SFSU: How the Community Plays – Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park is located on Columbus Street in between Filbert Street and Union Street. This park in centrally located in the heart of North Beach and has a diverse and abundance of different visitors from around the world, as well as the locals who live up the street. This park is currently undergoing a restoration project which has not impeded the visitors of this beautiful park.

Washington Square Park has a variety of visitors; every type of person you can imagine was there. There was a group of six men all wearing the same white cap, I believe either a tourist group or a family reunion. This group of men are international visitors, I thought Italians, but either way I could not understand their brief conversations I heard as they walked past or the writing on their white caps. As I sit and observe I am accompanied by an older man sitting on the opposite side of the bench from me. Throughout my time observing we had brief integral conversations about the park and his favorite aspect about Washington Square Park. Bill, the older gentlemen next to me, happen to regal me with the old tales of debauchery and vies that took place in this park. “No one has sex in the park anymore,” he informed me. He also informed me that Washington Square Park use to be a cow pasture, I do not know the history of this park, but did find the factoid interesting. Additionally, Bill mentioned his favorite aspects about Washington Square Park, including the fact that it is close walking distance to his house and “you meet a lot of people, from here and international. I just met a girl from Israel yesterday!” The central location of Washington Square Park in the heart of North Beach does bring out a lot of local and international visitors to enjoy the green open space, to walk along the paths under the trees, to admire the large Catholic Church directly adjacent to the park and to stroll along the surrounding nearby shops and cafes.

This park is almost completely surrounded by long green benches, except on one side of the park. Every bench I see has people on it, all different types of people, different ethnicities, various ages and engaged in different activities. In one corner there is a group of older Asians gathered, conversing and feeding the pigeons. There is an African-American gentleman on another bench playing his acoustic guitar while on another bench are two Euro-Americans men smoking and drinking coffee. The middle of Washington Square is a big open field, where there are various groups dispersedly spread out all over the grass. There is a group of four women spreading a blanket to sit and have their lunch picnic style. There is a mother with her toddler, just learning how to walk, as she holds on the stroller and they walk through the grass slowly. The commuters are easy to distinguish, they mash their way through the park, never mind the paths, these folks are focused and have a direct path through the park. And the dog walkers, there are a few; I believe I counted 10 different dogs in my short time spent at Washington Square Park. There were a few off the leash playing fetch with their owners and running to make friends with other pups. On my way out of the park I encounter one last pup, who I also asked the owner what his favorite aspect of this Park was.  “A nice place to walk my dog and its close to my house.” And from the looks of it I feel that is a mutual feeling shared among the other visitors of Washington Square Park.

I got a sense that people in this park feel safe. From the group of women eating their lunch, the mom and her baby learning to walk, plus there was another pair of Euro-American women, late 20s/early 30s who were practicing yoga moves in the park, and a group of four girls playing a fun game of tag. Plus, a handful of single men and women reading, eating, and talking on the phone, are all feeling safe enough to engage in these activities with their loved ones and friends. I did observe a few sketchy characters, but this park is not over run by homeless or drunks. There were smokers of both substances, noticeable from the smell and a couple drinkers, which is noticeable from the brown bag, but even with the presence of these few, people did not seems to be bothered or felt uncomfortable. The majority of every visitor I saw come through this park, I saw sitting, eating, reading, walking, smoking and just talking to those around them, everyone was enjoying their surroundings and engaged in any activity that satisfy their needs.

From my observations, Washington Square Park is already achieving any future goals through their current renovation project. Plus, this park is wonderfully handicap accessible, I saw many older people walking through with their canes and a couple of folks in a wheel chair. I think the main necessities Washington Square Park is missing is built restrooms versus the various port-o-potties, a club house facility in order to store park equipment and maybe a direct path for commuters to walk straight through the park and the grass dwellers wouldn’t  feel like their space is being bombarded by pedestrians walking though. I think this park offers tourists and locals a wonderful place to escape in the midst of the city and offers a relaxing, open green space for all to enjoy.