Monday, December 3, 2007

2007 Beautification Awards Presentation

For those of you who couldn't attend our 60th Anniversary Celebration and 2007 Beautification Awards Dinner, here is the presentation I gave about this year's award winners. Once I figure out how to get photos on here, we'll add the visual presentation, but for now, here's the narrative. Enjoy!

San Francisco Beautiful 2007 Beautification Awards Presentation
“Lasting Urban Beauty: The Challenge of Keeping San Francisco Beautiful”

Written and Presented by Dee Dee Workman, Executive Director
October 18, 2007

Good evening.

What does it take to keep a city beautiful? Even in San Francisco, one of the world’s most uniquely beautiful cities, tremendous effort is required every day to keep our streets and sidewalks clean, our parks functioning and usable, our commercial corridors vibrant and thriving, the integrity of our neighborhoods intact. San Francisco’s intriguing history and abundant urban beauty is evident everywhere you look; in our architecture and on our hills, in our open spaces and along our waterways, down our view corridors and in each neighborhood. The challenge for all of us, and for San Francisco Beautiful over our next 60 years, is to keep it that way.

From South of Market to the Inner Mission, from the top of Mt. Sutro to the Richmond District, individual citizens and neighborhood groups, working in partnership with city staff have taken the challenge, devoting themselves, often over many years, to crafting extraordinary contributions of lasting beauty that help keep San Francisco a captivating and livable city. We honor these civic champions tonight with the San Francisco Beautiful 2007 Beautification Awards.

Victoria Manalo Draves Park and Bessie Carmichael School

South of Market, SOMA, South of the Slot – the names leave little doubt as to the location of this San Francisco neighborhood. Always an industrial center, the area has historically been a working class community of immigrants. In the 19th century Irish families came to work in the factories, living in crowded tenement housing, virtually all of which burned to the ground in the 1906 earthquake. Post-quake fire codes limited most South of Market reconstruction to residential hotels and apartment buildings. By mid-century those were filled with predominantly Filipino families displaced from Manilatown during the urban renewal era, when entire blocks near Chinatown of low-cost housing and businesses that served the Filipino community were razed.

The character of South of Market has started to change with the advent of high rises and high-income housing. Many immigrant families who have lived in the community for generations are struggling to stay, even though basic public amenities have been lacking.

Bessie Carmichael School at Folsom near 6th Street opened in temporary bungalows in the 1950’s. Nearly 50 years later, the bungalows were still there. Bobbie Washington, a student at the school and now a community liaison, says the bungalows lacked running water and heat. It was like being in a developing country, she says. The community got fed up and in 1999 formed the New Bessie Carmichael Working Group to advocate for a new school. After bond money allocated to finally build it disappeared, Supervisor Chris Daly stepped in to shore up political will and secure funding so the school would be built.

In 2005, more than a half-century after it was promised, children entered the new Bessie Carmichael School. Bobby Washington marvels at how spacious it is, at the light filtering in through the classroom windows. Named for the original school’s beloved principal, it sits adjacent to the former school site. A land swap between the school district and the Recreation and Park Department reverted that site to parkland. The bungalows are gone, and in their place, a sunny and green public park has opened just across from the school, spanning a massive South of Market block.

Victoria Manalo Draves is an Olympic gold medal winner, a diver who grew up around the corner from the park that has been named for her, the first American woman, the first Asian woman and the first Fillipina to win an Olympic medal.

