August 2, 2011
Bringing New Life And Portable "Parkmobile" Gardens To The YBCBD
This evening, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee will officially unveil the Yerba Buena Street Life Plan, 36 projects and initiatives to be implemented over the next ten years for new public spaces, redesigned alleys, public art and sidewalk improvements throughout the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District (YBCBD), including clean energy solar docking stations.
Other plan projects include new dog parks and dog runs, new garden streets with storm water improvements, new bike paths and bike parking, lighting, and artistic crosswalks.
In addittion, Mayor Lee will also unveil six "mobile gardens" dubbed "Parkmobiles."
The 16’ x 5’9” planted containers which will be circulated throughout the YBCBD will each borrow two parking spaces for two to six months, with the first placed in front of the Catharine Clark Gallery on Minna Street at 3rd Street, and another at the 5M Project on 5th Street at Mission Street.
First Published: August 2, 2011 11:00 AM
Comments from "Plugged In" Readers
I would rather have cleaner sidewalks and streets than a mobile band-aid. I would love to know the total consultant and government cost for this idea.
Posted by: anonconfused at August 2, 2011 11:16 AM
San Francisco, the City That Knows Nothing.
How did our ideas get so small and ugly? We've gone from terrific public parks to bland "open spaces" to funding parklets instead of parks, and now garbage bins "re-purposed" as "mini-parks."
Now it's out in the open: garbage for the poor and showrooms for the rich.
Posted by: MCM at August 2, 2011 11:24 AM
Plus, that two to six months timeline is the official statement. In reality there's no budget for evaluating the success or opinion about these or any parklets and no money to take the things away or repair them if damaged. The neighbors and businesses have to pay to have this garbage removed, cleaned up or even maintained. If they don't they, everyone in the surrounding block, gets cited.
Posted by: MCM at August 2, 2011 11:29 AM
Well at least now perhaps if people need to relieve themselves they can do a favor and water the garden at the same time. I won't go there for the other fertilizer.
Posted by: scotts miracle gro at August 2, 2011 11:37 AM
Absolutely ridiculous and ugly both..........what a waste of our tax dollars.
'Run Ed Run'............outta here please.
Posted by: radar at August 2, 2011 11:49 AM
Absolutely ugly! How long before homeless as sleeping on the "Parkmobile" benches and someone has stolen the plants. Who is their right mind will want to computer browse, standing next to volumes of traffic. What a waste of taxpayers money!! And no, I am a tea-bagger either.
Posted by: Jackson at August 2, 2011 11:58 AM
Absolutely ugly! How long before homeless as sleeping on the "Parkmobile" benches and someone has stolen the plants. Who is their right mind will want to computer browse, standing next to volumes of traffic. What a waste of taxpayers money!! And no, I am not a tea-bagger either.
Posted by: Jackson at August 2, 2011 11:59 AM
clean energy solar docking stations sound like a good idea on paper. In practice you'll have to compete with homeless who will be very very happy to have unlimited power for their portable stereos. These batteries cost a pretty penny when you're in the streets...
Just imagine. These could be perfect homeless pods. You can plug your alarm clock, shaver, TV, stereo. Plenty of bathrooms around too.
Posted by: lol at August 2, 2011 12:01 PM
Amazing! For the first time we are ALL in agreement on something. This whole idea is ridiculous ... please spend the money on street cleaning, implementing a way for people to remove their garbage cans after pickup, and hosing hosing hosing sidewalks. I now hold my breath when crossing Polk at California because of the urine stink.
Posted by: Oceangoer at August 2, 2011 12:09 PM
Wow, tough crowd. The Yerba Buena Community Benefit District also pays for people to clean up the sidewalks and streets. They do a good job, but there are only so many of them and rubbish builds up quickly.
These are being put in densely built up areas where there is no room for parks, but where high levels of activity make the loss of a few parking spots irrelevant. These add greenery without a great expense or impact.
No budget should be necessary for future evaluations because that responsibility is covered by existing city employees. Maintenance should not be that different from any of the other city parks, all of which are stretched but also heavily utilized. Owners are responsible for the sidewalk, but not street cleaning. To my knowledge there is no example of any merchant or property owner being forced to clean up or maintain any such, so it would be nice to know if there is an example of that.
