A Transformation in the Tenderloin
On a beautiful Sunday in October, the 100 block of Golden Gate Avenue appeared transformed. Instead of traffic, the street was alive with music and laughter. Children were everywhere: jumping in a bounce house, having their faces painted, playing games with boards and blocks, and waiting in line for the opportunity to dunk an especially good-natured member of our Community Safety Services team. St. Anthony’s guests enjoyed the Dining Room’s regular lunch service at tables outside, while listening to the music of beloved street band the Backyard Party Kings. Everyone marveled at the forest that had grown up overnight — some 60 trees that lined the street, greening what was normally gray.
The occasion was Phoenix Day, the latest edition of San Francisco’s Sunday Streets program. But the transformation is one that St. Anthony’s is hoping to make permanent. For the last six months, we have been working with community partners and city agencies on plans for Golden Gate Greenway — an oasis in the heart of the Tenderloin to benefit the community physically, mentally, and spiritually.
The dream was born in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when a partial street closure on our block allowed us to continue providing essential services outdoors. Turning crisis into opportunity, St. Anthony’s and our 100 block neighbors have used the space to serve the community even more effectively than before, hosting things like outdoor voter registration, COVID-19 pop-up testing, and Play Streets events for children. Our time outside has shown us the value of such a space and allowed us to imagine what the block could be with a little support from the City and a lot of community spirit.
The benefits of a permanent greenspace are numerous. Trees would provide much-needed shade to improve physical well-being, while plants and public art have been shown to have a positive impact on mental health. Creating a safe, traffic-free space for community activities brings residents together, fostering human connection and combating loneliness, which is especially important for the area’s large senior population. Meanwhile, open space to play is vital for the neighborhood’s youngest residents. The Tenderloin is home to 3,000 children — the most per capita of any neighborhood in San Francisco — but it contains less than 1% of the city’s parkland.
“It is a question of equity,” says St. Anthony’s CEO Nils Behnke, who is leading the effort to make Golden Gate Greenway a reality. “The people of the Tenderloin need more safe, green, outdoor space.”
“In this neighborhood, it’s about making change one block at a time.”
Nils Behnke, St. Anthony’s CEO
Most people seem to be in agreement. St. Anthony’s is joined in this mission by a coalition of 12 other organizations, including the Tenderloin Community Benefit District, Mercy Housing, and every non-profit on the 100 block. Over 500 community members have weighed in on the plan we’ve created, which has been well-received by the Mayor and the SFMTA. On Phoenix Day, Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin came down to see our prototype and tweeted his support.
A number of you have also joined our cause! A few months ago, we asked our St. Anthony’s community to send letters of support to City stakeholders, and over 60 of you took the time to write one. Thanks to your advocacy, we are hoping for an SFMTA hearing in the next few months. Until then, we’ll continue to host events for residents and visitors alike, turning our block into a place where people can sit, play, and dream.