(Un)paving a Parking Lot

The Mission's super-secret park name has been revealed!

Courtesy SF Rec and Park

The first new neighborhood park to be acquired and built by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department in more than a decade opened this past weekend, on the corner of 17th and Folsom streets.

The city kept the park’s name secret until the opening ceremony, when Rec and Park announced that it would be called In Chan Kaajal Park, which means “my village” in Mayan.

“Our neighborhoods are vibrant with a rich, long-standing tradition of community activism. Longtime families and recent immigrants in the Mission are doing amazing things, like reclaiming underutilized lots and transforming them into community uses like parks and affordable housing,” said Marilyn Duran, a longtime Mission resident, at the opening celebration. “This former parking lot at 17th and Folsom represents the determination of my community to strive for environmental justice and bring in much needed green space to our neighborhood.”

Once a large parking lot, In Chan Kaajal Park cost $5.2 million to construct. It has a drought-resistant garden, a center plaza and stage, several greenhouses, a state-of-the-art playground, a water play area for kids, fruit trees, and cut-out iron installations by artist Carmen Lomas Garza.

In typical San Francisco fashion, the project took much longer than anticipated from start to finish: Planning began way back in 2008. In the nine years since, the Mission District has moved even farther away from its working-class Latino roots. Every square inch of available space has been snatched up by developers, many mom-and-pop shops have thrown in the towel, and innumerable fires have devastated rent-controlled communities. While one small park can’t undo the rampant displacement of residents and small businesses, it’s nice to see an often-invisible segment of the neighborhood’s Latino population win some recognition. The park’s opening reflected the diverse population of the neighborhood and its rich history, with a Mayan blessing ceremony, percussion drumming, and a traditional Aztec dance.

Phil Ginsburg, the general manager of Rec and Park, summed up the new park’s development with a nod to Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”

“We’ve unpaved this parking lot and put up a paradise,” he said.

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