On the short and narrow, yet very busy thoroughfare that is Wilder Street, sits a sad, empty patch of ground. It’s BART property and is fenced off to protect an auxiliary building for BART which sits on the site.
For years, neighbors have bemoaned its ugliness, and several of them try to at least keep the area around it free of trash.
Site of proposed Wilder Garden
(photos by Bonnee Waldstein)
Janet Tarlov, proprietor of Canyon Market, which is the down-the-street neighbor to the parcel, got the idea of creating a community garden in the space. It could turn the eyesore into a place of beauty that would lift the spirits of users and passersby alike.
She’s been inspired since her 2008 Earth Day involvement in beautifying and maintaining the Bernal Cut, which she continues to this day. She noticed the Wilder space sitting vacant.
“I thought the same [improvement] could be true of this site. The work being done on the Greenway was also an inspiration.”
The Wilder Street Garden (WSG) is a community project started by Janet and Richard Tarlov and Canyon Market executive assistant, Rachel Ross. Ross also works on the store’s sustainable business initiatives and community giving program. Rachel and Janet formed the Wilder Street Garden committee and laid the groundwork for the project. Rachel is the WSG committee chair and Janet is the fundraising chair.
Canyon Market’s role is in indirect support of the project, such as by announcing WSG meetings in its window or on its social media sites.
The exact nature and purpose of the design and use are still to be determined. The available space is around 1800 square feet, small in comparison to other community gardens in the city.
The WSG committee did a walk-through of the site with BART board director Bevan Dufty. Then they held an initial meeting in December 2018 with neighbors and other Glen Park residents to gauge their interest and support. There was confusion about the definition of a community garden and different possibilities were presented.
Janet and others had visited a number of community gardens around the city to get ideas. They all varied in their purpose, organization and geography. “There’s no master plan, there’re no officials involved, it’s a community decision,” says Janet. One model close by is the Arlington Community Garden, which has plots tended by individuals who are the only people who have access.
Arlington Community Garden:
(photos by Bonnee Waldstein)
With no clear-cut proposal for the Wilder Street space, people were nevertheless receptive to exploring the idea further.
One of the first hurdles was to get BART’s permission to use the space. BART has no interest in maintaining and improving it, so they agreed to a two-year lease with the option to extend it if all goes well. They require security around their on-site building, which means funds will need to be raised for fencing.
Another issue was that of fiscal sponsorship. Like many public landscaping projects around the city – for instance, the Greenway in Glen Park — neighborhood and community volunteer groups need an umbrella organization to handle ongoing organization, liability insurance and fundraising, as well as to lend credibility to the project. This is what the San Francisco Parks Alliance (SFPA) does. Janet applied for fiscal sponsorship from the SFPA and it was approved in January.
A second community meeting was held on March 12. Attendance doubled from the first meeting, to 20 people or so. Half were either Wilder Street residents or adjoining neighbors. With the possibility of the garden getting closer to reality, and more time to think about it, neighbors became more vocal with their concerns.
Marissa Alexander, Southwest Area Manager of the SFPA, was there as a resource for how the process works and to offer other insights.
Scott Stawicki, president of the Glen Park Association, helped guide the discussion. He talked about strength in numbers. “One person gets ignored when they try to interact with the city. Community involvement elevates concerns to city agencies.”
Carolyn White, chair of the GPA neighborhood committee, told of the ongoing process of improving the Arlington pathway. As volunteers work their way clearing the dregs and fennel, the encampments have disappeared.
There was overall agreement that Wilder Street is stretched to maximum use already with businesses, cars, trucks, two bus lines and people.
Topping the list of concerns about the garden was security. People felt strongly that the garden should be locked at all times to prevent nefarious activity inside. Along with that was the idea that there should be set hours, e.g., noon to 7 p.m. Someone made a hyperbolic statement about “thousands of people” descending upon the area because of the garden.
On the other hand, Marissa noted, studies have shown that making a space attractive and popular tends to deter crime, trash, tagging, loitering, drug use and the like – all of which have been mentioned as current problems on Wilder Street.
People wanted rules addressing noise since several properties abut the space. They also wanted any fencing design to be attractive.
Traffic was raised as an issue, particularly double parking, if gardeners stopped to load and unload supplies.
Potential drainage problems were cited, in that runoff from the garden could flow into lower lying properties. It’s necessary to take the topography into account when terra forming the space.
There was discussion about benefits vs. burdens of having a community garden which only a few people would have access to. However, it was also pointed out that among people without backyards, there is a great need to be able to grow things which, in turn, would beautify the area for everyone walking by.
Marissa stated the overall benefits of a green space to mental health, physical health, and home values.
Crags Court Community Garden:
If the community approves of the project moving ahead, next steps will include fundraising and hiring a landscape architect to design the space. And, of course, more community meetings.
Most of the community gardens in the city are under the management and support of the Rec and Park department. If approved by the community, the WSG would be under BART’s control. However, looking at the experience of Rec and Park community gardens, this is a very popular concept.
Little Red Hen Community Garden:
For the 38 existing community gardens on city property managed by SF Rec and Park, all are wait-listed due to huge demand for the plots. It’s hard to imagine that a Wilder Street Garden would have any trouble attracting would-be green thumbs in Glen Park.
Park Street Community Garden:
(Photos by Bonnee Waldstein)