People using streets and parks as toilets is another issue entirely. Stopping all attempts at city improvement until that is resolved seems unfair and unrealistic. San Francisco has a phenomenal ongoing problem with homeless and vagrants, and the political fallout from that has amusingly enough paralyzed the authorities that might be in a position to do something about it. Jails are full to bursting and the courts are bogged down, so the usual simple suggestions are not going to fix anything.
I'm looking forward to seeing these around, and I am glad that the city is willing to experiment with low cost, low impact improvements that can be made in the short term.
Posted by: Mole Man at August 2, 2011 12:11 PM
san francisco: not hiding the fact that we are literally a trash bin
Posted by: sf at August 2, 2011 12:17 PM
Nope, not a tough crowd. A very perceptive crowd.
These dumpster parklets and docking stations are just two more ways our local officials are catering to the dumbing down of SF. Our streets are dirty, our parks are closing. We are spending huge amounts of money on bike lanes that benefit only a few small % of the public. More waste of tax dollars by our dumb "leaders"!
If were looking to green the city, why not plant real trees and create more permanent sidewalk landscaping?
Posted by: Modernqueen at August 2, 2011 12:20 PM
Can we lay off the 1980's design aesthetic a bit? We got a big enough dose with those lame looking new wavy topped bus stops and god awful Powell st. parklets.
Posted by: kg at August 2, 2011 12:24 PM
I live in this neighborhood and appreciate the attention to making improvements. But these ideas are misguided and naive. Looks like they handed this over to idealistic first year planning students. Would have been nice to have solicited input from the people who live and work in this area. We need practical solutions to the existing problems. More amenities for dog and laptop owners?? No wonder this project is getting slammed as a fail all over the web.
Posted by: GJP at August 2, 2011 12:25 PM
Yes, a tough crowd indeed. I'd suggest actually reading the Street Life Plan too. What a novel idea! It has 36 projects, small and large to improve and green the neighborhood. It was created by the community. It's smart planning. And, check out the Parkmobiles tonight at SPUR or around the district. I've seen them and they look great. Yes, they're new and provocative, but that's what's so great about our city. We're not afraid of new things. Congrats to all who participated in creating this plan. A job well done!
Posted by: Justin at August 2, 2011 12:28 PM
@Justin^ "Yes, they're new and provocative, but that's what's so great about our city."
NO, what is "great" about San Francisco is when the city was building to to a higher ideal and city planners wanted to create "Paris on the Pacific". Read the book "Imperial San Francisco", or "On the Edge of the World" to discover why we have Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, a Civic Center plaza, etc. We have gone from iconic bridges, hilltop parks and world famous neighborhoods to "parkmobiles"?
Posted by: anonconfused at August 2, 2011 12:57 PM
Somewhere in some cube in some city government building, a department manager is wiping his brow and exclaiming "phew" as he realizes his nutty program idea is approved and in place, thus guaranteeing his job.
Posted by: pianist at August 2, 2011 1:09 PM
I'm embarrassed to live here.
At least paint the stupid thing brown and try to woodgrain it a bit so it doesn't look exactly like what it is: a modified trash bin designed to benefit the homeless and not the residents.
Posted by: tipster at August 2, 2011 1:22 PM
What a huge waste of money. "Artistic Crosswalks"? "Mobile Gardens"?
Waste Waste Waste Waste. How about we use that money instead to:
(a) Fix Schools
(b) Bus the blasted homeless outta SF!
(c) Clean the sidewalks
SF has its head so far up its arse that I have no words --- and I'm a resident taxpayer! Argh!
Posted by: Mr X. at August 2, 2011 1:23 PM
Why not combine the two ideas? Take the photovoltaic array from the charging station and stick it into the landscaped dumpster to power grow lights for the plants.
Oh wait, cancel that.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at August 2, 2011 1:24 PM
"We are spending huge amounts of money on bike lanes that benefit only a few small % of the public."
You are welcome to your opinion, although it's not really clear how cycling improvements are relevant to this story.
