By Meghan Hall
In urban, walkable cities such as San Francisco, public parks and open spaces become secondary living rooms to residents wishing to escape the dense living or bustling work environments. The respite they provide is often invaluable to citizens, enhancing quality of life while making cities, from an infrastructure perspective, more durable. In October 2018, the Central Waterfront and Dogpatch Public Realm Plan was adopted, and highlighted the Esprit Park as an area deserving of updates and renovations. The 1.8-acre park is the only notable green space in the neighborhood, and regularly serves as one of the Dogpatch’s neighborhood centers.
“The reason we are renovating the park is to make it more resilient and durable,” said Tamara Aparton, deputy director of communications and public affairs for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. “We want to maintain the original spirit of the park, but there are going to be an additional 5000 residents in the blocks around the park in the next five to 10 years.”
Esprit Park is currently a simple meadow, surrounded by Redwoods and Sequoia trees, some perimeter planting and exercise equipment.
“It is the kind of park where it is a respite from dense, urban design, but it does not have much else,” added Aparton. “It was designed to be a little urban oasis. The original vision of an oasis will remain, but we want to beef it up so that all of these additional residents can enjoy it for generations.”
The park is bordered by Indiana St. to the west, Minnesota St. to the east, 20th St. to the south and 19th St. to the north. 20th Street is considered a major connection between Potrero Hill and the Dogpatch, and much of the surrounding neighborhood is becoming residential. On Indiana Street, two residential developments are currently under construction and will include a sidewalk café, dog play area and arts plaza. An additional residential project on Minnesota St. is working its way through the entitlements process. Together, the three developments will bring 500 housing units to the neighborhood.
The redevelopment of the park is a collaboration between the Recreation and Park Department, UCSF and the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill Green Benefit District. UCSF, who has offices just across from the park, donated $5 million to the park’s rehabilitation. According to Aparton, impact fees from developers will total $2.7 million. Only about $35,000 will come from the City’s General Fund to pay for the project.
The Esprit Park Renovation Project is still in the conceptual planning phases; currently, the project team is evaluating responses to a recent community survey that will provide guidance as to what locals and residents hope to see in the park. However, according to the Public Realm Plan, several of the more specific goals of the project include updating facilities and addressing drainage and irrigation issues, enabling sustainable, long-term maintenance practices through the use of resilient materials, plants and trees, refining circulation patterns, and clarify functional uses for different community groups. The addition of new amenities such as picnic areas, a children’s play scape, active fitness and off-leash dog play area are also considerations.
According to Aparton, the maintenance and rehabilitation of local parks is pivotal and can help cities and neighborhoods become more resilient in a variety of ways, such as reducing infrastructure costs or increasing revenues for the City.
“As far as the benefits go, city parks in general play a vital role in the social and the economic and the physical well-being of cities, especially as cities become more densely populated. They improve peoples’ health; they reduce the cost of health; they attract residents; they attract business; they increase property values; they increase revenues for the city,” explained Aparton. “The benefits are myriad, especially in a place where there is going to be a lot more people.”
The planning process is expected to continue through the winter, stated Aparton. Ideally, the design phase will follow and wrap up in the winter of 2020, at which time the City will put the project out for bid. Construction is expected to begin in the summer of 2020 once a contract is awarded.
“Parks have very much become town squares for neighborhoods in many ways, and we want to make sure that this one holds up for all of the residents for many years to come,” said Aparton. “We’re going to keep refining the vision with the community, and hopefully we’ll have something exciting to share soon.”