Community Wants to Repurpose Caltrain Eyesore

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What was once a dumping ground is being transformed into an oasis for Potrero Hill and Dogpatch residents.  “It was an abandoned lot filled with garbage and trash, really rough in terms of walking through it because there were no pathways and there was never a sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue,” said Bonnie Bergeron, a decades-long 25th Street resident who is heading up efforts to create “Tunnel Top Park.”

Although at first glance it’s hard to tell, Tunnel Top Park sits atop a Caltrain tunnel on the corner of 25th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. The space consists of varied terrain, including hillside and wetland, over an area of roughly 30,000 square feet. About two years ago, Bergeron began knocking on doors in hopes of drumming up support to transform the lot into a community asset. “It was one of those things where as neighbors we were always like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if…’,” she said.

Not only was Bergeron able to get her neighbors on board, but after a San Francisco Planning Commission program called Pavement to Parks got wind of the project it decided to lend a hand. According to its website, Pavement to Parks seeks to “test the possibilities of…underused areas of land by quickly and inexpensively converting them into new pedestrian spaces.”

Robin Abad, a Planning Commission urban designer and planner who works on strategic initiatives for Pavement to Parks, said it was natural to involve nearby California College of the Arts. The college’s architectural students were charged with developing designs for the future park. In early May, the students presented their ideas to the community.

“I think that has probably been the most rewarding thing about this collaboration so far, seeing how this talent and enthusiasm from the student body and the passionate community members who literally turned this dumping lot parking ground into a park,” Abad said. “There’s been a great interaction between these two groups as we have developed this collaboration.”

“I’ve never designed for a community like this,” said architecture student, Ania Burlinska. “It’s all been very conceptual work at school and very kind of, you know, big ideas; whereas this is much more for a client and for a group of people that; they’re going to have to live with something and love it and engage with it. Getting that feedback throughout and making changes to ideas and really trying to accommodate what people need has really been a positive experience.”

The winning design was by Fernanda Bernardes, Joshua Olivas and Anh Vo. “We tried to focus mainly on the key characteristics that the neighborhood asked for, which was kind of a fencing; kind of re-fence the back of it, also allow for shading or some light to pass through, they really wanted planters, and also benches or just some seating that could be moved around…We tried to make ours sort of circular, or a honeycomb,” said Bernardes.

Many of the other designs involved convertible seating that would allow for sitting upright or laying down, and a border between a main square and what’ll likely become a dog run.  “I want everyone to come gather, maybe for events, you know, a farmers’ market, something more for the community,” said Lalitha Bardalaye, a Mississippi Street resident and Tunnel Top Park steering committee member.

“The community’s work to turn a dumping ground into a place where neighbors can come together has really changed the antisocial dynamics at that site,” Abad said.  “The students’ designs are concepts only.  Pavement to Parks and CCA will be working with the Tunnel Top Park steering committee to refine those concepts into appropriate designs.  It’s also important to know that this is a prototyping exercise, so the newly installed amenities have the potential to change or be reconfigured over time to suit evolving dynamics.”

Bergeron added that the steering committee plans to add a mural as a tribute to the space’s history as a piece of transit infrastructure, with the help of local historian Peter Linenthal. “One of the things about this area that we really wanted to focus on was holding on to the history. So that the murals would inform everybody of what happened here in this part of the City, because this end of Potrero Hill is very different than the north end of Potrero Hill,” she said.

According to Abad, after the students take into account additional community feedback there’ll be an installation of some kind over the summer to showcase what the collaboration has produced.

“This park has a life of its own,” said Bergeron. “Starting it, and then having all these opportunities presented to us…It’s a great core working team. It’s like all of us, all of our skill sets, made up this wonderful whole.”