For low income San Franciscans, health and recovery means prioritizing our parks

By Tyrone Mullins and Joyce Armstrong

By Tyrone Mullins and Joyce Armstrong

This November, San Francisco voters will decide whether to spend $438.5 million to pull the city’s most vulnerable citizens back from the edge.

As public housing residents, our families are exactly the San Franciscans the Health and Recovery Bond would help most. Particularly the $200 million earmarked for accessible parks and recreation centers that offer programming like free after school enrichment. The bond is up for its first public hearing Wednesday before the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee.

In the wake of COVID-19’s devastating impact, some people might not put “parks” and “priority” in the same sentence. But those of us who grew up without safe, healthy public spaces know the alternative is fear and isolation: Childhoods stuck inside apartments; losing elders to preventable diseases; the trauma of gun violence on our communities.

When we hear the word park, we don’t think of the leafy roof of Salesforce Tower or even the rambling beauty of Golden Gate Park. We think of the critical green spaces, recreation centers and programs in our neighborhoods—-exactly the shovel-ready projects the Health and Recovery Bond would help. Among them:

Funding India Basin, a once-in-a-generation environmental justice project in the Bayview that would connect public housing residents with a clean, restored shoreline, offer vocational programs to young people, and provide a 20-acre network of waterfront open space for exercising, playing, fishing and learning.

Realizing the community’s longtime vision for a new Buchanan Mall, a five-block park in the Western Addition that neighbors reimagined as connective tissue repairing old wounds and rebuilding unity in a vibrant area scarred by past violence. The design, built in citizen workshops over two years, includes edible gardens, interactive art installations, a gracious promenade and children’s play areas honoring neighborhood heroes.

Replacing the dilapidated Gene Friend Recreation Center on 6th Street in SOMA, a refuge for the neighborhood’s youth, elderly and disabled communities. The new building would be almost twice the size, with room for wheelchair basketball, a second story of class space and improved lighting and security.

Building a new 11,500 square foot recreation center, providing exercise equipment and numerous outdoor improvements at Herz Playground in Visitacion Valley. The redesigned plaza would connect neighbors with the park as part of the HOPE SF Sunnydale redevelopment.

Safe, healthy public spaces are not a luxury. They are a right, especially for neighborhoods hit hardest by the pandemic and its economic impact. Creating these spaces is a lifelong investment in the mental and physical health of our children, one that will pay dividends for generations. As the city moves forward with its bond, we ask that they prioritize the health and recovery of the people like us.

Tyrone Mullins is a lifelong Western Addition resident, owner of Green Streets, and Buchanan Mall advocate. Joyce Armstrong is the president of the citywide Public Housing Tenants Association and a resident of Bayview-Hunters Point.

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