Neighbors held a Community Build Day in April along the 200 block of Turk Street to create Safe Passage Park (SPark). (Courtesy Tenderloin Community Benefit District)

Neighbors held a Community Build Day in April along the 200 block of Turk Street to create Safe Passage Park (SPark). (Courtesy Tenderloin Community Benefit District)

Tenderloin’s 200 block of Turk Street transformed into urban community park

Space to provide family programming, safe sidewalks for pedestrians and access to greenery

The 200 block of Turk Street will soon be transformed into a first-of-its-kind community space to bring together residents and businesses in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood that has long fought for improved access to open space and safe streets.

Known as Safe Passage Park (SPark), the project will use physical streetscape improvements to turn the block’s 1,800-square foot southern sidewalk into a destination for community members with youth play opportunities, programmed physical and educational activities, pet-friendly areas and relaxation.

The park formally opens to the public this week, followed by a celebratory launch later this spring.

“This work is about Tenderloin neighbors coming together to transform their neighborhood,” said Simon Bertrang, executive director of the Tenderloin Community Benefit District, which has overseen much of the planning and implementation of this project. “We are proud to support this process of building community power through collaboration.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has already installed concrete traffic barriers between travel lanes and the space set aside for pedestrians and programmings. Community members later painted a mural onto the barriers.

SPark is awaiting final approval from The City to add a parklet platform with ground murals to run the full length of the space, followed by additional design elements such as boulders and plants to create a greener environment for visitors.

Once fully operational, the space will be kept clean by a coalition of stakeholders including TLCBD, Downtown Streets Team and Urban Alchemy. They’ll be supported by the Public Works Department and Recology who have offered to provide cleaning resources.

“Residents are saying they can rest tonight because it is calm and quiet outside for the first time,” said Norma Carrera, a Tenderloin resident and member of the 200/300 Turk Street Block Group in a statement. “During the day, when I go out with my family to get food, it is clean outside.”

As one of San Francisco’s highest density neighborhoods as well as The City’s most dangerous in terms of traffic violence, the Tenderloin has long struggled to secure ready access to green space, traffic calming measures, wide sidewalks and routes amenable to alternate modes of mobility.

That fight only intensified when the pandemic struck.

Residents, many of whom are immigrants, seniors, children or individuals with limited mobility in the Tenderloin, lost significant transit access as a part of Muni cuts and were told they had to stay close to home under citywide shelter-in-place conditions.

Programs such as Play Streets, during which this same block was closed to car traffic for a set number of hours on select Saturdays throughout 2020, provided some respite, offering children a place to participate in games and activities and providing community members valuable resources such as COVID-19 testing. Many, however, wanted to see efforts like this become more permanent fixtures in the community.

SPark and TL Transforms, the broader movement to galvanize Tenderloin neighbors around changing the physical streets in their neighborhood, seek to build on this success.

“While the pandemic has created challenges for our communities, it has also created opportunities like this for residents, stakeholders and The City to come together and create a safe passage for all,” said Diane Ponce De Leon, director of Invest in Neighborhoods, an interagency city collaboration.

Though city agencies played an incremental role in executing this initiative, organizers say it’s really the result of a community-driven process, including a survey that yielded over 300 results and design exercises led by youth and families with firsthand experience in what activities would benefit them.

A diverse coalition of groups has stepped up to provide support, including highly reputable design and architecture firms, Envelope and Studio O, largely funded by the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, as well as Chinatown Community Development Center, Cross Cultural Family Center, Salvation Army Kroc Center and many other partners.

“Safe Passage Park has been a neighborhood-driven project from the start — a response to the need for children, families and the wider community to have space for socially distanced gathering,” said Cassiopea McDonald, a project designer from Envelope, in a statement. “We’re looking forward to live-protoyping the park over the next few months, incorporating direct feedback from the community as we incrementally realize the project!”

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