Rhode Island and Wisconsin Streets to Get Greener

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Property owners on the 800 block of Rhode Island Street and 900 block of Wisconsin Street have partnered with Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) to make their streets a little greener. The effort involves removing concrete blocks from the sidewalk and replacing them with rocks, plants, and mulch.  Rachel Gordon, director of communications and policy for the City’s Department of Public Works (DPW), expects a dozen sites along the two streets to be improved.

According to Karla Nagy, FUF’s assistant program director, all of the vegetation to be planted will be drought-tolerant.  The area’s steep slopes, full sun, serpentine soil, and overhead wires present obstacles to certain florae. FUF will be establishing California native, serpentine soil tolerant yarrow, Achillea millefolium, Douglas iris, Iris douglasiana, and Scarlet Monkey Flower, Mimulus cardinalis, among other species.

It’s FUF’s first greening in Potrero Hill, though the nonprofit has previously improved streets in Dogpatch and other City neighborhoods. Nagy said it took about a year for her organization to secure funding for the effort through the City’s Community Challenge Grant Program. “The grant that we got for $32,000 will cover about 1,500 square feet of sidewalk landscaping: concrete removal; all of the materials, such as plants and rocks; and FUF’s project management,” she said. “The property owners had to pay only a small fee to FUF: $187, for things that the grant didn’t cover.”

“The outcome will be a more inviting streetscape and a better pedestrian experience,” said Gordon. “The sidewalk landscaping will be a cohesive thread that enhances the sense of place through this residential area.” 

Margo Bors, a Hill resident who does photo-documentation for the California Native Plant Society, hopes the greening will be beneficial for native animal species. “Trees and other plants provide corridors for birds and even refuge for skunks and raccoons that are wandering around. There’s less and less of that as the City gets more developed,” she said.

Andreas Michelmayr, a Rhode Island Street resident who is participating in the greening, said another advantage is that open space facilitates drainage.  “The more you open stuff up, the more water can go into the ground instead of into our antique sewer and water system,” she said.  “It’s not good if the streets overflow because then raw sewage can end up flowing into urban creeks.”

Michelmary helped FUF “scratch together 10 to 11 property owners” on Rhode Island Street, the minimum number required for the City to provide a grant. “I talked to people and put flyers in mailboxes,” she said.

Amy Gregg, a Wisconsin Street resident who is engaged in the greening, sent letters to her neighbors and talking to them about the project. She said organizing the greening brought the block together. “There’s always transition in the neighborhood. By working on this project, we were able to get to know new neighbors better. Even neighbors who decided not to do it want to help us plant. People can’t wait to see how it turns out,” said Gregg. 

She added the greening is a good way to increase Wisconsin Street’s “curb appeal. We have lots of families walking to Starr King Elementary School because we’re between the school and Potrero Hill Recreation Center. There’s a lot of street traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Taxis and emergency vehicles go up the street. There’s a bus lane and we’re a block away from public housing. We want to pass on a little bit of beauty and make the street a nicer experience for everyone,” said Gregg.

Gregg said her section of Wisconsin Street has lost a lot of trees over time. Owners are looking to add “a lot of nice greenery and at least two more trees” to the block. “We also want to show people are looking out for the properties. I organized a Neighborhood Watch group on our block about five years ago. We learned that beautifying a block can be helpful in terms of safety measures,” said Gregg.

“The corner of Wisconsin Street and 23rd Street has a huge amount of square footage. The owner of the condominiums there is going around the corner with their garden. They probably have the space that about four buildings would have,” said Gregg.

Over the summer many sidewalk squares on the two streets were spray-painted with markings and the initials “FUF.” These marks indicated that the concrete is slated for removal.

Elissa Chandler, a Rhode Island resident, said she’s happy the upper portion of her street will feature more trees and bushes.  “I wish they’d put more green here. We paid $1,000 to have the sidewalk redone so one tree could stay. Everybody else removed their trees,” said Chandler.

Though Rhode Island resident Cole Knaflic isn’t participating in the greening he’s interested in helping with the community planting. “We’re excited to potentially get more trees and greens and plants,” said Knaflic.

Rod Mortazavi and Jasmin Dao, Rhode Island residents, were pleased by the prospect of more greenspace.  “What are the downsides? It’s always nice to have more trees,” said Mortazavi.

“It seems like a nice idea. When we moved in, I thought this block needed more greenery,” said Dao.

Augustin Garcia, senior pastor at City View Church, located at 884 Rhode Island Street, said he has no problem with adding more greenery. “The block needs it,” said Garcia.

Hill resident and Potrero Hill Garden Club member Audrey Cole hopes the greening will help the properties complement each other.  “Over on 18th Street, between Texas and Mississippi Streets, there’s a bunch of neighbors who planted in the front of their houses and stairwells to match one another. It looks good,” she said.

Cole said owners and FUF should be careful with planting trees because they can blow over or break up the sidewalk with their roots. Male trees can produce pollen; female trees can grow fruit that turns into detritus. “Frankly, the clean-up that some trees entail might be the deciding factor,” she said. “Magnolias are wonderful, but those leaves will dog you for the rest of your life.”

According to Nagy, FUF has been planting street trees since the 1980s. The organization is confident that trees will benefit the designated blocks.  Nagy said if the plants start to significantly grow the best way to protect the sidewalks is to enlarge the trees’ squares.

Gregg said FUF’s advice on trees, other plants, and its help securing permits and funding have been welcome. “I always thought it was out of our league to secure that kind of funding for a grant. In terms of time and effort, they’ve helped enormously,” said Gregg.

A community planting and potluck is scheduled for October 3, rain or shine. Participants can RSVP at: http://www.fuf.net/get-involved/events/sidewalk-landscaping-potrero-hill.