| May 2010
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Noe Plaza a Bold Experiment
[Re: "Minipark Spurs Mini-Revolt," Noe Valley Voice April 2010]
I have lived in Noe Valley for eight years. When I tell people that I live here, they remark on our stroller moms, doggie dads, kids, restaurants, and the vibrancy of 24th Street. The previous neighborhood I lived in was primarily known for easy access to Highway 280 and for being "close to somewhere else." It was known for what it was near and how easy it was to leave. Noe Valley is known for what is here, and more importantly for who we are--no small feat for a neighborhood not built on common ethnic heritage. Wearing my Noe Valley snobbery on my sleeve, I think that makes us a little bit special.
We will soon have a chance to try a bold experiment that turns conventional thinking on its head--to close a road to cars and open it to people. Where we now bump into our neighbors on the streets, we may soon be able to gather together in an open space in the heart of our business district. We have a wonderful resource in 24th Street, but it is like an athlete with lungs, limbs, muscles, and brains--but no heart. Good, perhaps great, but with the potential to be so much more.
A trial of a road closure at 24th and Noe will cause change, and change is not always easy. We may find out that the concept is flawed or unworkable. Should that happen, we will call it a day on that experiment and move on. To me, the fact that we are willing to try something so unique and counter to stale conventional wisdom--just to see if it might work--is evidence that I am right, we are special here in our little valley. I ask that my neighbors prove me right and support the trial of a full plaza at 24th and Noe.
The Pinnacle of Poor Planning
I want to register my strong opposition to the [proposed closure] of Noe Street to create an "urban park."
Why weren't the most directly affected residents, i.e., the people living on Jersey, Elizabeth, Castro, Sanchez, and 24th streets, properly notified? Why does the CBD [Noe Valley Community Benefit District, administered by the Noe Valley Association], along with the various San Francisco agencies, get the power to initiate sweeping projects without consultation? When someone wants to renovate their own home, they have to send written notification to all neighbors and provide a 30-day notice period. The plaza would block a major street, and not a single notice was sent to anyone.
To close a street prior to doing traffic studies is simply irresponsible. Let's do it and see what happens? What kind of a traffic plan is that? Where exactly do you think those cars and trucks are going to go? Down the neighboring streets, which are already inundated with blocked driveways and double-parked cars.
The same group of people promoting this idea are the ones who took away the sidewalk space on Noe Street to create massive planter areas. I'm all for greening the city, but have any of you ever spent a whole Saturday looking at what happens on the Starbucks corner? The sidewalk is jam-packed, since most of it was taken over by the planters. I routinely have to walk my dog around the block just so we don't get trampled. Yet another instance of poor planning from people who don't have to deal with the daily consequences.
Creating this park is just as poorly thought out but on a massively larger scale. It's no longer just navigating an unnecessarily tiny sidewalk. It's thousands of vehicles a week being rerouted onto adjacent streets.
The constant comparison to Castro and 17th Street is inaccurate. Prior to the park, that entire area was painted with yellow lines, and the only cars going through there were turning from northbound Castro. You can't compare that with stopping traffic on a north/south street that goes through the entire neighborhood! Justifying the Castro "success" with a survey that shows support from 8 of 11 businesses is very flimsy evidence of success.
What's wrong with the parklets on 24th Street where the Farmers' Market is or where the parking lot is? Both are about a block from Noe Street and wonderful places for people to congregate. How about the Upper Noe Rec Center with its costly renovation? Can't people be encouraged to have community space there? Noe Courts? Douglass Playground? There is no shortage of spaces for people in Noe Valley to congregate. Creating a plaza by blocking a major street is not necessary. And the CBD's contention that the community wants more gathering places from meetings four years ago is hardly a justification. If you told those people that to create the gathering places a major street would be blocked off, I'm sure serious concerns would have been raised four years ago.
This grand scheme is going to provide a useful gathering area on Saturday and Sunday mornings for people shopping on 24th Street. And in exchange for those 10 hours a week, you are going to cause headaches for all the immediate neighbors 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The waste of taxpayer money on whimsical ideas while the city has a massive budget deficit has to stop. Continually putting the "community" desires against those residents directly affected by it (such as the restaurant issue) has to stop. Having selected representatives of the CBD decide how to reshape our neighborhood has to stop. Experimenting in the name of progress without doing the proper studies has to stop. The building of this park has to stop.
Try It Part-Time
My wife Elizabeth Cronbach and I support the idea of a plaza on Noe Street at 24th. We live on Elizabeth west of Castro and get to and from the 24th Street shopping area variously by car, by foot, and by Muni. We have a 2-year-old granddaughter who we bring down to the shopping area when we get a chance and think the plaza would make the overall experience more enjoyable for everyone.
