The “greening’ of San Francisco

Although sometimes it feels like “positive” changes occur at a glacial pace, change is still happening all around us for the sake of a ‘greener” environment, such as workshops on reclaiming water at home for garden landscaping, planting trees in the Mission (www.missionverde.com) to turning underutilized public-right-of way properties into parks. Whatever the project is, it is slowly but surely moving us in the right direction. For me, my pet project has been turning as much paved area back into dirt or grass, especially around my neighborhood: Bernal Heights.

My family and I have not owned a car for nine years, though we think we might need to break down and get one since our daughter’s new school is all the way up near Fort Mason. Still, the last nine years have made us more resourceful, as well as a little wealthier by not paying car insurance, fuel, costly repairs, etc. Still, I know that many people are very dependent on their car for personal mobility or work or other reasons, which can make the whole street closure idea unappealing and seem unjust. That said, there are still many things we can do. For me, it has to turn into a game of looking at a street and seeing if we can live without it. And that comes from someone who is a licensed civil engineer with many roadway and infrastructure projects under his belt.

My current project is just around the corner from my home. It is a short section of the street, a parking lot, a dumpsite, and even a weed sanctuary. It is not a crucial roadway for commuting, not even needed for fire trucks or ambulances. Still, the first time I tried to convert it into a park or garden, I met with resistance from the public agencies. So, I waited a couple of years, and now, with new people on staff, I have gained support for my idea, which entails taking this 50’x140’ eyesore and removing the leftover asphalt, grading and terracing it, and planting a community garden, which can be irrigated through rainwater harvesting. And although I was not the only one to think of this urban conversion, nor even the first, I was the one who luckily got the idea to move with the help of neighbors, one politician, and staff from Street Alliance and SFMTA.

We still have a long process ahead, but here are some tips:

  • Next time you are on a walk, locate paved or abandoned areas, which might be better suited as a garden or mini-park.
  • Go to sanfranciscoparksalliance.org and get some valuable information, which will help you determine whether or not your project is viable.
  • If Parks Alliance gives you even a tacit “approval,” start contacting your local supervisor. Their support carries a lot of weight with other agencies.
  • Get a petition going, including the adjacent neighborhoods, requesting the conversion from “paved” to “green” and submit it to SFMTA.
  • If SFMTA tells you the idea looks good, start motivating others to help; get a plan going, including preliminary schedule, budget (if possible), and fundraising ideas. You can get some grant money, but you will be expected to pitch in as well as a community.
  • Always keep the “after” vision in your head until it becomes real.

The “greening’ of San Francisco

Sustainable Design and Certification


Jorge Romero-Lozano, LEED AP, P.E., PMP

Mr. Romero-Lozano studied civil engineering and construction management in California. He is a registered professional engineer (PE) in California, holds the title of Diplom Ingenieur in Germany, is certified sustainability professional LEED AP) from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), and holds several certifications, such as project management professional (PMP) from the project management institute (PMI.) He is highly experienced in project, construction, and facilities management in the automotive, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, infrastructure, and civil engineering industries.

Contact him for some free advice if you want to create your own community garden or park.

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