park lends itself to a variety of ages and persuasions. Boxer Stadium, four baseball fields, and an indoor pool are long-standing features of the park. In 2012, a renovation project also erected a new playground, added picnic areas, and resurfaced the tennis courts. On September 29th, 2012 the park opened a new skate park in Southeast corner (SFRP). With the recent improvements and others still in the works, this park is a thriving San Francisco mainstay.
As someone relatively new to San Francisco (although I grew up in San Jose, forty-five miles South), I had not visited Balboa Park until last month. I was initially prompted to visit when a coworker of mine gushed about the family atmosphere of the beautiful park, which has made it her favorite spot to frequent with her two-year old niece. A woman I encountered at the park echoed this sentiment, impressed by the gamut of team sports and overall offerings of the park. Although visiting for the purpose of exercising her dogs, she was impressed by the variety of activities available for all ages, citing the new skate park as an example.
The physical space was beautiful to an outsider’s eye. At first glance, the park appeared well kept and inviting. On a Monday afternoon, I easily found parking along Sgt. John V. Young Street. Immediately to my right, I saw the playground built in 2012, clean, colorful, and complete with a great selection of fun and attractive structures. That afternoon, I found a mother lightly pushing her young child on one of the swings, appearing to enjoy the time to bond outdoors. Several tables and benches were conveniently located within the fenced-in playground as an alternative for those not using the play structures. A public restroom and water fountains were just outside the play area; as a nice touch, the wall of the building was decorated with a colorful mural. The amenities in this area appeared ideal for getting young children outdoors in a safe environment.
As I followed the curved pathway that cut between the restrooms and playground, I discovered four tennis courts in excellent condition and an expansive, manicured lawn. Here, I observed the parks’ attendants, the bulk of which were currently four-legged. The large Northeast field, absent of any scheduled activities, was excellent for playing fetch with dogs, something two people here were doing, with multiple dogs apiece. Many more people merely used the parks’ long paths to walk their dogs alongside the field and parks’ other features. While the mellow day and open space lent itself to canine exercise, the lack of separation between these activity areas caused problems while I was there.
I observed two altercations between off leash dogs playing fetch and those being walked nearby. Although no harm came from the encounters, it highlighted the recommendation of one dog owner I spoke with to fence in an area of the park for off-leash pets. She appreciated the low fence running along San Jose Ave. and thought enclosing an area entirely would be helpful for dog play. This recommendation is offered with the acknowledgement that I am not sure that off-leash animals are intended at this location as San Francisco Recreation and Parks’ website does not list Balboa Park as a dog play area (SFRP).
The next person I spoke with approached me out of curiosity. Intrigued by my clipboard as he was walking through the park with his two small dogs, he inquired what I was up to. When I explained, he immediately began to tell me about Balboa Pool. As a nearby resident, he had been keeping up on the current discussion of earthquake retrofitting of the indoor pool. According to San Francisco Recreation and Parks’ website, $7 million has been set aside from the 2012 Clean & Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond for improvements to the structure. Three public meetings to discuss the pool’s future have occurred so far this year and it appears to be the next piece of the puzzle in the upgrading of the park’s amenities (SFRP). Although the pool requires some attention, overall the park feels inviting and has a lot to offer the local residents and visitors. No matter your choice use of the park, the opportunities here appear to be increasing. Beautiful amenities such as the Skate Park and new playground make the location further attractive, while the recent addition of free outdoor Wi-Fi demonstrates the variety of ways in which San Francisco Recreation and Parks is working to tailor community spaces to the widest audience. It is evident from the variety of activities enjoyed at the park and from the efforts of groups such as Friends of Balboa Park that San Franciscans appreciate the potential of this open space.