SoMa neighbors, led by the South of Market Community Action Network and the South of Market Project Area Committee collaborated with Mary Tienken, project manager from the Recreation and Park Department to design and build the new park. In a neighborhood landlocked in a sea of concrete, residents wanted their park to be green so wide, grassy lawns and a baseball field stretch across the space that also serves as the new school’s recreation area. The basketball court is constantly in use. A lively playground anchors the park, and just beyond it, carrots, radishes and sweet basil spill over the planter beds in the community garden. Jason Ortega grew up in the neighborhood and has his own plot in the garden. He never thought he could grow his own food, he says. Jason leads the Friends of Victoria Manalo Draves Park, community stewards who fought for the park and come every day to keep it clean. Near-by resident Laura Weil got Stan the Submerging Man, an art sculpture from Burning Man, installed near the playground. Stan is a whimsical 18-foot-tall figure lit from within and constructed from fragments of reclaimed plastic toys and colored vinyl demo records. Irene Pijoan designed decorative fencing that celebrates creatures from the air and sea. Sadly, Irene, who dedicated the fence to her daughter, passed away before the park opened.

Everyone agrees that Bessie Carmichael School and Victoria Manalo Draves Park have exceeded all expectations. Neither would exist today if not for decades of civic action on the part of generations of South of Market residents. San Francisco Beautiful’s founder Friedel Klussmann would have admired the guts and tenacity of her fellow citizens who wouldn’t take no for an answer, even if it took 50 years. Tonight, we celebrate them all, with our highest honor, the San Francisco Beautiful Friedel Klussmann Award.

Friends of Duboce Park and Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association

If you’ve never had the experience of walking a labyrinth, I suggest you give it a try. The contemplative, meditative movement is an effective antidote to the hurly burly urban world we live in.

Where would I find a labyrinth, you might be wondering. San Francisco has several –Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill has one at its entrance. San Francisco’s newest labyrinth is on the Scott Street side of Duboce Park in the Duboce Triangle. Its warm terra cotta colors create a soothing calm in this hectic corner of the city.

Market, Castro and Duboce Streets form the triangle that gives this neighborhood its name. Duboce Park, bursting with families and dog walkers all hours of the day and night, activates the north side of the triangle, along the N-Judah streetcar line.

Charming pedestrian oriented streets lined with shade trees, and mom and pop stores nestled among turn of the century Victorians make this is a city dwellers dream of a livable neighborhood. But it takes the vigilance of stalwart community activists to keep it that way.

The Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association is a group of savvy residents who work what appears to be every waking hour on land use issues that impact the quality of life of their unique neighborhood. With the new Octavia Boulevard right next door, they’re pushing for more affordable housing and higher densities in the Market-Octavia corridor because they understand that economic diversity is key to an appealing and livable community. Dennis Richards, President of DTNA, says that given the extraordinary cost of housing in the city, the challenge is not just to keep cafes in the Triangle but to ensure that cafĂ© workers can continue to live here.

A new building planned at neighboring Davies Medical Center will incorporate traffic calming improvements on Noe Street because, rather than fighting the plan, the neighborhood association worked with the hospital to add amenities that will mitigate its impact. The result will be a beautiful new block of Noe Street enhanced with trees, bulb outs and landscaping to provide gracious and safe passage into Duboce Park.

Another group of neighbors started working to improve conditions of the park almost 10 years ago. After rebuilding the dreadful playground on Duboce Street, the Friends of Duboce Park turned their attention to the play structure on Scott Street. Dilapidated and riddled with toxins, the play equipment was eventually condemned. The Friends, led by Janet Sheuer, raised funds, including a grant from San Francisco Beautiful, to install a labyrinth in its place. Designed by Richard Feather Anderson, who created the Grace Cathedral labyrinth, this stunning addition to the park opened last spring. Local residents contributed by installing brightly colored mosaic tiles that snake around the labyrinth, up the walls and seating benches. A table labyrinth for the blind that can be followed with a finger was built at the same time. Five drum stools made by neighbor and sculptor Buddy Rhodes provide seating at the entrance. The site is surrounded by flowering cherry trees and native vegetation planted by volunteers working with the Recreation and Park Department. The labyrinth, which offers recreation adults and children can both enjoy, has brought the Scott Street side of the park, once a dead space where drug dealers shot up beneath the abandoned playground, back to life.

