local news










This Chapter's...





drafting group

Sustainability Plan / Parks, Open Spaces and Streetscapes / Introduction

 Parks, squares, street trees, and other greenery and open space in San Francisco are vital assets of a healthy and livable city. The ecological benefits of these resources are substantial: landscape improves air quality and lowers dust levels, provides vital habitat and corridors for birds and wildlife, reduces water run-off and erosion, and allows groundwater recharge. Trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide and thus lower the city’s contribution to global warming, an important capacity since the phenomenon of global warming has recently passed from theory to confirmed reality.

San Francisco’s public spaces, parks, trees and open spaces also have a profound social and economic function in our city that is often overlooked.
These resources enable people to connect with each other and with the natural world. They bring residents and visitors together for enjoyment, recreation, spiritual renewal, and education. They enhance the experience of walking, shopping, working, traveling and living in the city. Parks and open spaces also provide gathering places to celebrate the arts and cultural diversity, and engage in political discourse and athletic competition. As such, our civic landscape is not just an ecological asset but is an investment in the social fabric of the community and thereby becomes a critical element in the economic development of the city, too.

For example, even though numerous studies have shown that
parks and street trees act to increase property values and hence generate more tax dollars for city coffers, few cities take the necessary steps to invest in these revenue-generating civic amenities. In San Francisco, like many cities, we have been reducing our investment in our street-tree and park programs. This trend must be reversed if the city is to capture both the economic and ecological benefits of its urban forest and spark the civic involvement in this resource that can build a sustainable social fabric in the next century.

A sustainable city provides adequate (or even generous) access to parks and safe and numerous playgrounds and recreation facilities for its residents. What city residents do not appreciate beautiful, tree-lined boulevards, which for some become their main link with nature? San Francisco, however, is far below the national standard of 10 acres of open space per 1,000 residents (5.5 acres in San Francisco) and 200 street trees per street mile (80 to 100 in San Francisco).

The first goal in creating a sustainable civic landscape must therefore be the provision of attractive and numerous vegetated oases and tree-lined streets, keeping in mind that whenever decisions are made related to landscaping, these decisions also affect the wildlife with which we share the planet.

A second critical goal is the maintenance of this vital resource. Parks, squares, and street trees are capital improvements, just like investments in roads and civic infrastructure. It is bad business practice to allow investments to be squandered. Yet, as illustrated by the devastating storms of the winters of 1994 and 1995, park and street trees are highly vulnerable, and require a consistent, annual reforestation and landscape improvement plan, as well as regular maintenance of infrastructure and recreation facilities in both the neighborhood parks and Golden Gate Park.

The basis of adequate maintenance is two-fold: additional funding (Goal 3) and expanded public participation (Goal 4). Financial resources are needed not only to renovate our parks, squares, recreation facilities, and
streetscapes, but also to ensure that the City creates a first-class system in order to reap all of its ecological, economic and social benefits, and to protect the investment already made in these areas.

San Francisco must also expand the civic commitment to, and the opportunities for, public participation in supporting our “green” resources and recreational facilities. National studies show that resident commitment to parks and open spaces, recreation and street-tree programs becomes stronger with increased involvement in hands-on activities to design, create, and maintain these amenities. Programs that involve residents in the maintenance of parks, squares and streetscapes in particular, provide information and motivation to residents to support and expand city services in these areas.

Volunteer programs are not, however, an acceptable substitute for adequate civic commitment to fund urban forest and recreation programs. Volunteers cannot necessarily provide the consistency over time required in the normal maintenance of a living resource. Nor is relinquishing management of public greenery to the lowest bidder an effective long-term strategy for maintenance of this irreplaceable civic asset. A living resource requires consistent funding for regular, long-term management planning. It also requires a reliable, skilled and experienced work force to observe the landscape over time and to recommend maintenance based on these observations. Such recommendations do not come from the lowest bidder with the cheapest, short-term labor.

San Francisco needs beautiful, safe and inviting parks and playgrounds, and tree-lined streets. Some objectives and actions needed to realize the four key goals identified by the Parks, Open Spaces and Streetscapes Circle are detailed below, but public engagement in this ongoing process of planning and taking action on the various actions will be essential to sustain and enhance this tremendous natural and civic resource.