Project Spotlight: Boeddeker Park

Only steps from the Powell Street cable car turnaround—a San Francisco tourist hot spot—the Tenderloin is a neighborhood of apartment buildings, single-room-occupancy hotels, soup kitchens, and agencies that serve the homeless and other troubled souls. It is also a densely settled family neighborhood, and Boeddeker Park is one of its few parks and the only one open to adults.

Boeddeker Park has the dubious distinction of having been added to the Hall of Shame of the Project for Public Spaces.  Its fortress-style fence, up-and-down levels that hamper access and visibility, hidden corners, and warren-like construction, with park sections separated by internal fences, all make it an uninviting space in a neighborhood that very much needs a park.

But help is on the way.  Boeddeker is one of three San Francisco Parks currently being rebuilt by The Trust for Public Land's Parks for People­–Bay Area program.  In addition to Boeddeker Park, TPL is working to rebuild the Hayes Valley Playground and Clubhouse, which serves a diverse neighborhood and a public housing project, and Balboa Park, in the Excelsior District, the San Francisco neighborhood with the most children per capita.  Key support is coming from the city and generous donors, including five San Francisco businesses that contributed $1 million each to kick off fundraising.

Such projects are a important component of TPL's national Parks for People initiative to create parks in cities nationwide.  TPL is currently working to create an elevated trail in Chicago, turn alleys into community greenways in Los Angeles, and convert asphalt school yards into neighbor hood parks in New York City.  TPL’s goal is for no American child to live more than a ten-minute walk from a park or playground. 

Like all of TPL's neighborhood park projects, the ones in San Francisco depend on enlisting community members to help design the park. That approach was key to the work at Boeddeker Park, says Mike Williams, a park neighbor and volunteer on the project.  "People in the neighborhood have complained about the park for years," says Mike.  "What I like about the rebuild process is that TPL did this right,  They went to all the stakeholders. That's not the way things have been done here in the past."

Construction at Boeddeker Park is projected to begin in the summer of 2011, with the park opening in the Fall of 2012. The new park will include a children's playground, new clubhouse, "quiet area" adjacent to a nearby senior center, full-sized court for basketball and other games (much requested, Mike says) and spreading lawn. "People said, 'we want it to remain as green as possible.'"

Mike looks forward to the day when people from other neighborhoods might come to use the new park—or tourists might even drift down from the cable car turnaround and Union Square. "We're in the center of the city," he says. "There's no reason in the world that we shouldn't have a nice park."