In 2002, two neighbors armed with spades and seeds changed everything for crime-addled Quesada Avenue in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point area. The street had been ground zero for the area’s drug trade and its attendant violence. But when Annette Smith and Karl Paige began planting flowers on a small section of the trash-filled median strip, Quesada Gardens Initiative was born. Over the course of the next decade, the community-enrichment project profoundly altered the face of this once-blighted neighborhood.
Jeffrey Betcher is the Initiative’s unlikely spokesperson. A gay white man driven to the majority-black area by the high cost of housing elsewhere, he moved into a house on Quesada Avenue in 1998 to find drug dealers selling from his front stoop and addicts sleeping beneath his stairs. He told me about the day that he returned home from work to discover that his neighbor Annette had planted a little corner of his yard.
“Even though there was a throng of people — drug dealers who were carrying guns, pretty scary folks — she had planted flowers on this little strip of dirt by my driveway,” he told me. “I was so moved by that . . . I thought, that’s what life is about. That’s what community development is about. That’s what’s going to change this block faster than any public investment or outside strategy. And in fact it did.”
A group of neighbors got together for a barbeque, and Jeffrey — who has a background in community organizing — started a conversation about the positive aspects of living in the neighborhood. What followed was a long-term, consensus-based process that resulted in the creation of a series of gardens on vacant land in the surrounding blocks. On Quesada Avenue, the median strip was transformed into a wonderland of Canary Island date palms, bright flowers, and leafy vegetation. Any neighbor who wants to can organize a new gardening effort, take responsibility for the existing gardens, or put together a public art project.
Read Katherine Gustafson’s full story here on The Huffington Post’s websited.getElementsByTagName(‘head’).appendChild(s);