The Esprit Community Advisory Group (ECAG) was formed last year to recommend approaches to the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department about how to best maintain and renovate Esprit Park. Members include Dogpatch resident Susan Fitch, Irma Lewis of Toes and Paws for Green Space, Green Benefit District executive director Julie Christensen, and Dogpatch Neighborhood Association treasurer Jared Doumani.
“I think it’s great that we’ve reached a level of trust and relationship (among members),” said San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department’s Esprit Park renovation project manager, Melinda Stockman. “Most projects don’t have this amount of inclusive design.”
Although there are significant issues with drainage, turf maintenance, and lighting, the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department didn’t consider Esprit Park to be a renovation priority. Searching for other funding sources, ECAG secured support from the University of California, San Francisco and through the Eastern Neighborhoods Citizens Advisory Committee. Revamp items being considered by the Advisory Group and designer David Fletcher focus on utilizing the space differently – developing an off-leash dog play; more spaces for kids and families – rather than a significant refurbishment.
“Thanks to a generous contribution of $5 million from UCSF we will be able to improve the park’s lighting and ADA-access,” said Tamara Aparton, Parks Department deputy director of communication and public affairs. The proposed plan will “provide separate areas where children hone their imaginations, adults work on their fitness, and dogs play off-leash.”
ECAG held community meetings throughout the summer and fall of 2018. Last month, advisory group members discussed details of possible park upgrades, including issues related to lighting, water fountains, and construction materials.
“We want to get a clear sense of the breadth of opinion,” said Community Design Consultant Steve Rasmussen Cancian, whose landscape architecture firm, Shared Spaces, focuses on public and nonprofit projects. “We want to hear perspectives to inform the design.”
At the meeting participants spoke to their hopes for and concerns about the park, which ranged from keeping a familiar feel, the look of natural turf and surfaces, and maintaining its multi-use quality, with ample open space with grass.
“At the moment it is a very free-flowing park,” said ECAG member Gaynor Chun. “We’ve got to be careful about cutting it up.”
“The plan will honor the park’s original vision of an urban oasis,” said Aparton. The goal is “making its amenities more resilient for current and future park users.”
Steve Cismoswki, from RPD, agreed. “I look for opportunities to lower our maintenance load,” he said. “As our park systems become more complicated the most important part of maintenance is the planning.”
A concern raised at the meeting was that the resulting work might not be kept up to a high enough standard. “It already seems like it gets no money, no attention,” said ECAG member Sasha Basso. “If we redo it is it going to receive that same amount of maintenance?”
Christensen reassured participants that renovations are the first step to sustainability. “There’s this preconceived notion that if it’s new and nice then it’s going to be hard to take care of,” she said. “That’s not really the case because it’s being designed to be easy to take care of.”
Meeting participants wanted the park to be open, but with distinct areas for children, dogs, and adults.
“Keeping the dogs in, delineating the areas, these are the things we’ve decided are non-negotiable,” said Stockman.
Some ECAG members favored setting aside a hefty portion of the park to an off-leash area; others thought that was too generous to animals.
“People deserve a larger chunk than dogs,” said Basso.
“We should be realistic about the population that lives here and the population moving in,” said Lewis. “If we have data that says we have more people with dogs than with kids then we need to be brutal about what it’s telling us.”
Doumani cautioned meeting attendees to be hopeful but realistic. Having been part of planning teams for previous public projects – including recently the 22nd Street Green Project, to create a pedestrian path from Illinois Street to the Caltrain station – he warned of potential pitfalls. “We’ve had problems with the 22nd Street project because we wanted something beautiful that was undeliverable because of cost,” he said.
Stockman maintained that the focus should be on functionality. “Some of the main goals are things like making sure the drainage works…and people can use the park because there aren’t closures.”
“All experiences must be accessible,” Cancian echoed, indicating that meeting ADA requirements was a high priority.
“We expect to conclude the community meetings and concept design process by spring-summer 2019,” said Aparton. “We will then move into schematic and detailed design in order to begin the renovation in summer-fall 2020.”
“The renovation plans are built on the input of the community, first through the Central Waterfront planning process and now through a concept design process run by the Recreation and Parks Department, in partnership with the Dogpatch – NW Potrero Hill Green Benefit District,” said Aperton.
“I agree with all the people looking to maintain the use of a park as a multi-use space,” said Lewis. “In the end, we have to do what fits the community.”