Desperately Seeking Nature

All kids need a safe place to play outside. But in San Francisco’s notoriously crime-ridden Tenderloin district, finding such a spot is no easy feat. The city’s most densely-populated neighborhood with the greatest number of families living below the poverty line, the Tenderloin is home to only one public park—Boeddeker Park—which over the years has earned its reputation as a hotbed of drugs, violence, and bad behavior.

“Access to a safe, and nearby, green space is desperately needed,” says Patricia Zimara, director of the Tenderloin Boys & Girls club, which serves dozens of area youth. “There is no green space here. The Boys & Girls Club shares a concrete courtyard with Mercy Housing, but the kids can’t throw balls or play. The walk to the recreation center is dangerous and safety has been an issue at Boeddeker Park.”

The children of the Tenderloin want and need a safe place to get outside and play. That’s why The Trust for Public Land is transforming Boeddeker Park from a dilapidated eyesore into a lively green oasis they can call their own.

A Safe Place for All

Zimara knows the challenges facing local families. “The kids that grow up in the neighborhood live in small, overcrowded apartments,” Zimara says. “There could be three generations living in a single studio. They have no privacy or space at home and when they go outside, it’s stressful and scary and all concrete—there is no greenery. They are constantly on guard.”

While San Francisco can boast the most developed park system of any city in the nation, according to The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore Project, the Tenderloin District is one neighborhood that has fallen through the cracks.

“A lot of our kids are disconnected from Mother Earth and the outdoors,” says Zimara. “Through collaboration with The Trust for Public Land, we’re bringing them new resources and experiences.”

Boeddeker’s Big Break

Last month, Tenderloin residents joined the The Trust for Public Land to celebrate the park groundbreaking. Through The Trust for Public Land’s participatory design process, students, parents, and neighbors are designing their new park from start to finish. Upon completion in 2014, neighborhood kids will be able to enjoy a full-size basketball court, play area, fitness equipment, gardening beds, a new clubhouse, and a wide green lawn.

For Patricia Zimara and the Tenderloin Boys & Girls Club, the new park can’t come soon enough. “We are breaking cycles of violence, poverty, and disconnection,” says Zimara. We’re using the park to connect them with nature and teach them to be good stewards.”