Freeway to Food Forest: Reinventing Urban Life

Earlier this week I posted an action alert that you can use to ask Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to make cyclist and pedestrian safety a priority. Americans love their cars, so it’s not lost on me that this would mark a significant shift in our transportation priorities. But I think it’s worth asking: Given the climate crisis we’re facing, and the destruction we’re causing to the oceans, the forests, and the earth, isn’t it about time we started rethinking the way we live?

Then I saw this post on StreetsBlog yesterday, and discovered that some of my fellow San Franciscans aren’t just reimagining our city, they’re in the process of reinventing it.

I moved to San Francisco a little more than seven years ago, just before the last downtown freeway off-ramp was decommissioned. I remember the word at the time was that with the death of that particular spur, we would reclaim an entire city block for urban development. But nothing happened for years, and the block has just sat there, surrounded by a chain link fence.

Until a few weeks ago, when several locals began filling in that space with mulch and planting fruit trees, turning the long-abandoned space into an urban farm.

“We call it ‘freeway to food forest’… We’re trying to create a successful, sustainable urban farm in the heart of San Francisco,” Chris Burley, project director of the Hayes Valley Farm and a former organizer for MyFarm, told StreetsBlog. The project is expected to last two to five years as a working farm, or at least until the economy rebounds and the land is once again up for “development” into residential buildings.

The best part? Drivers are footing the bill for turning the former off-ramp into an urban farm, even if it is only temporarily. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (MOEWD) came up with the idea last year and provided the project with a $50,000 grant to fund its first year of operation. The money for the grant is coming from revenues generated by two nearby parking facilities.

The farm will be used as an educational tool by schools and various groups around town, and when the project is over, they’re going to move everything they’ve planted to other urban agricultural projects throughout the city.

This is especially good news because in my previous post, “Why Aren’t We Doing More To Protect No-Carbon Commuters?”, I reported on the tragically low amounts of federal transportation funding U.S. cities are currently investing in cyclist and pedestrian safety measures. Those measures help transform our urban centers into quiter, cleaner, people-sized communities that are part of the solution to global warming, instead of part of the problem.

It’s awesome to see the city of San Francisco not just getting involved in such an innovative project as the Hayes Valley Farm, but using it to seed still more projects aimed at making our city sustainable.

Image credit: cjmartin

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