(San Francisco – April 3, 2012) The Excelsior community is abuzz in front of Mama Art Café (4754 Mission Street), marveling at the work of two local nonprofit organizations that have joined together to bring the neighborhood its first public parklet. Harnessing the creativity of San Francisco public high school students and the overwhelming support of community members and local government, Out of Site Youth Arts Center and Excelsior Action Group have made this student-designed parklet a reality.
The Out of Site Youth Arts Center, which offers free after school, weekend, and summer programs in visual, literary, and performing arts to public high school students, engaged approximately 50 students over the past year in both the design and construction of the parklet. The Excelsior Action Group, a community and economic development organization that works to revitalize the Excelsior’s commercial corridor, provided seed funding for the project with a grant from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD). The organization has also engaged the participation of Mama Art Café, as well as completed a robust campaign of community outreach to vet the project and the design with Excelsior community members. In partnering, both organizations have lent unique focus and expertise to this project, which has amplified its incredible success.
The initial concept for the parklet sprung from the recurring complaint among community members about the lack of public space on the commercial corridor. “The commercial corridor feels inhospitable! On the whole ten block stretch, there is not a single place to sit down,” observed one community member in Excelsior Action Group’s 2010 needs assessment. Situated near the midpoint of the corridor, the parklet aims to establish a creative and green gathering space for the Excelsior’s diverse community, which increases pedestrian activity and fosters a sense of pride in the community. “Before we even completed construction, the parklet was doing everything we hoped it would,” remarked Excelsior Action Group’s Corridor Manager Nicole Agbayani, “The community settled into the space immediately, sitting on the unfinished seats to enjoy their coffee and chat with their neighbors. This parklet will have tremendous benefits for the surrounding businesses and really enhance the quality of the pedestrian experience on our commercial corridor. Most importantly, the fundraising, design, and construction of this parklet has truly been a community building experience, bringing multigenerational stakeholders to the same table and challenging them to work together to improve their surroundings.”
Throughout this project, the youth involved have showcased their extraordinary creativity, determination, and leadership. They've gained invaluable experience as artists and architects, demonstrating real leadership in going through an exhaustive design process, writing and receiving a grant through the Youth Empowerment Fund (YEF) to support their work, and working on a team to construct the parklet. Most importantly, Out of Site youth living and working in the Excelsior have used their creativity to build something that will have a permanent and positive impact in the community. "Teenage youth in our neighborhood want to be involved," commented Beth Rubenstein, Executive Director of Out of Site, "They want to be recognized as smart, engaged community members. What keeps them motivated? As one of our Out of Site youth leaders says, 'we have the power to make real change in our neighborhood!'"
Despite the rainy weather over the past few weeks, Out of Site students have labored hand in hand with community volunteers from the Excelsior Action Group to construct the parklet. Instrumental in bringing this project to fruition was designer Craig Hollow of Sagan Piechota Architecture, who planned and supervised construction in collaboration with Out of Site instructor Raffaella Falchi. In addition to funding from OEWD and YEF, the production of the parklet was also supported by many generous benefactors, including Escheguron Slate, Ashby Lumber, Heritage Salvage, Walter Mork Company, Pagoda Arts, and over 60 individual donors who attended the Excelsior Action Group's Parklet Fundraiser. Finally, this project has received immense support and guidance from local government agencies, including OEWD, the Planning Department, MTA, DPW, and District 11 Supervisor Avalos's office.
“We applaud the students and local organizers for creating a unique space that everyone can use by building the first parklet in the Excelsior community,” said John Rahaim, Planning Director. “Community-driven initiatives like this have taken up the challenge of the ‘Pavement to Parks’ program, bringing vibrancy and life to San Francisco’s public realm.”
Conversing with customers at the parklet in the afternoon sun, owner of Mama Art Cafe Paulo Cabezas exclaimed, "I speak on behalf of my team and my customers when I say that we are humbled and grateful that Mama Art Cafe has been selected to be the site of the first parklet in the Excelsior. Our community parklet will be a site of inspiration, improving the overall atmosphere of our corridor on Mission Street, making the Excelsior a better place to live and work!" On Friday, April 20, 2012 at 4:00 PM, the Excelsior Action Group, Out of Site, and Mama Art Cafe will sponsor an Excelsior Community Block Party at the parklet, inviting all to honor and celebrate the incredible work that has gone into creating this new public space for the Excelsior.