Since you brought it up, I will set the record straight: The money being spent on all bike improvements throughout the city is minuscule, and cyclists are very under served in relation to their numbers and amount of traveling they do. Given that road construction and maintenance is only partially paid for by user fees, and the rest being paid for out of general taxes, cyclists already pay more than their fair share of taxes for road improvements / maintenance. The amount being spent on bike improvements doesn't even bring it close to parity.
Posted by: lyqwyd at August 2, 2011 1:28 PM
As has been opined before, when it comes to planning and development, San Francisco is populist, not progressive. Why is it we hate the Tea Party for their regressive socio-political ideas, but so many of us sound just like them when it comes to design and development. I will bet not one of the "tough crowd" has read the Yerba Buena CBD urban design report whence this comes, nor been to any of the many public meetings developing and vetting these ideas. Read the report; go see the exhibit at SPUR; check these things out; and then form your opinion, good or bad, I don't care. Just base it on something other than knee jerk reaction.
One reason that these are temporary installations (as are the Parklets and Pavement to Parks) is that it is so hard to make any permanent physical changes in the city, due to the kinds of negative attitudes expressed here, and seen at the Planning Commission every Thursday. These temporary installations are real time inexpensive tests of ideas, can be moved or modified or abandoned if they don't work, do not require millions of dollars in Environmental Impact Reports, etc.
Yes I wish we funded the kinds of great projects that some writers referred to, but to afford them today we would have to pay real taxes, which our society has decided not to do, even if the land could be found.
Posted by: Jim at August 2, 2011 1:36 PM
Maybe the box could somehow trap bums and contain them until they are exported to a different state.
Posted by: anon at August 2, 2011 4:31 PM
@Jim: Thank you for some sanity. Real investment takes real money, and until the country, state and city realize that, then we're stuck with mobile dumpsters filled with trees. It's really that simple.
And all you guvmint haters out there -- this "plan" is not a City government plan and it wasn't paid for with City funds or staffed by City staff. The YBCBD is essentially quasi-private organization funded by supplmental property taxes paid by property owners in the district who volunteered to tax themselves extra to fund improvements in their area. This is the plan they came up with. While Ed Lee may be making an appearance at their event, the plan is not a City sponsored or endorsed Plan and very little to practically no City funds went into producing it (other than one or two City staffers sitting in on a few meetings), nor has the City committed to funding anything in this vision document.
Chill the F out, people, especially when you don't really know what you're talking about.
Posted by: hmmm at August 2, 2011 4:48 PM
dumpster filled with trees
soon graffiti covered,then what
a sour stain on the curb
Posted by: snider at August 2, 2011 5:20 PM
…this "plan" is not a City government plan and it wasn't paid for with City funds or staffed by City staff. The YBCBD is essentially quasi-private organization funded by supplmental [sic] property taxes paid by property owners in the district who volunteered to tax themselves extra to fund improvements in their area. This is the plan they came up with…the plan is not a City sponsored or endorsed Plan and very little to practically no City funds went into producing it…So is the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District an example of a Mello-Roos District? I've always wondered why more progressive cities with wealthy citizens (e.g., Santa Barbara, Malibu perhaps) don't have more of these, given how difficult it is post Prop. 13 to raise taxes to finance services, although perhaps they are common and I just don't know it since this kind of thing rarely gets reported on in the news media.
Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at August 2, 2011 5:26 PM
OK - I didn't read every word above, but I read enough. And, I apologize if someone covered this already...
But, when I saw the photo of the red dumpster pretending to be a planter, here is the first thing I thought:
"What a great place to throw up on weekend nights at about, oh, 2:15 am!!!"
Yes, my mind is in the gutter -- at least it was when I was between 20 and 30. I like to think I've grown up, but there are plenty of other partiers to take my place.
This is one stupid idea - for many, many reasons. It is right up there with the extremely short-lived, tiny traffic circles that mysteriously appeared and then disappeared at some SF intersections a fey years ago. What did that circular boondoggle cost? I'd love to know.
Posted by: mobile party at August 2, 2011 5:31 PM
After all is said and done here.....You can put a lot of lipstick on a pig but guess what ? It's still a pig.
