Hayes Valley Deserves Both Parks and Housing

San Francisco is poised to take away one of the best small public spaces in the city. They shouldn't.

What is PROXY?

The public space in the middle of Hayes Valley has three distinct parts to it. The central bit with grass, rotating sculpture, and fixed picnic tables is Patricia’s Green, a city park.

PROXY (also known as “parcel K”) next to Patricia’s Green.

I thought PROXY was part of the park! Why is it going away?

It feels like part of the park, but it is not. It is one of the former Central Freeway rights-of-way, and to the city, it’s still just a vacant lot named “Parcel K”. It is slated for housing development, one piece of a complex plan dating back 20 years. Because the housing designated for that site is fully below-market-rate, the city must essentially underwrite the construction, plans for which have thus taken some time to put together. The current setup, named PROXY, was designed to be a temporary use of a then-empty lot, and has been a fixture for almost ten years. But the project is now moving forward, and the city is planning to issue an RFP (“request for proposals”) to developers in the next few months. Parcel K (currently PROXY) will be permanently replaced by a few dozen housing units. (More on the housing piece in a moment.)

PROXY is really, really good. It should be refined, not tossed away.

It is exceptionally difficult for city planners anywhere to deliberately create successful urban open spaces. Cities (including San Francisco) are littered with parks that are relatively underused, and open plazas are notoriously hard to get right. Witness Embarcadero Plaza’s vast emptiness, or McCoppin Hub Plaza’s now-permanent fenced closure.

More housing is good, though, right?

Absolutely, and this is important to be clear about. We can have (and should demand) both housing and beloved parks. San Francisco is in the midst of a housing supply emergency. Daring and creative solutions to add housing across the board are required. Building a few dozen BMR units on Parcel K is not nothing, but the consequence of doing so is permanently amputating one of the most successful urban spaces in the city.

It’s time to re-evaluate the future of Parcel K.

As we add more residents, the value of centrally-located public space in the neighborhood only increases. Parcel K is a small piece of land earmarked for a modicum of development a long time ago, before it was clear how successful taking down the freeway would be for the area, and before anyone guessed how good PROXY could end up being. Also before the specifics of the housing crisis became as clear as they are now.

Can I do anything about this?

Yes, and if you’re so inclined, you should do so rather urgently.

Parcel K in 1961 with the Central Freeway looming above, and now. Old photo via San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store