December 2012

Residents Work to Beautify Vermont Street Enclave

LeeAndrea Morton

Last month a new mural began to take shape at the Vermont Street enclave, an otherwise mostly derelict open space at the southern base of McKinley Park. The mural project was launched by Friends of the Vermont Street Enclave. The group has initiated a series of beautification projects over the past three years, and secured $3,000 to execute the mural. The San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW) picked-up half the cost, with the rest raised from Hill residents.

Vermont Street resident and Friends member Erica Hilton, who is leading the mural initiative, recruited the project’s artist, Megan Spendlove. “We wanted someone who was kid-friendly but didn’t want to paint cartoons,” said Hilton. “She envisioned flowers, poppies, and other native plants. We wanted something soothing and natural.”

The new mural isn’t the only change happening at the enclave. Friends of the Vermont Street Enclave has formed a committee to determine the best uses for the space. Committee leaders include Hilton, Jennifer King, and Emmanuel Weisgant, who are contemplating a number of ways to rejuvenate the enclave, including a children’s playground, outdoor gym for adults, community garden, and picnic area.

“We just want to see anything in the space,” said Hilton. “We aim for an innovative area for Potrero residents that allows people to not feel afraid to be in the enclave at night, and that will last for generations. A few years ago there was crazy prostitution. There were drug deals and tagging every other day.”

Three years ago, King convinced DPW to install lights on the wall on which the mural is located. Currently, one of the lights is broken and is habitat to a stray tennis ball. Although the fixtures are regularly busted, neighbors believe that their presence has reduced nighttime criminal activity. Broken lights are usually fixed quickly, and the police respond within minutes to criminal reports. 

Initially, the lights were meant to be temporary, but after King and other neighbors stressed their desire for lighting in the area, DPW agreed to leave them up. Even after the mural is completed, the enclave lights will remain.

Although crime has been reduced at the enclave, issues remain that deter residents from spending time, or even passing through, the area. “People are always trekking past the enclave to get to McKinley Square, but they totally avoid this area,” stated King. A homeless encampment is located just around the enclave’s hillside. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is looking for contractors to build a wall to deter people from passing through the enclave from the Highway 101 side of the hill. Friends of the Vermont Street Enclave have requested that the wall be designed to include a living garden to make it more difficult for people to cut through the space and to reduce highway noise. While the contracted company will consider the community’s recommendations, Caltrans will determine the wall’s materials and aesthetic features. 

Like many public-private initiatives, bureaucracy prevents change from happening quickly. The enclave is owned by three different agencies: Caltrans, DPW, and San Francisco Recreation and Park. The jurisdictional division slows decision-making, and complicates the funding process. For example, since the enclave isn’t totally owned by Rec and Park, it isn’t eligible to apply for beautification efforts from many grant-funded resources.

It will take approximately three weeks for Spendlove to complete the mural, with an unveiling party to celebrate the new, colossal piece of art this month. “I want the community to know that something’s brewing and that this project is going to make a big difference in the quality of life on our historic, curvy street,” King said.

To find out about the mural unveiling party or how to support the Vermont Street Enclave beautification project, check the kiosks on the 900 block of Vermont Street. 

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