Pennsylvania Street Garden Grows
By Leeandrea Morton
Pennsylvania Street Gardens, an initiative to improve the 100 block of Pennsylvania Street, is finally underway after more than two years of planning. The project is designed to wholly renovate the forsaken area near Interstate-280 on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street. Once completed, that strip of Pennsylvania Street will be home to 23 trees, a walking path, and a state-of-the-art storm water drainage site.
The initiative is led by Potrero Hill resident Annie Shaw, her husband, Matt Petty, and Dogpatch resident Emily Gogol. It was first launched by Shaw, a web designer, who decided to plant a garden on a derelict section of California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) right-of-way located on 18th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, at the I-280 off-ramp to Mariposa Street.
Shaw was inspired to start the garden in 2008 after she noticed a potted, stray Princess Plant – Tibouchina urvilleana – sitting deserted on 17th Street. A few days later, looking out the window of her Pennsylvania Street home, she saw that someone had planted it by the Mariposa off-ramp. The next day, Shaw loaded her car with plants she purchased at a San Francisco Botanical Garden sale, thinking she’d never have to buy vegetation for the empty space again. “Naivety is a really good thing in situations like this, because you don’t know how daunted you should really be. Just get started, though, and people will help,” said Shaw.
After Shaw and her now husband Petty created the Pennsylvania Garden at 18th Street, a steady stream of volunteers have followed, including Gogol, who introduced herself to Shaw less than a year after her initial act of guerilla gardening. The small team hatched a plan to revitalize the neglected corner of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Street. Gogol, a research scientist, served as grant writer, and helped secure funding from the Community Challenge Grant Program, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Healthy People 2020 Community Innovations Project, and the Eastern Neighborhoods Public Benefit Fund. Along with Caltran’s support, these monies helped nurture the Pennsylvania Garden at 18th Street, and funded the construction of the latest garden at 17th Street.
“The Pennsylvania Garden project [at 18th Street] happened by the skin of our teeth,” Gogol admitted. “We just put it in first and asked for help later. The project we’re working on now [at 17th Street] is huge.”
The team leading the 17th Street project hosted three reconstruction workdays late last year that included neighborhood volunteers and staff from Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF), a nonprofit San Francisco tree planting organization. FUF plants roughly 1,000 trees annually. It offers its services once about 20 San Franciscans commit to planting at least thirty trees in a defined area. FUF schedules the planting event, helps coordinate activities, recommends tree species, and undertakes necessary preparations, such as sidewalk concrete removal and auguring. Auguring – pre-digging – loosens the soil so that holes can easily be dug. It’s necessary in places like Potrero Hill, where the soil is tightly packed.
FUF charges $105 per tree, including pre-work and two maintenance visits two and 18 months after the trees are planted. Last year’s Pennsylvania Street workdays marked Heidi Lakics’, FUF planting manager, 72nd tree-planting, reflecting 2,140 trees. “After two years of planning, it’s so fantastic to finally see the trees in the ground,” said Lakics.
Prior to reconstruction and tree planting, the 100 block of Pennsylvania Avenue was subject to daily graffiti tagging, dumping, prostitution, arson, and homeless camps. A retention wall, installed last fall, decreased the drop-off to the area beneath I-280 from eight to six feet, making illegal activity more difficult to conceal. Since then the number of illegal activities has declined. “Now people feel like someone cares, so it’s no longer a great place for crime,” said Gogol.
The 100 block of Pennsylvania Avenue will ultimately feature a host of low-maintenance trees, such as European Olive, Purple Peppermint, and Acacia. A decomposed granite walking-path has been installed, as well as bio-retention cells that absorb rainwater and filter out pollutants instead of redirecting raw storm water to sewers and pumping it into the bay. The project will be fully completed by next winter, with an opening celebration to be held next summer.
“The community needs to know that they too can do this. It just requires a little vision and stubbornness,” said Shaw.
“We get to have our own garden in San Francisco. What a privilege” Gogol affirmed.
See page 27 for pictures of the finished garden.
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