Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Tribute to the Vis Valley Greenway

Fran Martin and Anne Seeman are San Francisco heroines. With no more spare time than other mortals, the intrepid neighbors managed to convert a half-dozen empty, weedy lots owned by the SFPUC into a sinuous strip of gardens and green spaces. If you've never seen the Visitacion Valley Greenway, go today. Go now. It's Earth Day. Go.

Vis Valley has for years been such a neglected part of the city on the far side of McLaren Park (the second largest park in the city and its most underused). You can't even get into McLaren from Vis Valley although it's RIGHT THERE. With Leland Avenue, the area's commercial corridor, virtually vacant, there's been no green spaces or public places for social activity (of the healthy sort) in Vis Valley for years. That's starting to change with the extension of the T-Line into the southeast sector, but it really started long before, with Fran and Anne, who figured where the money was (gazillions of dollars) and advocated endlessly for their forgotten neighborhood.

With support from the Trust for Public Land and other non-profits, they raised the money to design and build the Greenway. Do you know how hard that is to do? The odds were against them from the start, and there were multiple bumps in the road that would have brought other people and projects to a screeching halt.

Community gardens, a children's recreation area, an herb garden, a teaching garden, a native plant garden, a greenhouse, the list goes on of the resources the Greenway now offers to the public. Each lot is unique, and uniquely beautiful. They didn't skimp on the quality of materials or the design of each site. Jim Growden, Fran's husband and a talented and generous sculptural artist, created the Greenway's decorative gates.

Tenacity, ambition, vision, frustration, art and gardening skills, the gift of persuasion, begging. Fran and Anne applied all over 14 years to this project. Last October the Visitacion Valley Greenway was finally completed, every abandoned lot now bursting with color, plants abuzz with bees and people enjoying this remarkable gift with their families.

Go to Hans Schiller Plaza on Leland Avenue to start your tour, then wind your way upupup through each section of the Greenway. You can even take public transport there. Here's more info about it:


  1. Quite a feat of fundraising, not to mention engineering. Most of the paths are wheelchair accessible (the third block, the herb garden, has a stairway at its upper end); it's all easy access paths.

    You travel a good 10 blocks distance with all the switchback and realize as you get to the uppermost block (not yet shown on Google's aerial view -- click now to see for yourself what it used to look like) you realized you've climbed most of the height of the ridge with hardly any effort at all.

    As a bonus, when you get to the top of the Native Plant Garden, you're most of the way up to the east entrance to McLaren Park. Turn left on Tioga, right on Delta, left on Wilde 1 block, and there's a path to the grand vistas at the east end of the park. Great start for a city transect.

    DeeDee, there used to be an online parks report card form -- can't find it. Who's responsible for NOT cleaning the portapotty at Hans Schiller Plaza? It's rare to see one quite so bad.

  2. I'll check out the herb garden - thanks to your report.