No place in San Francisco is growing faster than District Six, that curious mix of hip SoMa and gritty Tenderloin stretches of town. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, its population grew by 35 percent over the past decade.
But there’s one thing that hasn’t been growing there, despite an explosion of residential and economic development: parks and open space.
That’s a problem that needs to be fixed, city recreation and park officials say, and they hope recommendations expected Thursday from a task force they created a year ago will set them on the road to do just that.
The task force’s report is expected to lay out where new parks should go, how big they should be and how the city will pay for them. The district includes the South of Market, Tenderloin and South Beach neighborhoods.
The commission is expected to take at least a year before it authorizes the purchase of any new park space. But any improvements can’t come soon enough for leaders of the area.
“The city is touting our district as smart-growth development, a place where people can live and walk to work,” said District Six Supervisor Jane Kim. “But work is 9 to 5. What about evenings and the weekend? Parks are an important part.”
The report identifies western and eastern SoMa, Civic Center and the Tenderloin as having the greatest need for new space. But new open space is hard to come by in the dense district that’s home to 73,000 people, enough to fill a small city.
“It was never envisioned or utilized as a major residential area; open spaces were just not seen as a critical part of that plan,” Dawn Kamalanathan, director of capital and planning for the Recreation and Park Department, said about the district. “To find a big park is a rare event nowadays.”
The city would most likely pay for a new park using the Open Space Acquisition Fund, which grows about $1.8 million every year through property taxes and currently stands at $7.36 million. The city most recently tapped the fund to buy a small parking lot at 24th and Sanchez streets in Noe Valley for $4.2 million to create the Noe Valley Town Square.
Rec and Park plans to hire a real estate broker to evaluate 15 to 20 potential sites for the city to buy from a private owner or another city agency and turn into parks. That appraisal process should be complete by early 2014, Kamalanathan said.
But don’t expect new parks to pop up right away, she warned.
“It’s really hard to project,” she said. “It’s dependent on someone wanting to sell it to us.”
Parks, not ballfields
The task force decided to recommend developing two to three parks between .25 and .5 acres instead of one bigger park, and to call for amenities like community gardens, children’s playgrounds and outdoor seating instead of sprawling athletic fields. Rec and Park officials said that makes the most sense for the demographics of the district, which has a high concentration of seniors, as well as young children who might be from another district but attend preschool in the area.
“A lot of seniors and young professionals are looking for somewhere to hang out rather than a large playfield complex,” Kamalanathan said. “It would be better to have smaller open spaces than no open spaces at all.”
The four sites singled out by the task force as potential new parks include the area between 1501 and 1617 Harrison St., the “Brady Block” at Market and Octavia, the Steuart Street Triangle between Howard Street and The Embarcadero, and 639 Bryant St. The Bryant Street location is currently a pipe yard owned by the Public Utilities Commission.
Toby Levy, a task force member and South Park resident since 1986, said she wants to see future parks become community gathering spaces.
“It’s what makes any city livable,” said Levy, who is currently leading an effort to renovate South Park. “It’s the informal living room in a lot of these areas, especially when there’s really dense housing.”