| September 2010
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By Heather World
A play structure with illustrations of neighborhood history, a skateboard rail, an outdoor movie theater, a food bank. These were some of the visions for a Noe Valley town square generated by neighbors at a community meeting this summer.
Hosted by the Friends of Noe Valley and the Neighborhood Parks Council, the July 15 gathering of about 80 people was the first step toward turning the parking lot at 24th Street and Vicksburg into a public space that would likely host the popular weekly farmer’s market and more.
“There was a lot of community buy-in, a lot of cooperation,” said Todd David, a Eureka Street resident who is spearheading the effort to acquire the lot. The 10,000-square-foot open space is half owned by the Noe Valley Ministry, which needs to sell it in part to finance an ambitious remodel of its Gothic-style building on Sanchez Street. David, the Ministry, and others are working on getting the land into the public realm rather than seeing it turned into housing and retail space.
‘Outdoor Community Center’
Supervisor Bevan Dufty and Meredith Thomas, executive director of the Neighborhood Parks Council, opened the meeting, both emphasizing the need for community unity to move forward. Chris Guillard of CMG Landscape Architecture (think Mint Plaza and the Rooftop Garden at the Museum of Modern Art) promised pro bono services and a sustainable design that would focus on the social needs of the neighborhood.
Then neighbors rolled up their sleeves and got to business, guided by materials provided by the NPC—a sort of nonprofit strategic partner of the Recreation and Parks Department. They spread out among nine tables, and for nearly an hour, each group plowed through a list of questions meant to elicit the character of the neighborhood. Everyone was encouraged to write down dreams for a town square on large sheets of paper in the center of each table. These became the ideas for what one table described as “the ultimate outdoor community center.”
Most of the suggestions described a flexible open space: a gathering spot for daytime coffee breaks, dogs playing fetch, evening concerts, and maybe more than one farmer’s market a week. Security and safety came up more than once, as did many variations on play structures for children. People wanted noise kept to a minimum (sound wall, anyone?), but many suggested a stage for performances, too (acoustic only, please). One parent reminded the group that teens also need a safe place to hang out.
Parking Give and Take
Some at the meeting expressed concern about the loss of the lot’s 29 parking spaces. Parking should be part of any new configuration, said Bob Roddick, president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association.
“There are a lot of ways to trade off on this,” he said. For example, the diagonal parking on Castro Street between 25th and Jersey streets could be extended down Castro and 24th streets. The bus zones along 24th Street could be converted to parking spots, creating what are called “inline stops,” in which the bus stops in the street rather than at the curb.
David agrees parking is an issue that must be considered. He hopes two merchants will join the organization he and the Ministry’s Chris Keene created earlier this summer to guide the town square process, the Residents for Noe Valley Town Square. Already two members of the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market board—Leslie Crawford and Rick Hildreth—have come on board.
Hoping for Open Space
For now the group is only navigating the city bureaucracy. David and Keene have been working with Dufty, Rec and Park, and the Parks Council in the hopes that the city will buy the land using Open Space funds. Development and maintenance would then be the responsibility of a neighborhood entity, possibly Residents for Noe Valley Town Square.
“We have no idea what our financial needs are going to be,” said David. “We may need to raise money, but we don’t know.”
The city is assessing the value of the land, and that number—and the pathways to acquiring it—will be the focus of the next town square meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 28, said Thomas of NPC. Neighbors will be asked again to imagine the space, this time under the guidance of the landscape architect, she said.
Meanwhile, David and Keene will continue to build community consensus, to make a strong case for Open Space funds.
“The lesson from the plaza was to get people involved early on in the process,” David said.
You can learn more about Residents for Noe Valley Town Square by going to its website, www.noevalleytownsquare.com. The group’s next meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the James Lick Middle School Auditorium, 1220 Noe Street at 25th Street.