Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerSan Francisco Zen Center head gardener Marcia Lieberman works in a newly constructed sidewalk garden outside of the center on Page Street.

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerSan Francisco Zen Center head gardener Marcia Lieberman works in a newly constructed sidewalk garden outside of the center on Page Street.

SF removing sidewalk concrete, replacing it with gardens

San Francisco’s sidewalks are receiving an upgrade that is removing concrete and replacing it with community gardens.

The program, run by Friends of the Urban Forest in partnership with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, will help remove “excess” concrete and improve drainage during storms, as well as beautify neighborhoods.

“We’re just trying to get water into the ground and out of the sewer,” said Karla Nagy, the sidewalk landscaping director with Friends of the Urban Forest. “We remove excess sidewalk concrete and replace it with gardens with lots of California-native, drought-tolerant plants.”

The first project funded by the SFPUC was installed earlier this month in Hayes Valley in front of the Zen Center, on Page Street between Buchanan and Laguna streets.

Nagy said areas in the Mission district and Chinatown, as well as blocks around the bicycle path known as The Wiggle in the Lower Haight, can expect greener sidewalks as well.

“The PUC will be greening there over the next couple of years, and they asked us to get the ball rolling and get people energized in the area,” Nagy said. “We’ll be greening the edges around The Wiggle and they’ll install infrastructure on The Wiggle.”

The overall “greening” project is part of the SFPUC’s urban watershed assessment. The goal is to “build, monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of green infrastructure projects in minimizing stormwater impacts on our aging sewer system throughout San Francisco’s eight urban watersheds,” according to the agency’s project website.

Its current projects are all in partnership with the SFPUC, but Friends of the Urban Forest began putting gardens in sidewalks in 2010. Nagy said as many as 15 gardens already exist in the Mission and Bernal Heights.

Residents can request a sidewalk garden through the urban forest group. Property owners are responsible for the price of permits and upkeep once gardens are installed. Before a project can begin, inspections need to be completed by the Department of Public Works, including a survey of the sidewalk to ensure there is still enough room for pedestrians, Nagy said. Sidewalks need to be more than 6 feet wide in order for a project to be considered.

Nagy said the organization tries to assist homeowners by securing grant funding to offer more opportunities throughout The City. Projects can take up to two months to be installed.


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