On the Way to a Mission Greenbelt

May 2007

Replace an 8’ x 8’ square of sidewalk with native grasses, plants, shrubs and trees as a symbolic first step towards creating a greenbelt in San Francisco’s Mission District.

This public art project is the start of a large-scale urban earthwork that involves replacing sidewalks with native plant life to establish a connective greenbelt between the Mission District’s two largest parks: Franklin Square Park and Dolores Park. The greenbelt will be a narrow landscaped strip running east west through neighborhoods now lacking public green spaces. On the whole, the self-supporting native plants will thrive, as they have evolved for thousands of years to suit San Francisco’s semi-arid climate. Also, the permeable soil will absorb rainwater otherwise headed for the sewage treatment plant, which, during heavy rains, overflows into the Bay. Visually, the greenbelt will be reminiscent of the now landfill-covered Mission Creek with a stream of planted vegetation separating pedestrians from cars.

The artwork will begin with a public awareness campaign of volunteers. The volunteers will walk along the proposed Mission Greenbelt and talk with residents about the Sidewalk Landscaping Permit; legislation passed just last year that allows property owners to replace sidewalks with plant life. The awareness campaign’s aim is to find at least one property owner, who lives along the proposed Mission Greenbelt, interested in providing an 8’ x 8’ plot of sidewalk to replace. Together, the property owner and I will complete the permit process and secure San Francisco Department of Public Works approval. Information concerning the Mission Greenbelt project will be included in Hidden Histories, a group exhibition at Cell Space, curated by the Hypersea collaborative. Hidden Histories will include projects that utilize performance, installation and tours related to actual and imagined San Francisco histories.
Once the permit and plot have been approved, there will be a groundbreaking ceremony, followed by a forum on environmental art and urban ecology at the site. For the forum, I will invite Josiah Clark to speak about the ecology of San Francisco’s open spaces, Ledia Carroll to speak about her research on the history of Mission Lake and Mission Creek, Amy Franceshini to speak about her artwork Victory Gardens, Bonnie Sherk to speak about her artworks The Farm and A Living Library, and Joshua Short to speak about the ideas that inspired Hypersea. I will also invite Neighborhood Public Radio to be present to broadcast the forum on the radio.

The completion of this first segment of greenbelt will inspire residents to take this urban earthwork into their own hands by replacing the adjacent sidewalks. The forum during the groundbreaking will support artists and naturalists by giving them an opportunity to share their work with local residents, who will in turn benefit by being exposed to creative ideas put into action in the city where they live.

The timeline will follow the seasons with the public awareness campaign scheduled for August 2007, followed by the Hidden Histories Exhibition at Cell Space in September. During the rainy months, I will work with the property owner through the permit process. The groundbreaking and forum will happen in spring, and shortly thereafter, the property owner and myself will prepare the soil, and plant native grasses, plants, shrubs and trees. The first segment of the Mission Greenbelt will establish itself through the summer, and in early fall 2008, I will encourage adjoining neighbors to extend the greenbelt.
This project is an acknowledgement of work completed by Friends of the Urban Forest, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s Natural Areas Program, the city of San Francisco, and countless San Francisco residents committed to improving the environment.