WITH DANIELA KIRSHENBAUM
Photo by Andrew McDonald
The Interstate 280 park and apartments
If you lived here, you'd be (cough) home by now!
Kirshenbaum and Kepa
Photos by Kepa Askenasy
November 6, 2006
What a deal on all-new housing - right in San Francisco! Warning:
you'll be glad San Francisco General Hospital is just minutes
C'mon down to Mission Bay! Affordable units and market-rate condos
are now under construction! You won't believe the landscaping,
the sports courts, and especially the freeway access - the 4th
Street and 6th Street off-ramps will be within a mere few feet
from your front door. With that deadly combination of features,
you'll be glad San Francisco General Hospital is just minutes
A new 280 freeway exit spills traffic right into the heart
of the Mission Bay affordable housing park.
+ + +
Young ladies from the Redevelopment Agency were working a booth
at the South Beach Fair last month. "Mission Bay is going
to be great! You won't even recognize it," they enthused.
A visit to the site itself drained all optimism. About forty
immense support columns holding up Interstate 280 blocked the
view. A sliver of sunlight shone between two massive, grey concrete
ramps of freeway overhead, their tonnage inconceivable.
But it is the roaring din from speeding vehicles above that makes
the observer seek escape. What, exactly, could possibly be developed
here, with that deafening racket? A shade garden, perhaps, with
a kiosk dispensing ear plugs and dust masks? A giant kitty litter
An artist's flowery rendition (minus freeway overpasses).
Not quite - this is where required public open space will go.
Public promenades will run beside the creek. A full basketball
court and two half basketball courts will go directly underneath
Interstate 280. Kelley Kahn, the Assistant Project Manager on
Mission Bay for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, calls
this "active recreation space."
"Under the freeway, it just seemed like kind of a neat
use to have the paved surfaces," Kahn said. A tennis court
is planned just to the side, near the "existing pump station."
The PUC reveals this is part of the city's waste treatment system.
Unfortunately, Potrero Hill residents are often offended by the
Housing is going in almost all around the park, within view -
and earshot - of the freeway. Market rate condominiums are planned
as well as affordable units. The affordable housing is under construction
between the freeway, the waste water pump station, and the railroad
The OPA, the owner participation agreement with Catellus Development
Corp., has "rigid" requirements of .45 acres of open
space for each acre of development. That translates to 41 acres
of public park (plus another eight acres for the UCSF biotechnology
campus). Compared to San Francisco city requirements (Mission
Bay is controlled by the Redevelopment Agency, not the city),
that's not much.
Rod Minott notices a definite increase in refracted freeway noise
since Mission Bay buildings have started going up. He lives near
I-280, up on Potrero Hill, and said "I don't really want
to live in one big office park. I'm not against development, but
I like the character and the heritage of the industrial area."
As for recreation under the freeways, Minott retorted, "That
sounds like a game from hell." He noted that there's a lack
of open space in the area, but even so, "To give us a token
space under a dark noisy freeway is really insulting."
There is one other problem: health hazards. Living a few feet
from a freeway is like asking for asthma. Childhood respiratory
illnesses are increasing, and current studies prove the link.
These new buildings and recreation areas are well within the 400-meter
zone of highest risk as described in the study linked below.
There may be no neat way to make freeway housing desirable. It
wasn't all that long ago that San Franciscans grimly thanked the
Loma Prieta earthquake for removing the Embarcadero Freeway and
liberating the dense habitats nearby.
But - there is one group that would welcome risky recreation
under a freeway: skateboarders. They are one demographic systematically
discouraged from practicing their skill, with only one gated spot
set up in the entire city for their use.
BMX bikers have no place to go at all, and skateboarders find
surfaces "pigeon-proofed" with studs wherever they look.
The city wonders what it can do to make itself friendlier to youth
and families, and proudly hosts "X Games" and exhibition
events for professional skateboarders with corporate sponsorships.
Meanwhile, Seattle and Portland are duking it out in the competition
to phase out "old sports" facilities for team sports,
and bring in "new sports" areas to serve its youthful
citizens. Portland is winning by a mile, with large, lit, city
facilities and an actual Department
Could San Francisco try to catch up, right at Mission Bay, on
behalf of the youths that make up a mere 15% of the population?
"There was just vacant land there," explained Tim Beedle,
Associate Vice President of Development for Catellus Development
Corp. "So we designed a sports court."
How about a facility for skateboarding? "There was some
call out for a skateboarding area, but no, that was not one of
the areas designated for that use," said Beedle.
Perhaps it's just as well; would BMX bikers and skateboarders
want to be under a dirty, noisy freeway? "It would be awesome!"
says Riley Mamesh, a 21-year-old business student and lifeguard.
"It would be amazing to have a place where business owners
don't mind us."
Joe Readel is 22 years old and works in a glass-blowing studio.
He's good at finding the silver lining. "Under the freeway?
Well, anywhere would be nice. At least we wouldn't get rained
A century ago, housing reformers called for clearing crowded
slums that had little light or fresh air. How funny to think that
our dwindling numbers of youth could provide one ray of hope now,
as we recreate densely populated slums - complete with little
light or fresh air.
For More Information:
Basics on Mission Bay, from the SF Redevelopment Agency, click
Sunlight is protected when under the city's jurisdiction with
Policy 2.3 of the General Plan. (Mission Bay, however, is under
Agency control and approvals).
Pump station at Mission Bay is for sewage, click
Affordable housing being built right by freeway, sewage pump station,
and railroad tracks. Architect cites "social concern",
City of San Francisco set to approve adjacent new office buildings,
Study: "Respiratory health in children is adversely affected
by local exposures to
Interpretation of the respiratory health study, click
San Francisco hosts X Games to showcase extreme sports, Summer,
San Francisco offers skateboard exhibition event with corporate
sponsorship, November, 2006, click
Skateboarders satisfied under Spokane freeways, click
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