Mission Greenbelt Campaign Headquarters

August 2007

I propose transforming the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery into Mission Greenbelt public awareness campaign headquarters. At campaign headquarters, active workstations will be set amongst art exhibits concerning San Francisco’s natural history. Gallery staffers at work on the campaign will invite visitors to help with campaign tasks. Through participation, visitors will be introduced to the 2006 San Francisco legislation, the Sidewalk Landscaping Permit; they will learn about native plants and urban ecology; and they will further efforts towards establishing the Mission Greenbelt, a large-scale urban earthwork.

The Sidewalk Landscaping Permit allows property owners to replace small portions of sidewalks with plant life. This is an opportunity for city residents to radically affect San Francisco’s environment, as each newly planted sidewalk garden will improve urban ecology. Replacing portions of sidewalks with permeable soil will also absorb rainwater otherwise headed for the sewage treatment plant, which, during heavy rains, overflows into the Bay.

I suggest using native plants because they have adapted for thousands of years to San Francisco’s environmental conditions. The Mission Greenbelt project, in its early stages, is a large-scale, community-based urban earthwork that incorporates the Sidewalk Landscaping Permit. The Mission Greenbelt will involve working with Mission District residents to replace sidewalks with native plant life to establish a narrow, connective greenbelt running east west through Mission District neighborhoods from Franklin Square Park to Dolores Park. One segment, running along Harrison Street from 17th to 18th, will be reminiscent of the now landfill-covered Mission Creek, with a stream of vegetation separating pedestrians from cars.

Aspects of the Mission Greenbelt earthwork will be exhibited at Cell Space in September 2007 as part of Hidden Histories, an exhibition of projects that utilize performance, installation and tours related to actual and imagined San Francisco histories. Installed in the gallery will be an informational exhibit with Mission Greenbelt-related research, interviews and photographs. A walking tour of the Mission Greenbelt site will also be part of this exhibition. Volunteers will meet first for a brief training about the Sidewalk Landscaping Permit and the Mission Greenbelt earthwork. Thereafter, the group will walk from Franklin Square Park to Dolores Park, initiating conversations with residents and inviting them to become a part of the project.

During the Winter Workshop at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, visitors will be urged to participate in the artwork by taking on campaign tasks, by sharing their ideas about how to develop the campaign, and/or by volunteering their skills. Daily task sheets, an overall project time-line and a special events calendar will be posted in the gallery to set out campaign goals. Also, visitors may sign up to take part in scheduled tours of the Mission Greenbelt earthwork site.

At campaign headquarters, Mission District residents will be encouraged to take the earthwork into their own hands. A team of volunteers will walk along the Mission Greenbelt personally inviting residents into the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery to participate in a hands-on ‘How to Build a Sidewalk Garden’ workshop. Workshop attendees will have a special opportunity to learn from resident experts and consultants about how to begin the permit process, how to prepare the greenbelt site, and how to select native plant life appropriate for the Mission District.

The San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, across the street from City Hall, is a fitting location for the Mission Greenbelt headquarters. I will work to make the public awareness campaign fit seamlessly into the civic arena. I plan to approach the San Francisco Department of Public Works to ask someone from their office to be present in the gallery one day a week to assist residents in filling out Sidewalk Landscaping Permits. Also, I will solicit the city of San Francisco for funds to subsidize all or part of the $215 permit fee, citywide, for residents who, during the length of the exhibition, commit to growing and maintaining a sidewalk garden.

Natural history art exhibits will be installed throughout the gallery, highlighting different aspects of San Francisco’s urban ecology. To give the earthwork context, there will be a topographic wall piece. This piece will be constructed of Bay Area aerial imagery, maps isolating the Mission Greenbelt, as well as contemporary and historic photographs of the greenbelt site. In a darkened area of the gallery, a digital projection piece by ecologist Josiah Clark will reveal the biodiversity that is possible if we create more native habitats in San Francisco.

Combinations of native plants will be arranged into living sculptures on the gallery floors. These living sculptures are examples of plant groupings that, if planted outdoors in sidewalk plots, will create mini-ecosystems that increase biodiversity. Native plants are an ideal habitat for local birds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, and they are drought tolerant. Native plants will also be for sale during the exhibition courtesy of Greg Gaar of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council.

There will also be a library installation created specifically for the exhibition. Publications will be on loan from the Prelinger Library, Nature in the City, and from the Randall Museum and the libraries of local naturalists and environmental artists. Mission Greenbelt-related research, sketches and project proposals will also be located here.

Additionally, the Mission Greenbelt public awareness campaign will incorporate the ideas of Mission District youth. I will invite the youth to participate in a brainstorming and art making session that will project their environmental needs and ideas for their schools and neighborhoods. Their work will be made in the gallery and installed for the duration of the exhibition. The youth will be associated with World Savvy, an educational organization working to illuminate global issues.

My previous work has often incorporated the skills of others through various collaborations. Largely, those mentioned in this proposal are colleagues who I have worked with in the past, and they are available and supportive of this project. The Winter Workshop will give me the opportunity to amass a team of local naturalists, neighborhood activists, environmental artists and policy-makers. This group will provide the many skills and perspectives it will take to realize the Mission Greenbelt earthwork.