Sunday, July 10, 2011

My neighborhood — Jefferson Square Park — 2/3

San Francisco is blessed with a number of fine parks bejewelling the city like so many sparkling florets of emerald green, even though their public reputation diminishes in comparison with the massively gorgeous Golden Gate Park, arguably the best urban park anywhere.

Who among us has not basked under the Spring sun in the green pastures of Dolores Park, enjoyed the folksy sociability of Washington Park in North Beach, or felt awed before the majesty of the Bridge and the Golden Gate while walking along the Bay at Crissy Field. These are pleasures found nowhere else in this country, and they don’t cost you a penny.

My own neighborhood features a recreational area called Jefferson Square Park, only a minute from my door. Regrettably, compared with the other parks available for public enjoyment in this city, this one is a total loser, and it’s a mystery to me why it exists to begin with. Building a park on the side of a steep hill seems counter-intuitive, but with application it can be reasonably accomplished, as exemplified by the not-distant and altogether amenable Lafayette Park .

But Jefferson Square Park fails completely. It is striated with three lateral black asphalt walkways, punctuated by crumbling stone stair cases that elevate one about ten feet. The ground is damp, and due to lack of discipline, the grass has gone clumpy. It is generally cold and windy. Nobody uses the park except dog-owners on the one end of it and societal desperates requiring a place to sleep in the afternoons on the other.

The park does have a few old-growth eucalyptus trees, and the view south from its northern periphery provides a welcome chance to stretch one’s eyes. But it’s clearly not a place where people choose to hang out or recreate themselves, and its single advantage is that the space isn’t covered with residential buildings and parking lots like everywhere else in the vicinity.

And yet for one brief period, probably the only time in the Park’s history, incompetent city planning produced an unexpected advantage when refugees from the Fire erected a tent city here in 1906.

Underneath my bed I keep a small one-person tent and a rolled up sleeping bag and air mattress. I am not expecting my own building to collapse when the Big One comes, but it could burn down. So I have at the ready a stash of canned food, three gallon-bottles of Crystal Mountain water, and a small aluminum briefcase containing my external, back-up hard drive, along with some emergency weed. You will find me among the first to have established residence in Jefferson Square Park.

Photos: San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.


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