The Friends of Duboce Park crafted a remarkable agreement that enables families with children and those with dogs to peacefully co-exist in the park, not an easy achievement, as we all well know. Their efforts, and those of the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, demonstrate how community groups, working cooperatively in an informed and thoughtful manner, can save the best of a neighborhood while creating new amenities that serve all of its residents. Please join me as we honor the Friends of Duboce Park and the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association with San Francisco Beautiful’s Robert C. Friese Award for Neighborhood Conservation.

Palace of Fine Arts Lagoon Restoration

When Bernard Maybeck created the Palace of Fine Arts for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915, he believed it would be "the water and the trees” that people would come to see. One million visitors come to the Palace every year from around the world to gaze at the only remaining remnant of the Exposition, an awesome artifact of Maybeck's rich California legacy, and the number one public wedding site in the country!

But age and the elements have taken their toll on the Palace, which came close to decomposing altogether until the Maybeck Foundation, devoted to protecting the works of the master architect, took up the call. In partnership with San Francisco's Recreation and Park Department, they launched the Campaign to Save the Palace of Fine Arts to refurbish this one of a kind landmark and the lagoon that surrounds it.

John McLaren, who designed Golden Gate Park, also designed the original landscape plan for the Palace. It may surprise you to learn that the lagoon, a remnant of an ancient tidal wetland, is a natural freshwater basin fed by underground streams flowing from the Presidio. Birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway stop here for food and shelter. Great Blue Herons and Black Crown Night Herons hide in the scraggly trees on the little island left untouched during the restoration as a nature preserve. Volunteers and medical staff at the San Francisco zoo care for a family of whooper swans that has also taken up residence here.

I remember sitting in my office when the calls started coming in - an unsightly chain link fence had mysteriously risen around the Palace of Fine Arts lagoon and people were distraught. Where had it come from? Why was it there? When would it come down?

The pathway around the lagoon had begun caving in, and visitors who got too close went in with it. The fencing was put up to protect both humans and wildlife while plans were underway for a wholesale restoration of the palace and surrounding landscape. The fence stayed for seven years, saddening visitors and residents who worried it would never leave.

But fear not, the fence is gone and the lagoon has been restored in all its glory, better in fact, than it once was. 5000 cubic feet of detritus was dredged from the lagoon using an Auquamog, an environmentally-friendly dredger that runs on vegetable oil. The swans fell in love with it and followed it everywhere because it kicked up nutrients they could feed on.

Steel sheet piles were placed against the water’s edge to provide structure. Recycled basalt blocks from old streetcar tracks that buckled during the 1906 earthquake were used to cap the steel facing. A low wall built with stones from a quarry in Napa flanked by a bank of native grasses, daylilies and sword ferns provides a gracious and understated perimeter barrier, preferable in every way to chain link fencing. Plastic pipes hidden within the lagoon emit bubbles to aerate the water and keep it moving.

Visitors are flocking to the Palace of Fine Arts once again as the restoration of the lagoon, as well as the historic orange dome, are completed. Jan Berckefeldt, the Executive Director of the Maybeck Foundation, and Donna Ewald Huggins, the Chair of the Campaign to save the Palace, raised over $17 million dollars and completed the first phases of restoration in just three years. The rehabilitation of the rotunda and colonnade is underway now and should be completed in 2009. Lena Chen, working on behalf of the Recreation and Park Department, is managing this massive undertaking, which will be achieved in record time.

The restoration of the lagoon is ecologically important, says Jan Berckefeldt. This is a wildlife refuge in an urban area, providing fresh water for birds and a place where children growing up in the city can feed ducks and play on green grass. With the Presidio and Crissy Field close by, the Palace of Fine Arts lagoon adds another vital piece of restored habitat for human life as well as wildlife. Tonight we honor the Maybeck Foundation, the Recreation and Park Department, and their partners for bringing this uniquely important waterway, integral to one of San Francisco’s most cherished landmarks, back to life.