We have lived here for 36 years and appreciate the way in which 24th Street has become more of a "scene" in the last decade or so.
One thought: In the cities we visit in France, there are part-time auto-free zones. Maybe if a compromise is necessary, that could be a solution, at least for a while.
Michael and Elizabeth Cronbach
Public Safety an Issue
The problem with the ill-conceived proposal to block Noe Street is one of public safety.
Police and firefighters know that Noe Street is their quickest direct route for reaching Noe Valley residents who live just north of 24th Street.
In fact, I can't believe that those who live north of 24th Street aren't taking to the streets with pitchforks and torches or boycotting members of the Noe Valley Association over the proposed closure. After all, they're the ones who will lose precious minutes when ambulances and firetrucks can't get to them quickly.
It's Only Temporary
I just want to chime in on the debate about the temporary plaza that's been proposed for 24th Street and Noe. I have heard some of the opposition to the plaza trial, which seems to revolve around all kinds of potential problems that would result from its installation. What seems lost in all the noise is that the city's Pavement to Parks program has designed and installed all of these similar public spaces throughout the city as temporary trials. The great thing about a trial is that we don't have to speculate about perceived pros and cons. We can just set up the temporary experiment and find out for ourselves. I can understand a visceral reaction to a proposed permanent change. I cannot understand the fear of a trial run.
Given how scarce public space is on 24th Street, I would really like to see the plaza trial go forward as it was originally imagined.
Meet in the Middle
On April 8, I objected to the proposed blocking of Noe Street at a community meeting. Since then I've been called a variety of names in person and online, and been attributed many vividly unflattering traits.
While I anticipated a great many opinions, I did not expect open hostilities to break out. I did not expect, for example, unfriendly hand gestures from passing bicyclists as I walked to BART. Neither did I expect to be advised that "you old people should die and get out of the way of progress."
In a matter of days, an admirable program became enveloped in a toxic cloud of conflicting expectations and rising anxiety. Instead of balancing community benefits with individual needs, battle lines were drawn. Neighbors became enemies.
People who believe a plaza is worth exchanging for a street became the enemies of good sense, of cars, of reason, of residents, of merchants, of stability. People who don't want Noe blocked became enemies of progress, of environmentalism, of sustainability, of public transit, pedestrians, parks, trees, families and all that signifies...something. It is in this wide, gray fog of significance that we lost sight of each other.
If striking a blow for a principle requires knocking out your neighbor, then the principle is flawed. Ideals are supposed to serve people, not the other way around. If reason is discarded in favor of reducing others to two-dimensional obstructions, then kindness, an underestimated virtue, has been tossed aside as well.
Still, distrust can be converted into good faith. Hand gestures need to be adjusted, of course, and all our political processes made more transparent. Meeting in the middle might be best begun with a meeting of minds, not a clash of egos and ideology. By taking a step back, asking residents for alternative and creative ideas, we can come to a solution instead of creating rancor. Otherwise, any parklet, plaza, or streetscape will be less a community gathering spot than a war memorial.
Mary C. McFadden
Noe Valley Archeology on Display
Dear Noe Valleyans:
Thank you so much to those of you who participated in my project, "Noe Valley: A Narrative Archeology," by telling me your stories about your lives lived in the neighborhood. The project is culminating this month with my MFA exhibition at California College of the Arts. The show will be up May 615 at 1111 Eighth Street (in Potrero Hill), with an opening reception on Thursday, May 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. My space will be the last room on the left. It would be wonderful to see you there! Please spread the word!
The show will include works I have made based on the narrative material I collected, including handmade books, prints, and drawings, sculptural elements, and film installation. I have also self-published a book that includes an essay on Noe based on the personal experiences of its inhabitants, as well as collected narratives from participants and images both of the neighborhood and of my artworks. You can check out the book at the show, but it is also available at http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/noe-valley-a-narrative-archeology/10284133 for $25, the cost of printing (I am not making revenue).
Again, thank you infinitely for your participation. I couldn't have completed this project without you.
Editor's Note: Voice writer Lorraine Sanders described Claire Kessler-Bradner's project in a September 2009 story titled "Local Artist Sets Out to Map Neighborhood's Oral History." You can reread it at www.noevalleyvoice.com.
Thank You and Farewell
Dear People of Noe Valley:
Thank you for a very interesting three years. I have enjoyed friends on Jersey Street and Chattanooga Street.
I will miss all the shops and people, the views, the libraries, the opera house, and ShadowLight Theater.
Thank you to two landlords--Phyllis Rodighiero and Betty Mathews--and to my sister Helen Dannenberg.
Friend of Noe Valley
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