AND THIS IS FUUUGLY.
Posted by: radar at August 2, 2011 8:54 PM
Yes, it's sort of like a Mello-Roos district, but it is different. A M-R is also a supplementary property tax, but the funds must be used to pay for publicly-owned infrastructure. M-R are common for large redevelopment areas (e.g. Mission Bay) or suburban subdivisions, where there is a large upfront cost to fund necessary infrastructure. M-R can be used as "pay as you go" funds where you just pay for stuff as the money comes in, or you can issue bonds against the future revenue stream of the taxes. The M-R funding is basically controlled by the City/County/local government. Community Benefit Districts (aka Business Improvement Districts) are more loosey-goosey about what the money can pay for, but the premise is that they pay for "services" above and beyond what baseline City services provide. I don't know all the legal intricacies (I'm less familiar with CBDs, which also are very common across the state and country), but I know CBDs basically pay for lots of non-capital things, like sidewalk cleaning, tourist "ambassadors," extra police security, lunchtime concerts and art events, put up banners and flowers on light posts, and stuff like that which property owners and businesses feel improves the quality of life in their neighborhoods (often, but not always, done to make tourists feel safe and spend money). The Union Square CBD pays for lots of stuff like that. I think the main difference is that M-R is intended to provide basic public infrastructure and CBDs are intended to provide special services above-and-beyond basic services.
Posted by: hmmm at August 2, 2011 10:17 PM
This would do so much more for the neighborhood if that bench were a pissoir. Not joking.
And I agree, the color is hideous. If it has to stand out could it at least be golden gate orange?
Posted by: Delancey at August 2, 2011 10:24 PM
Can we at least attach one of these artistic creations to this project? Also, can we have them sponsored by Cottonelle?
This goes in the book with parklets as something one of those awesome provincial SF inventions. It's an insult to half-assed things to call this half-assed. It's maybe eighth-assed or sixteenth-assed. The difference is that, unlike parklets, this isn't a handout to private businesses who have friends in SF government.
If this is "new and provocative," it's a great indicator of how far SF has fallen, as anonconfused said.
Posted by: sfrenegade at August 3, 2011 9:43 AM
I think that some of you are missing the point. These are intentionally temporary mobile installations. The idea is to enable cheap and quick experimentation with the design and location.
A permanent installation would be higher quality though if you got it wrong then you have to pay double to fix the problem. With these you simply move it to a new location (what does that cost? $100?) and give it another spin. And if the whole idea is a bust then it doesn't cost much to dismantle and recycle.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at August 3, 2011 10:12 AM
MoD, you wish the costs were as low as your estimates. Relocation of the "parklets" is the lowest expenditure for this project. The engineering, planning,and fabrication alone, as well as reports, submittals, meetings etc. should add up to some serious money on a cost per square foot basis. This money could have been better spent keeping these streets cleaner and safer.
The point being missed is that I still believe if people in San Francisco are presented with bold creative urban solutions, they would be very willing to accept the change and cost. These landsaped mobile trash bins are embarrassing for a city that claims "world class" status. Chicago is an excellent example of a city willing to take large permenant projects on, and the citizens of that city seem to be more than willing to support the cost and change. Can you imagine the reaction of citizens in Paris, London or Chicago if one of these mobile "parklets" were parked on one of their boulevards? They would think it is some sort of "candid camera" type of televised joke.
Posted by: Morgan at August 3, 2011 10:59 AM
I was just thinking that: You would never see this little trashy dumpster parklets in Paris, or London, or Rome...among other truly great cities. We are not among them.
One other thought: so, MOD has already built into the equation of "getting it wrong and have to pay double to fix it...". He's actually probably right. Our local government has always worked with the dumbing down solution anyway.
Posted by: Modernqueen at August 3, 2011 11:09 AM
There are two ways to approach a novel design problem: 1. Analyze it to death and then make an informed decision to implement. 2. prototype and iterate until you get it right.
In reality no matter how much you analyze there's always a chance that some critical aspect was overlooked and your best implementation still fails. And the prototype/iterate solution always includes some amount of analysis though it need not be deep analysis. So what usually happens is some blend of the two approaches.