Mt. Sutro Native Plant Garden and Trail Network

If you were instructed to close your eyes and then airlifted to this spot, when you opened them, would you have any idea where you were? With nothing but the sound of the wind sweeping through the towering trees, would you recognize that you were dead center in the middle of San Francisco?

This is Sutro Forest, a 61-acre wilderness area on Mt. Sutro in the heart of the city. The 900-foot high hill, once covered with low brush and chaparral, was planted with hundreds of blue-gum eucalyptus trees by Mayor Adolph Sutro on the city's first Arbor Day in 1886.

You may remember that Ishi, the last Yahi Indian who arrived at the University of California San Francisco in 1911, spent the waning years of his life on Mt. Sutro, called Mt. Parnassus at the time, where he felt at home in the forest and in caves he found in the chert outcroppings.

Over the years, the eucalyptus trees thrived in the cool fog, crowding out plants like California Honeysuckle and Sweet Cicely native to the hillside. Impenetrable blackberry brambles and Cape Ivy took over, rendering pathways that circumnavigate the hill inaccessible.

In a remarkable demonstration of environmental and civic stewardship, UCSF, the property owner, colIaborated with native plant groups and community residents in crafting the Mt. Sutro Open Space Reserve Management Plan to restore the hiking trails and preserve the hill as a native habitat refuge.

Craig Dawson, who grew up in the shadow of Mt, Sutro, is the lead volunteer in efforts to reclaim the site. Craig founded the Mt. Sutro Stewards, a hearty group of volunteers who's idea of fun is to spend weekends removing acres of invasive plants and grooming hiking trails, many built during the Works Progress Administration in the 1920's. In just one year, the Stewards have clocked over 5000 volunteer hours of back-breaking work. They rescued a trail buried deep beneath a landslide by carving a tunnel through 6 feet of dirt and blackberry brambles. While climbing down a steep slope on the Western ridge, Craig, Jake Sigg and Ben Pease accidentally discovered remnants of another trail, buttressed by hand-built retaining walls clearly built to accommodate travelers on horseback. The stewards unearthed and restored the trail, which they believe dates back more than a century.

On Mt. Sutro's peak, hundreds of volunteers cleared the summit of weeds and put in a native plant demonstration garden with a grant of $100,000 from the San Francisco Rotary Club, on the remains of the old Nike Radar Station, a vestige of the Cold War. The garden, radiant with ceonothus, lupine and tree mallows and abuzz with bees and butterflies, is a fitting and timely symbol reflecting the values and priorities of a new day.

UCSF and the Mt. Sutro Stewards have been joined by an impressive array of other volunteer groups, including the California Native Plant Society, Nature in the City, and One Brick to open up the rugged hillside to sunlight and air. Plants native to Mt. Sutro, including Ferry Bells, thought to have disappeared forever from the city, are starting to pop through the soil. The larger goal, Craig Dawson says, is to connect Mt. Sutro to Twin Peaks, Laguna Honda, and beyond, in a contiguous network of hiking trails and natural parkland. Tonight we honor UCSF, the Mt. Sutro Stewards and their partners for saving this haven of tranquility and biodiversity, hidden in plaint sight in the heart of the city.

KidServe Youth Murals: "A Sign of Hope"

As you're driving down Geary Boulevard at freeway speeds, or staring out your window on the 38 bus, look for the luminous faces that appear like a dream on the south side of the street between Scott and Steiner. Students at Gateway Charter High School and KIPP Alternative School smile back as you pass by, warming the bleak Geary Boulevard block with the light from their intelligent, knowing eyes.

Shortly after Gateway High School moved into the Ben Franklin Middle School campus on Scott Street, a drive-by shooting left a teenager dead on the front steps. Josef Norris, the founder of KidServe Youth Murals, was invited to the school after the tragedy to create a mural project to help the students heal. While selecting a theme they discussed the biggest problems facing young people today. The issue that kept coming up was violence. The students decided that their mural would convey a sense of hope in a dangerous world.

