by Gail Baugh
Hayes Valley, the revitalized neighborhood in the center of San Francisco, has demonstrated again how people who all live in the same location can become a community. This time, community-building happened as a simple resurfacing project by Rec and Park.
Over 50 years ago, Hayes Valley was treated as an expendable space – a place where the community had so little importance, the City built a Central Freeway slicing the neighborhood in two.
The vision at the time was ease-of-car movement, for access to the west and north sides of San Francisco, via a network of elevated, double-decked freeways.
In Hayes Valley, the freeway underbelly was home to prostitution, crime, and neglect. It was called Death Valley, not Hayes Valley, with several housing developments (called “projects” at the time), neglected and left to become places of crime and violence, traumatizing the residents of these complexes and the broader neighborhood.
The stimulus for change was a grassroots movement dedicated to making the neighborhood safe for all community members. Taking down the Central Freeway was a critical step in creating a safe place to live, work, and play.
A vital point of the early organizers (and now part of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association’s mission statement) was “…to create a sense of neighborliness…” – inclusive for all. The movement never blamed any part of the neighborhood but instead worked to create a safe place for all residents. It was never about “us” versus “them,” but simply “we.”
Hayes Valley has built a tradition of welcoming new members into the community, including developmentally disabled, formerly homeless, families needing below-market-rate housing, as well as the new tech community. When the Warriors announced their move to SF, the neighborhood wanted to reach out to them as well. We told them a little of our story and hoped there would be the right opportunity for us to work together in Hayes Valley.
Eight years ago, The Trust for Public Land worked with all the neighbors to plan a bright, cheery new clubhouse and playground for all to enjoy. It has play equipment for kids and adults, vegetable and flower gardens, public bathrooms, and an indoor clubhouse—a $3.5 million gift to the City and our community (with a little added funding by our supervisor from the City’s budget). It is well used by visitors, residents, after-school programs, unhoused neighbors, and community events. However, the Tennis and Basketball Courts were beyond the scope of that project.
Recently, the courts were budgeted for resurfacing, and it became the opportunity to work with the Warriors to create something exceptional. The Kevin Durant Charitable Foundation and Airbnb-funded SF artist Ricardo Richey to design an outstanding mural on the play surface of the basketball court.
Neighbors now protect it, as they’ve done for the playground and clubhouse, for the enjoyment of all. It’s a place of community, to meet neighbors, young and old, to gather and enjoy one another’s company.
The gardens, maintained by dedicated volunteers and protected by Rec and Park staff, are some of the most beautiful in the City. Put down your phone, talk to your neighbors and enjoy this beautiful oasis in the center of our City. It’s at the corner of Hayes and Buchanan. You can’t miss it. Take the 21 MUNI bus…it drops you right in front, either inbound or outbound.