New sidewalk gardens beautify neighborhood and protect City sewers

San Francisco partners with non-profit in Bernal-area project

July 16, 2010 — Two thousand, two hundred and seventy-eight square feet of impermeable concrete sidewalk at the base of Bernal Hill will be transformed into gardens this Saturday as part of a pilot project to reduce the burden of stormwater runoff on San Francisco’s combined sewer system.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), in partnership with Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF), is installing sidewalk gardens along the Cesar Chavez Street corridor, replacing impermeable surfaces with drought-resistant and native plants and grasses and permeable pavers that allow rain to infiltrate into the soil. The gardens will not only improve the streetscape, they will also reduce the flow of stormwater into nearby sewers during rain storms.

“Because we’re an avenue with large sidewalks and great expanses of concrete, these amazing gardens will improve the visual landscape of our neighborhood in a dramatic way,” said Rita Roti, a realtor who has lived for 13 years on Tiffany Avenue and whose volunteer service as neighborhood organizer for the project led 23 other property owners to participate. “The planning for this project has already created an enormous sense of community,” Roti said.

The project is funded with an SFPUC Watershed Stewardship Grant, which encourages community-driven projects that capture and use rainwater, build green stormwater infrastructure like rain gardens, or replace paved areas with permeable ones.

Tiffany Avenue participants will create permeable landscapes ranging in size from 18 to 766 square feet and will be among the volunteers who plant the gardens under the supervision of FUF staff.  The planting will be followed by a potluck lunch.

“It’s thrilling to watch neighborhoods transform themselves with these seed monies,” said SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington. “The Watershed Stewardship Grants are making the City greener, block by block.”

FUF has planted street trees in San Francisco since 1981, and is now expanding its services to include the planting of sidewalk gardens. In addition to reducing stormwater runoff, urban green spaces have been proven to increase property values, calm traffic, clean the air, create urban wildlife habitat, strengthen communities, and relieve stress.

“Sidewalk gardens can be planted in the same basins as street trees, but they can also be planted where street trees cannot be planted due to proximity to other trees or underground utility lines,” said Dan Flanagan, executive director of FUF.  “So they increase the number of ways we can make San Francisco a greener place, with all the benefits that brings.”

Watershed Stewardship Grants are offered twice a year in partnership with the Community Challenge Grant Program. Interested parties and community groups can apply for the grants online at (fill out the Watershed Stewardship Grant application).

About Friends Of The Urban Forest

Friends of the Urban Forest is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that helps individuals and neighborhood groups to plant and care for street trees and sidewalk gardens in San Francisco.  By greening the streets of San Francisco, FUF supports the health and livability of the urban environment.  Since 1981, FUF has planted over 43,000 trees (more than all the trees in Golden Gate Park), and is responsible for over 40% of San Francisco’s tree canopy.  Thanks to the partnerships and programs developed by FUF, the capital to purchase trees comes primarily from government, corporations, and foundations, while the labor to plant and care for trees comes primarily from volunteers.