This is Chelsea, a 9th grader at Gateway, who completed the mural called "A Sign of Hope" with her classmates last summer. Sunlight shines down on her as outstretched hands release a dove into the bright blue sky. To create the mural, students were asked to paint images that define their generation on individual ceramics tiles. Pedestrians who look up close see intricate details surprisingly emerge. Scenes of San Francisco neighborhoods and cultural icons, including the face of author Toni Morrison, come into focus at close range. Some reflect the sometimes harsh reality of our times. One tile depicts a plane flying towards the smoldering twin towers. Elsewhere musical instruments, insects and animal images abound. As one steps back, the tiles come together to create a message of peace and faith in the future.

Josef Norris started KidServe Youth Murals 9 years ago. He has worked with children of all ages to create over 60 radiant ceramic murals on schools and in public spaces across the city. "I run an arts education program in desperately poor schools in one of the richest cities in the country", he says.

Students work with Josef to develop subject matter and designs for their murals and to create the final artwork. Individually painted ceramic tiles are incorporated so every child will recognize their own work in the collective piece. The goal for each student is to develop a sense of ownership of the mural and pride in the achievement. As the students grow up and graduate, the murals are their enduring legacy.

To prepare for the Hope mural, students studied the work of Vietnam War Memorial sculptor Maya Lin. Portraitist Chuck Close was the inspiration for a student portrait series next to the Hope mural. Amanda, Stephanie and Shekinah's faces have been created out of hundreds of individual ceramic tiles. Each portrait was crafted in its own unique style and each evokes a powerful impact viewed from the street or the sidewalk. The portraits cleverly convey the intellect and individuality of each student.

KidServe Youth Murals reflect the exhilaration of children creating art together. Josef says the murals rarely get tagged and it isn't surprising. Each mural lifts the spirit and touches the heart of everyone who passes by. They are beacons of hope in a troubled world.

San Francisco International Airport Gateway Garden

If you haven't been to the airport lately you're in for a treat. A lush garden of California native plants, including hundreds of redwood trees, creates a beautifully appropriate approach into San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Most of us probably think of the airport as surrounded by concrete and confusing, menacing freeway ramps. That has begun to change, as airport gardeners, working with Melvin Lee and Associates Landscape Architects and Watkins and Bortolussi Landscape Contractors, have created a gracious entry garden with more than 45,000 plants chosen to provide seasonal foliage year round.

A bright splash of crimson bougainvillea greets travelers at the dramatic new international terminal. Drivers enter through a forest of 2000 trees, 35 species in all. Most are Coast Redwoods, California's state tree, among the longest living and tallest trees in the world. The redwoods grow 6 feet a year, and will soon rise above the upper roadway, creating the feeling of driving through a redwood grove. This is the largest planting of Coast Redwoods in the nation's history.

Nestled among the trees, native gardens of Rhododendrons, azaleas and redbud trees provide vibrant colors in the spring; catmint and penstemmon come into bloom later in the year.

Beneath the complex airport roadways is a newly constructed bio-swale, a clever catchment system that functions as a filter to keep toxic freeway runoff out of the groundwater. The swale was seeded with native grasses, like Tule reeds, that clean the water before it runs into the Bay.

As the vegetation self-germinates, wildlife is lured to the water. Ducks, frogs and egrets have started to make their home here. Dragonflies and ladybirds feast on aphids that appear in the spring. It's the airport's own garden of eden.

Airport director John Martin and his staff championed the greening project by refusing to accept the long-held assumption that the airport is not in the gardening business. Their enthusiastic support has inspired the gardeners to challenge themselves and each other, creating new and better gardens in every available space.