Hundreds of billions were made this past decade in the bay area high tech by using the prototype/iterate methodology.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at August 3, 2011 2:08 PM
Forget New York, Paris, Chicago et al. This type of mediocrity wouldn't cut it in so many other regional cities across the country. The parklets are bad enough but these hideous units should only be deployed in the context of temporary events such as street fairs or farmers markets.
Posted by: Willow at August 3, 2011 3:02 PM
Willow - I'm not sure why you feel that the parklets are bad. Those that I've observed seem to be popular and well used.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at August 3, 2011 3:49 PM
The parklets on 24th Street in Noe Valley and along Valencia Street are well used and appreciated by the residents there. I don't know if they will work in this particular location though.
Go check out 24th Street some sunny weekend morning and you will see them all full, especially the ones outside the coffee shops.
Who will be responsible for keeping them clean? YBCBD or the business they are in front of? To get a parklet installed currently, you need a sponsor who promises to do the maintenance.
Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 3, 2011 5:02 PM
Perhaps it would be better to go with something that better matches prevailing aesthetic sensibilities.
Posted by: Mole Man at August 3, 2011 5:26 PM
These are being designed, built, moved and maintained by the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District - property owners and merchants and residents who have decided to "tax' themselves in addition to the property taxes they already pay - for services and facilities they have collectively decided they want. This is the ultimate in participatory democracy. These are an inexpensive "test", will be evaluated, will be written up by the urban design writers in NYC, Paris, London, Chicago, Tokyo etc. and evaluated. I think some of you naysayers will be surprised to find out what informed rather than kneejerk opinion thinks.
Posted by: Jim at August 3, 2011 10:47 PM
Yes, the parklets on 24th St. and other locations are well used. That's not the point, I believe. They are temporary and flimsy.
Let's put the same energy into permanent sidewalk expansions with permanent trees and plantings, with the elimination of 1-2 parking spaces.
For the city to use a dumpster for a parklet is possibly the lowest form of "least intelligence for the least amount of money" ever expended by our public services.
This is dumpster diving at its' finest.
Posted by: Modernqueen at August 4, 2011 8:32 AM
parklets are very low cost mainly because they are subsidized/maintained by businesses.
I hope the City will have enough dough one day to officialize the reclaiming of the parking spaces by expanding sidewalks.
Posted by: lol at August 4, 2011 9:14 AM
"Yes, the parklets on 24th St. and other locations are well used. That's not the point, I believe. They are temporary and flimsy."
"Willow - I'm not sure why you feel that the parklets are bad. Those that I've observed seem to be popular and well used."
MOD: I dunno...maybe I just need to lower my expectations but I think the parklets in most cases are a marginal improvement over what was previously there. The city can and should do so much better. (It's actually amazing the one on Divisadero passed the city's safety regulations.)
Posted by: Willow at August 4, 2011 10:21 AM
Imagine if there was a pedestrian square right @ 24th and Noe.
Yeah, SF tried to implement that (great) idea by fiat and got shouted down. So guess what? Parklets.
Posted by: [anon.ed] at August 4, 2011 10:29 AM
Before the parklet the space served to store a car. The parking spot was retasked as outdoor space for people to relax. So as for an amenity for people it is a vast improvement though at the expense of the loss of a parking spot.
I agree that the city could do better with higher quality construction but I'm glad that they're taking a cautious low cost route. This is an experimental idea and risks multiple hazards ranging from the potential danger of being close to traffic to becoming a waste dump. If parklets are a success then expect more permanent higher quality installations to appear. We probably won't be able to gauge the success for a couple of years though.
Temporary experiments aren't unique to parklets. The city often "mocks up" novel street lane configurations with soft hit posts and temporary rubber curbs before committing to concrete.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at August 4, 2011 10:38 AM
We don't need "novel", temporary solutions. Novelties are what you used to buy at the 5 & 10 store.
We need permanent, well designed, permanent urban landscape solutions.
Posted by: Modernqueen at August 4, 2011 10:50 AM
^^^ Yes, and [anon.ed] explained what could have been in NV. All you need is a few angry retirees taking their cues from the Health Care debate shout-outs. If you're in a minority opinion, just shout your way into debates. They are usually organized by moderates who will take the violent reaction as the indication of a legitimate concern.
