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A long-awaited vision became reality today during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new park at the corner of Folsom and 17th streets in the Mission. What is currently a large swath of concrete serving as a parking lot will now be transformed into a green space for the community, with a scheduled opening in 300 days.

A hundred students from nearby Cesar Chavez Elementary, a Mission Promise Neighborhood school, joined in the festivities.

This park was years in the making.

The history
For over a decade, the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition fought for this park, with People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights (PODER) spearheading the movement. MEDA has supported this advocacy, which was done as part of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan of 1999.

As a grassroots movement, hundreds of neighbors have been participating in community design meetings and making their voices heard at City Hall. This included Araceli Lara (photo, seventh right) – a mother, grandmother and great grandmother – who was on hand at today’s dedication to be honored for her work to ensure the community looked out for its interests.

This met with success.

Construction of the park will be funded in part by a $3 million grant from the state of California. Features will include a playground, a fountain to honor Mission Creek (which is underneath the area) and a community garden.

Explained PODER’s Oscar Grande of the neighborhood’s work to create the park: “This was a community effort. Una corazón. One heart.”

The need
According to city-data.com 2013 stats, 64 percent of the Mission’s 72,218 denizens are renters, all sharing a crowded 2.3 square miles. Renters often do not have an outdoor space, meaning parks are vital for residents – especially children – to have a place to exercise and get some fresh air.

A 2014 Mission Promise Neighborhood Survey found that the percent of children who participate in at least one hour of physical activity each day was as follows:

  • Ages 0-5: 69 percent
  • Kindergarten to eighth grade: 62 percent
  • Ninth to 12th grade: 50 percent
  • Out of high school: 43 percent

To better these numbers,  the lack of open space in the neighborhood must be addressed. It is clear that having parks be easily accessible to Mission families is a major component of creating a culture of health in their urban environment.

There are also issues of mental health. Gregory Bratman, a Ph.D. student at Stanford, ran a study last year to see how nature can benefit mental health. The research team first gave healthy people from the Bay Area a questionnaire, coupled with a brain scan, designed to evaluate how susceptible they were to repetitive negative thoughts (a.k.a., brooding). Splitting the group in two, half took a 90-minute nature walk in the hills near Stanford’s campus, while the other group walked for the same amount of time down a busy commercial strip. Once back in the lab, the survey and brain scans were repeated, with those who walked in nature now less prone to persistent negative thoughts. For those who walked down the busy street, there was no perceptible change.

This study showcases the power of being in nature – and of having urban green spaces.

Anchoring an affordable-housing development
This new park at Folsom and 17th streets will also serve as an anchor for a new affordable-housing development in the Mission Promise Neighborhood.

In September 2015, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) awarded MEDA, the lead agency of the Mission Promise Neighborhood, and Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC) the right to co-develop, own and manage the neighboring site at 2060 Folsom Street.

The development will solidify a collaboration of longtime nonprofits: Larkin Street Youth Services running residential programs; Good Samaritan Family Resource Center offering preschool assistance; Jamestown Community Center running youth-development programs; MEDA’s Business Development team training prospective entrepreneurs; Mission Neighborhood Centers providing infant and toddler care; and PODER, continuing the fight for environmental rights. Jamestown Community Center and PODER will be housed on-site, relocating from their current spaces in the Mission.

“This park perfectly complements our 2060 Folsom affordable-housing development, offering recreation opportunities for Mission Promise Neighborhood families right outside their door, so that they can be healthy,” states MEDA Director of Community Real Estate Karoleen Feng. “This park is the result of year’s of community advocacy. By 2017, nobody will remember that this was once a place to park your car.”

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About Mission Promise Neighborhood
The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working, and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.

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