Jim Brassil, one of the supervising gardeners, takes tremendous pride in the gardens, and rightly so. Jim and his co-workers converted a lifeless concrete courtyard into a rainforest gully of New Zealand and Australian tree ferns. A Mediterranean garden now blooms along the parking garage, and honey bush, cosmos and native ginger are thriving beneath the BART tracks. The center median on MacDonnell Road has been landscaped with over 5000 plants that thrive in the shade beneath the roadway. Gardens throughout the grounds have been planted to draw butterflies and hummingbirds. This might be the only airport anywhere that provides dog runs, complete with fire hydrants, for people traveling with pets and guide dogs.

The airport's state of the art irrigation system is linked to an onsite weather station that monitors weather patterns to reduce water usage. The gardens are pesticide-free. Weeds are handpulled and beneficial insects are released to create a healthy eco-system. Jim says it makes garden management more labor intensive but it's what it's all about, it's the web of life, he says.

At the gateway to the Pacific and to the Bay Area, San Francisco International Airport, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, has created a heavenly garden gateway that gives warm reception to residents and travelers entering one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

24th Street Mini-Park

If you're ever sent on an urban treasure hunt in San Francisco and one of your clues is "Find the 20 foot Quetzlcoatl"; would you know what to do?

Those familiar with Aztec culture might head for the Mission District. In the heart of the City's Spanish-speaking neighborhood, just across from Roosevelt’s Tamale Parlor, the glittering feathered serpent god proudly resides in the sparkling new 24th Street Mini-Park.

Mayor Joseph Alioto secured funds in 1968 to build dozens of miniparks in San Francisco's inner-urban neighborhoods, including the Mission District. A park was created in the middle of the 24th Street commercial corridor in a 50 by 100 foot lot vacant for years after a bakery burned down. Local residents Alfredo Pedroza and Erik Arguello remember going to the park as kids after church and a stop for ice cream at the St. Francis Fountain. Alfredo says "It was our own little Golden Gate Park". But years of neglect wore down the miniparks, as homeless encampments and drug dealers took over and neighborhood families shied away.

The 24th Street Mini-Park became a magnet for the black tar heroin trade and gang activity. Syringes had to be removed every morning from the sand beneath the swingset. Playground equipment grew outdated and dangerous. Inner-Mission residents, living in a community with the highest concentration of young children in the city, but unable to use their neighborhood park, joined with local merchants to form the Lower 24th Street Merchant and Neighborhood Association to clean the park and to advocate to rebuild it.

It took 6 years, but the new 24th Street Mini-Park reopened with a jubilant celebration in November of last year. Designed by the community in partnership with Marvin Yee and Martha Ketterer of the Recreation and Park Department, it is an "art park", soulfully connected to the murals of the Mission District, including those that line Balmy Alley, just down the block. The original mural of Aztec life painted by Michael Rios 30 years ago has been restored in vibrant, brillant colors by Susan Cervantez of Precita Eyes Mural Center, whose own children played in the original park years ago. Images of water, corn and snakes inspired the new park's design emblazoned with colors and symbols reflective of Latino traditions. The Quetzlcoatl is a spectacular piece of public art that doubles as a play structure. Children are encouraged to climb on it. Covered in mosaic tiles, it was created by Aileen Barr and Collette Crutcher, whom you may remember created the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, which we honored last year.

The serpent snakes around a fountain that sends random jet streams of water high into the air like a sprinkler children run though on hot Mission District days. Levers along the side let the children operate the fountain themselves.

Benches and seating walls are also covered in mosaic tiles. Parents sit nearby at picnic tables on a deck made of recycled plastic lumber, and colorful rubberized matting provides a soft floor beneath the play structures.

The syringes are gone, as are the drug dealers and homeless camps. Better yet, the new park has inspired a revitalization wave along 24th Street. New businesses are opening, freshly painted facades are evident everywhere. In a neighborhood that has been rocked with gentrification and displacement in recent years, this slice of the Mission stays true to its roots. The 24th Street Mini-Park is a joyful reflection of the artistry and culture that gives the Mission District its character and vitality, and tonight we honor the residents and merchants who worked for so long to make it a reality.

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