In December, the city announced that the children’s playground located in the Panhandle was among six playgrounds selected for renovation using the funds of the 2012 San Francisco Parks Bond.
The current play structures and design were last rebuilt with support from the Saturn car company 15 years ago this spring. The playground has earned a “D” or “C” rating in recent years. Playgrounds with poor ratings such as these were assessed in a city-wide process last year that involved members of the community, the San Francisco Parks Alliance, and the Rec and Parks Department.
Judging by the amount of funds made available for the six playgrounds selected, the playground renovation will be about a $2-$3 million project. The Parks Alliance reports that an implementation plan is expected in March. A process for community input into the playground’s design has not yet been established.
In my view, this new capital improvement project presents several opportunities:
1. Incorporate interpretation of the park’s history. The park’s most distinctive feature is our mature trees, and their enduring beauty should be celebrated. A historical sign could explain the context of their planting by the early visionaries of San Francisco’s park system. This would also fit with recognizing Elizabeth McClintock, who was the Curator of Botany for the California Academy of Sciences and who authored The Trees of the Panhandle in 1964 when the park was threatened by highway construction. McClintock, a scientist, author, and advocate, died in 2004, and I know of no public memorial elsewhere.
2. Include new gardener’s hut/tool shed. The current hut is in very poor condition, and the adjacent tool shed (which is a shipping container) is an eyesore. The gardener can do a better job maintaining the playground and supporting the regular volunteer stewardship programs that take place in the park with a modern facility.
3. Make a more prominent and welcoming entrance. One thing that would be great for families arriving by bike would be to include racks and space for bike parking both outside and inside the gate.
4. Consider an alternate site within the park. The current playground site is hemmed in by mature trees, which may limit options for modifying its design. The trees also present a maintenance burden due to constantly falling eucalyptus leaf and bark litter, as well as some hazard of falling limbs. Lastly, they might make the construction very tricky. The open asphalt covered area just east of the restrooms covers twice the space of the current playground and I strongly urge that site be assessed for the playground. It would be important to evaluate whether there would still be enough space left for the occasional party tents, porta-potties, and dumpsters that get stationed in that zone, and also how it would affect the groups that use the space informally (e.g., tai chi, martial arts, kid’s soccer). If the playground were re-situated, the current playground could stay in operation during construction, and then afterwards, that site could be transitioned back to open space, or a community garden, or a sports court (such as petanque or bocce).