HVNA: Advocates for Great Urbanism [August-September 2010 print edition]

By Sarah Karlinsky

One of the first things I did when I started working at SPUR in September of 2005 was to get up to speed on the Market and Octavia Better Neighborhood Plan. I quickly learned that Market and Octavia was an exceptionally thoughtful neighborhood plan, one which balanced a desire to increase density in appropriate transit-rich locations while protecting the fragile virtues of the fine grained residential neighborhoods within the plan boundaries. In studying the Market and Octavia Plan I also learned about the heroic effort to bring down the Central Freeway and replace it with the Octavia Boulevard. Bringing down the Central Freeway was a major political battle – a battle that was lead by several members of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, including Patricia Walkup and Robin Levitt.

Proxy’s creative solution for Hayes Valley’s underutilized lots: a center for sustainable food,arts, culture and community serving uses. Image: courtesy of envelope a+d

I was impressed with what I was learning. HVNA seemed to me to be the best possible type of neighborhood association, one which was fiercely committed to creating a great urban community, a neighborhood not afraid to embrace density and cutting edge architecture in the right locations, a neighborhood incredibly excited about encouraging car-free spaces and woonerf style streets. As I began to attend the Market and Octavia adoption hearings, I was even more impressed. Members of HNVA turned out week after week to fight for the neighborhood plan that they had helped to craft. They were committed to the ideals embodied in the plan but willing to compromise when appropriate. Above all, they were impassioned advocates for the plan. I greatly enjoyed sitting in the back row of the Planning Commission chambers chatting with Paul Olsen, Robin Levitt, Jason Henderson and others waiting for another long evening hearing to begin.

Now that the Market and Octavia Plan has been adopted, HVNA is once again working to find ways to nurture great urbanism. Recently SPUR hosted a forum called “Taking (temporary) root: Pop-up storefronts and an urban farm in Hayes Valley.” SPUR members got to hear about the ways that vacant lots in the neighborhood are being activated, including the creation of the amazing Hayes Valley Farm located on a 1.5 acre lot where the Central Freeway used to touch down. A plan currently in the works called “Proxy” would allow temporary uses to be developed on two freeway parcels. I continue to be impressed with HVNA. It is a neighborhood association with great ideas and it is not afraid to work tirelessly to put those ideas into action.

Sarah Karlinsky is the Deputy Director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.