The Noe Valley Town Square project has ignited hope among neighborhood leaders, residents and business that it will re-establish something lost: community. With support from major figures like the San Francisco Parks Alliance and Scott Wiener, the town square will finally provide Noe Valley with a public gathering space.
The approximately 9,000 square-foot parking lot is now officially a park. However, it is still far from becoming a town square. Todd David, a local education activist, a non-profit organization founder and the co-founder of the Residents for Noe Valley Town Square, and his team of committed neighborhood leaders have successfully raised half a million dollars, all on their own.
The 24th Street parking lot on 24th is one of the few open spaces among “condos over retail,” or residential condominiums over commercial retail spaces, establishments between Sanchez and Vicksburg streets. Local supporters believe the space has much in store for the future, but only if the remaining funds are raised.
To turn the lot into a park he Residents for Noe Valley Town Square board would have to convince the City that the land should be purchased and turned into a public space. The estimated cost would be $5 million.
Luckily, David met with Meredith Thomas, the former executive director of the Neighborhood Parks Council (now SFPA), who would introduce the Open Space Acquisition Fund.
The fund is a voter-approved initiative that accumulates a small percentage of money for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. From this fund, another small percentage is set aside for acquisitions. The Open Space Acquisition fund hadn’t been used in ten years.
“Lots of people don’t know about it,” said Thomas who introduced the fund and helped facilitate the first few community meetings. “But now they do because of the Noe Valley Town Square.”
After six months of discussing how they would access the fund, convince the City to purchase the land and raise a few million dollars, David was done sitting around.
“The only thing I know how to do is grassroots fundraising. So I set up a table every Saturday,” said David.
In May 2012, David began taking pledges at the farmer’s market. He would gather almost $600,000 in pledges. $330,000 of those pledges have been collected today.
“I said, if we show broad neighborhood support for this project, I think we’ll get the attention of the politicians,” said David.
He was right and they did. With the support of neighbors, NPC and District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, on June 4, 2013, the Board of Supervisors voted to purchase the parking lot.
Even with the success, more money had to be raised. The RNVTS fundraised about $550,000 to date and just turned in a state grant for $725,000 which David says looks very promising.
“The groundbreaking will all be determined by the timing of the state grant,” said David. “The project was to get the property off the market and we got it bought,” said David.
Before being a parking lot, the 24th Street space spent decades as a gas station. According to David, the story goes that a mysterious Marin County investment group purchased the land and donated half of it to the Noe Valley Ministry, which is located right around the corner. The Presbyterian turned it into the parking lot that remains today.
In 2008, David was contacted by Bill Jackson, a representative of the Noe Valley Ministry, and Chris Keene, a local entrepreneur who were interested in the idea of turning the lot into a park.
When Jackson and Keene approached David, he had been a resident of Noe Valley for about 10 years and had a strong interest in the land.
David says the three men agreed that the best use of the land would be to give it back to the people. The idea quickly developed support amongst neighbors. In order to make it happen, the men got the City’s attention and convinced them to purchase and build on the land.
Imagining the Future
Many ideas for the space are currently under discussion. Ideas include fitness boot camps, tai chi classes, movie nights, festivals and possibly hosting food trucks.
“We’re only limited by our imagination and ability to bring these things together,” said Nisha Pillai, a RNVTS board member who focuses on marketing the project.
The decade-old Noe Valley Farmer’s Market will also continue. Leslie Crawford, the co-founder of the Noe Valley’s Farmer’s Market and board member of RNVTS, is excited for the potential growth of the market.
“If the property were sold elsewhere, the farmer’s market would have to relocate,” said Crawford. “Now it can stay. And having a permanent place means we can commit more.”
Besides the physical additions, such as more events and permanent playgrounds for children, the future development will provide the neighborhood with it’s own gathering place.
DIY Park Trail Blazers
David is excited to see the town square bring everyone of all ages together. “Where else in the neighborhood do you get all ages, toddlers, teenagers, parents and the elderly can hang out together?” asked David.
Crawford thinks it’ll help bring families out into the community. “People [with children] feel quite isolated in fact, for different reasons.” She believes that the idea of a town square will organically produce a strong community bond.
“Half the people who come to the farmer’s market are people with kids,” said Crawford. In a city where 19.3 percent of households have children, Noe Valley is a good representation of them. Specifically, 14.2 percent of Noe Valley households have children.
Crawford believes that communities that have open spaces are more likely to have a stronger community connection. “[Open spaces] solidifies community,” said Crawford.
Other neighborhoods are quickly taking notice of how people have worked together to create something that belongs to their community.
Neighborhoods like the Excelsior and the Indian Basin are working towards locating an open space to turn into a space for their community.
A Model for Other Neighborhoods
The idea of a neighborhood independently producing a public space for its community is quite unique. The NVTS project could become a model for neighborhoods lacking public spaces.
“I hope we’re a good model for other neighborhoods, ideally set a precedence,” said Crawford.
David expects fundraising to continue into the new year, but hopes to see construction completed next year. Depending on the outcome of the state grant and continued neighborhood support, the NVTS will become more of a reality within the near future.
Crawford points out that other neighborhoods and residents are becoming aware of the need for safe gathering places.
“I think [parks are] an amenity every San Franciscan deserves, but it’s up to neighbors to work together,” said Thomas.