Greeting the new year with bulldozers and the boast of a rare resolution kept, the Trust for Public Land's Parks for People program has concluded a five-year fight to overhaul the much-maligned Father Alfred E. Boedekker Park in the Tenderloin. The community celebrated its groundbreaking Nov. 11 and the park is poised to reopen in early 2014.
While Boedekker is within walking distance for more than 50,000 people, the needle-strewn, 1-acre park is an underwhelming green space for the Tenderloin, which remains one of San Francisco's most densely populated areas, with the largest number of families living below the poverty line. The park itself sits near the unofficial open-air drug market known as the Gauntlet.
"The fences are foreboding, the layout extremely inefficient, and the clubhouse is dilapidated," says Alejandra Chiesa, who is overseeing Boedekker's renovation for the Trust for Public Land as project manager. "Most of the people in this area are living in single occupancy units and have very little access to green space."
That the park is now inaccessible due to renovation only slightly changes its previous state: Before, it was hard to find an entrance, and even then people sometimes couldn't get in.
"The park is often locked and the San Francisco Park & Rec had trouble monitoring it due to its low visibility, 'underground' clubhouse, and its labyrinth of fences," says Chiesa.
Boedekker's renovation is the final chapter of a three-park initiative first launched in 2008 with the S.F. Recreation & Park Department. The trust raised $16.5 million with government grants, corporation funding, and private donations. Of that, $8.5 million will be spent on Boedekker.
The other two parks — Hayes Valley Playground and Balboa Park — have already been completed; Boedekker was slated last due to its complexity and anticipated cost.
Chiesa says she ran through her own "rather painful" gauntlet in the five years of pursuing permits. When Boedekker finally reopens it'll boast fitness equipment, a new playground and full-size basketball court, community gardens, and an energy-efficient clubhouse. But will such improvements elevate the area or merely make it a more scenic corner of the drug trade?
"When a park isn't working, it's usually because those are places that tend to have visibility problems, the facilities are declining and in disrepair. And perhaps for those reasons it's not being used by families," says Jennifer Isacoff, director of the Parks for People — Bay Area program. Moving forward, she says, "Surveillance will be better. With the presence and extension of youth programming into the park, that's not going to be a place where people want to do illicit activities."
But that's next year. For now, Chiesa's excited. "We can't believe it's finally underway. It's taken a village and it will create a community."