It Takes A Village To Raise An Urban Forest

Castro neighbors living on Ford, Sanchez and Noe Streets are sprucing up their sidewalks, thanks in part to motivated residents and support from Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF), a Presidio-based nonprofit that promotes, plants and cares for trees across the city.

Twenty-two properties on Ford, Sanchez and Noe Streets between 17th and 18th, are greening more than 2,500 square feet of sidewalk space, making it FUF’s largest sidewalk beautification project to date in San Francisco. (Typical projects are around 1,000 square feet.)

When all is said and done, more than 600 plants will be planted.

Work began yesterday—and continued this morning—to prepare various sidewalk sites. A team of volunteers, including a contingent of high school students, is slated to participate in a massive planting event tomorrow morning, followed by a potluck lunch.

Photo: FUF

Christopher Kerby is one of many residents collaborating with FUF. The Ford Street resident first contacted the nonprofit about a year ago when the tree in front of his house was dying.

“Some of the roots were cut into,” Kerby said. “I contacted Friends of the Urban Forest and indicated that I wanted to work with them to get a replacement tree.”

Workers visited Kerby’s home and helped him select an appropriate tree, which was later planted during a volunteer weekend.

Photo: FUF/Facebook

Kerby began planting trees with FUF all over San Francisco as a volunteer, and through his involvement, learned about the Sidewalk Landscaping Project. He, and others, thought a sidewalk beautification project would be perfect addition to Ford, Sanchez and Noe Streets.

“Insulated from the hustle and bustle of the Castro, these three blocks are already quite beautiful,” Kerby said. “Adding these sidewalk gardens will enhance the streets between 17th and 18th and add to the beauty for the property owners and for people walking by on the sidewalks.”

Photo: FUF/Facebook

Sidewalk gardens create permeable surfaces that absorb storm water and decrease flooding, recharge groundwater, provide a buffer between pedestrians and street traffic and create natural habitat for birds and insects and increasing property values.

Last month, FUF hosted a community meeting for neighbors on Ford, Noe and Sanchez Streets to discuss the landscaping process.

Photo: FUF

In order to landscape eligible sidewalks around their residences, property owners are required to acquire permits. (Tree basin expansions, on the other hand, don’t require a permit.)

FUF liaises with city departments—primarily Public Works—to secure those permits and review existing sidewalk conditions, such as underground utilities, water lines and utility poles.

The nonprofit also generates renderings for each property and ensures that all landscaping is ADA compliant.

Photo: FUF/Facebook

Kerby, along with some of his neighbors, reached out to other property owners in the surrounding footprint to gauge interest in a larger neighborhood sidewalk landscaping project.

Neighbors pay anywhere from $100 to $400 out of pocket to participate, but  thanks in part to funding from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy's office, FUF was able to offer more than $1,500 worth of materials and labor for the project. (Correction: Funding for this project came entirely from Supervisor Sheehy's office.)

That funding covers the sidewalk landscape permits, installation, concrete removal, compost, mulch and the cost of buying native and drought-tolerant plants.

"We've written lines in our budget so that if someone can’t afford it, we work with them to lower the cost or subsidize it," said Nikko Martinez, FUF's sidewalk landscape planting manager. "We don’t want to turn anyone away because of financial issues."

In total, about a third of the area's property owners signed up to participate.

Photo: FUF

"We usually have one block captain or community organizer," Martinez said. "We had three for this project. There were so many existing community connections for us to work with."

Although he wasn't completely taken aback, the outpouring of interest from his Ford, Sanchez and Noe Streets' neighbors surprised Kerby.

“While we had hoped for a positive response, we didn’t anticipate this,” he laughed. "We'll all get to benefit from turning the sidewalks from grey to green."

To volunteer tomorrow morning, head to Ford Street by 9:30am and sign in with a FUF staff member. They'll give you a safety debrief and a pair of gardening gloves.

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It takes a village to raise an urban forest