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SF Street Parks Growing With Student Support

In a partnership with the City of San Francisco and residents of its Ingleside neighborhood, students from the Academy’s School of Landscape Architecture are continuing to contribute to San Francisco’s street parks with the latest addition to community greenspace: Ridge Lane.

According to the website LivableCity.org, street parks are public open spaces located in street rights-of-way. Many, like Ridge Lane, are on land too narrow or too steep for auto traffic.

Current MFA student Nahal Sohbati and 2016 MFA graduate Eric Arneson had the vision for Ridge Lane’s transition. Formerly a dirt path littered with trash, Ridge Lane now features a paved walkway Sohbati says was inspired by the voronoi pattern of a butterfly’s wings. Agave, manzanita and California poppies grow on either side of the walk, and strawberry trees shade gabion benches constructed of wood, wire and recycled concrete.

“We chose a mix of Bay Area native plants and exotics that are adapted to a California climate,” says Arneson, who worked with Sohbati on the plantings. “That way you have a beautiful garden and landscaping all year round. In the summer, when the native plants get a little dry…the exotics will have a constant green, lush effect.”

Sohbati will use the Ridge Lane project as her thesis when she graduates in 2017. The effort was a studio project in the school’s LAN 620: Site Design class in fall 2014. Six MFA students presented proposals to the neighborhood.

School of Landscape Architecture Director Heather Clendenin knows the value of real-world projects like Ridge Lane in preparing students for career opportunities: Real-world experiences provide the skills that yield employment success post-graduation. “Nahal’s proposal immediately stood out because of the time she invested in observing and analyzing the site,” says Clendenin. “It was clear she had listened very carefully to the neighbors’ ideas, visions and thoughts for the future of the site, as well as to complaints about the site as it was.”

Dedication Celebrates a Vibrant Neighborhood

Spirits were high at the park’s official opening on June 18, when dozens of Ingleside neighbors came out to celebrate their newly designed outdoor space. Funded in part by San Francisco’s Street Parks Program—a partnership between the Department of Public Works (DPW), the Parks Alliance and locals seeking to create community-managed spaces on city-owned land—the Ridge Lane project now joins the city’s 132 street parks. City officials, including SF Parks Alliance CEO Matthew O’Grady, DPW Director of Operations Mohammed Nuru, State Assembly member Phil Ting and District 11 Supervisor John Avalos were all in attendance and offered words of congratulations.

At the dedication, Nuru committed to completing a second block in the Ridge Lane project in the year ahead. When complete, the park will be a green connection to the Balboa Park Station.

“We are so happy and proud and satisfied, and relieved,” said Patricia Ris at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. A core member of Ridge Lane Neighbors—Ingleside residents who launched an effort nearly five years ago to transform the neglected strip into a landscaped walkway—Ris was thrilled with Sohbati’s design. “It makes everybody dignified. When you walk in a beautiful park, you have dignity…. I think it will lift everybody up.”

Sohbati’s vision, ability to communicate and passion for the site set her apart, says Ris. “She was the one who fell in love with Ridge Lane right away. She had the most thorough plan for all five parcels, and she was able to communicate that.”

While the neighbors agreed Sohbati’s design was superior, each resident expressed concerns. “Prioritizing [the neighbors] needs in a way that addressed their concerns while recognizing the bigger picture was my greatest challenge,” Sohbati says. “Some of the residents who were not involved in the planning were skeptical about what would happen after [the project] was built. They were worried about it becoming another place that attracts crime.”

The project, says Sohbati, “proved how a space that is a reflection of its users can become a safe space for all. Even though it’s a small site, we can see what a great effect it has on the community.”

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