Posted by: lol at August 4, 2011 11:02 AM
The comments at SFGate are far tougher than the "tough crowd" at SS.
Posted by: anonconfused at August 4, 2011 11:31 AM
"We need permanent, well designed, permanent urban landscape solutions."
Would you be OK if the city spent hundreds of thousands implementing a permanent parklet and then had to tear it out two years later if it was a flop?
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at August 4, 2011 12:51 PM
Dear MOD, oh great seer of the urban landscape.
Pray tell, if it's well designed, as I expect it will be, why would it become a flop? Are you assuming any permanent change to our urban environment will automatically be a flop? what is a flop? What is not a flop? Are parklets flops?
Where, oh great wise one of the blogs, where do you get your knowledge?
Posted by: Modernqueen at August 4, 2011 1:31 PM
I'm not assuming or suggesting that any of this will be a flop (==failure).
On the flipside no matter how "well designed" something might be it could still become a failure. There are many reasons why even though the best minds have crafted a well thought out design that it can still become a flop. For example often a key requirement is overlooked in the initial specification stage. Silicon Valley is littered with the tombstones of well funded expertly staffed startups that overlooked a crucial requirement.
The same happens on street design decisions. Traffic engineering is scientifically studied though there are still many unknowns. Psychological factors of street users are one of the cloudy areas.
On my commute I ride through a wide sweeping curve connecting two high speed high volume streets. It looks just like a thousand other exit ramps though for some reason cars routinely run off the road here and crash into the inside curve cinder block wall. It is almost as if there's a car magnet embedded in that wall (I've seen it rebuilt three times in the last two years. The most recent incarnation is rebar reinforced and filled solid with concrete. Pity to the next car that strikes it!) Clearly there's a design problem with that ramp and/or the lanes leading into it, but what is the problem? How did the traffic engineers not see this problem coming? This is easily a million dollar+ project yet they still got it wrong.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at August 4, 2011 2:01 PM
Oh dear. I think we have backtracking.
First it was "...if it was a flop.."
Then "...not assuming or suggesting that any of this will be a flop.."
Hmmm. help me out here.
Posted by: Modernqueen at August 4, 2011 2:41 PM
"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big. "
Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1846-1912)
(Parkmobiles are not thinking big and certainly did not have beauty as their watchword)
Posted by: AnonArch at August 4, 2011 2:55 PM
Modernqueen - Acknowledging that something might fail isn't the same as suggesting that it will fail.
AnonArch - that quote comes from someone who's bottom line is proportional to the size of the project.
I've got nothing against large permanent projects. They have their place though they are expensive, less tolerant to experimentation, and require a lot more effort in the initial specification and design phases. Even so there's no guarantee of success. Colossal projects are vulnerable to colossal failure. They can also be turn out right. The Manhattan project and the US moon shot are examples of the latter though at huge expense. Speaking of which we could have afforded a round trip to Mars this last decade. Either that or had enough surplus to avoid this economic storm.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at August 4, 2011 3:12 PM
@ AnonArch! hugs! love your comment. says it all.
MOD's comments are so full of contradiction and presumptive-ness that I need to go fix a cocktail to calm down.
Posted by: Modernqueen at August 4, 2011 3:46 PM
"I've got nothing against large permanent projects. They have their place though they are expensive, less tolerant to experimentation, and require a lot more effort in the initial specification and design phases. Even so there's no guarantee of success. Colossal projects are vulnerable to colossal failure. They can also be turn out right. The Manhattan project and the US moon shot are examples of the latter though at huge expense. "
The real problem is that this city doesn't allow real experimentation -- people aren't even given the opportunity to fail. Anyone who tries to do anything creative here gets shot down by NIMBYs, and instead we have design by committee which results in lots of boring stuff and inane things like parkmobiles and parklets. fluj did make a good point above -- maybe it's just that the people of SF are provincial. If city politics reflects the people, it's certainly a plausible conclusion.
Posted by: sfrenegade at August 4, 2011 5:55 PM