Boeddeker Park

Ellis & Taylor Streets
San Francisco, CA

Submitted by: Ilaria Salvadori

2.6-acre park in a low-income neighborhood with a reliance on defensive design and a primary focus on use by children and families - factors that unintentionally turned the place into a battlefield

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Why It Doesn't Work

Park was designed with safety and security in mind, but in all the wrong ways. It's cut off from the streets by fences and walls, and activity areas are also segregated in "open rooms" formed by six-foot fences. The main, bench-lined walkway through the park became known as "the Gauntlet" after it was colonized by drug dealers a year or so after the park's 1985 opening. Ultimately, accessibility was sacrificed in the name of safety, and the community decided the close the park in 1999. One entrance is permanently locked except for rare special occasions; the other is open only on a variable schedule. Loiterers simply moved to the sidewalk; the park is now an empty cage watched from outside by drug dealers and drug users.

The situation seems hopeless - as with so many other public spaces - but recommended remedies include:

  • promoting safety not with spikes, fences or video cameras, but with by promoting active use of the park and a tolerance for diversity
  • accommodating a wide range of uses without segregating them from one another
  • offering benches and ledges not as defensive structures but as inviting furniture
  • regarding trees as resources for children's play and shade - not obstacles to visibility
  • making lawns accessible grouns for social events and people-watching
  • What Puts Boeddeker Park in the Hall of Shame?

    Cut off from the street by fences and walls, and there are only two entrances, one of which is locked almost all of the time. The "open room" activity areas are accessible only by the main circulation path, which became known as the "gauntlet" when threatening people began to dominate.

    Fences and walls meant to provide safety instead make the place feel like a cage - it's forbidding to walk into. Benches have metal dividers; trees were seen as obstacles to visibility and so are limited and not optimally sited.

    Activity areas - a basketball court, play equipment, and areas of lawn, hard surfaces and benches - are limited and cut off from one another by six-foot fences. Designing with children and families in mind excluded other possibilities that could have been generated by the actual population of this very diverse neighborhood.

    When the park was not locked up, primary users tended to be drug dealers and loiterers; now it's simply empty except during approved hours and for approved users.

    History & Background

    Boedekker Park was developed in 1985 by landscape architects Ryston, Hanamoto, Alley & Abey (RHAA) of Marin County. A Save Boeddeker Park committee formed in the mid 1990s recommended a new playground and still more, higher fencing, which were installed in 1998. These design changes ignored the comments in a report from city park staff that stated the original design of the park was problematic in itself. Now, the role of staff at the park's recreation center is reduced to unlocking the park for visitors who have an approved reason to enter.

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