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Mission Bay Has More Parks Than You Think

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San Franciscans have their eyes on the future: the future of our housing crisis, the future of street infrastructure, the future of the large companies that call the city home. Mission Bay, S.F.’s newest neighborhood, which is currently under construction, is no different. One aspect of its development harkens back to a time when San Franciscans prided themselves on the green space between buildings. The city’s emerging neighborhood, which measures a mere 304 acres, is already home to three parks that total 15 acres, plus open spaces like a landscaped bike path, two modern playgrounds, and a large, fenced-in dog play area.

It’s not done, either. The large, 5.5-acre Bay Front Park across the street from the Warriors arena site remains wild and incomplete, but once finished, it will have a multi-use path along the water, a large lawn for sports or picnics, a plaza for food trucks or performances, and even a ferry landing. When all is said and done — the estimated completion date is 2028 — Mission Bay’s park system will total 40 acres. That doesn’t even include the three to four acres of experimental Parklab parcels, on which food-truck hub Spark Social sits.

It’s a rare commitment in a city mired in a relentless housing crisis. The days when the Recreation and Parks Department had the ability, money, and support to turn 1,000 acres of sand dunes into lush Golden Gate Park are very much behind us. In an 1872 report from the San Francisco Board of Park Commissioners, they referenced “an age whose demands for ornamental public grounds amount to a passion.”

But that passion hasn’t always been present in the creation of other neighborhoods. When SoMa was built as an industrial hub, thanks in part to its relative proximity to the shipyards, parks were the last thing on the mind of city planners. Its dwellings tended to be small, single-family buildings that housed workers from the nearby factories and warehouses.

Today, SoMa has evolved, and with the pending Central SoMa Plan, will continue to do so.

But SoMa has almost no parks — particularly west of Seventh Street. South Park, Victoria Manolo Draves Park, and the privately owned Yerba Buena Gardens serve a growing neighborhood of more than 11,000 residents. In the new Central SoMa Plan, there’s only one park planned: a small, 1-acre site that will cost millions to build. If you live in SoMa and have a dog that only does its business on grass, well, good luck.

Mission Bay’s relative wildness is harder for the city and new developers to ignore. While the surface of the neighborhood is largely manmade fill from the 1906 earthquake, it used to be a marshland — and animals haven’t forgotten that. Snowy egrets still nest along the muddy edges of Mission Bay where land meets water, and sea lions can be regularly spotted hunting for fish just off the shore. According to Crystal Watts, the site assistant at Mission Bay Parks, the best spot for viewing wildlife is the Fifth Street Overlook, which can be reached from Berry and Fifth streets.

Building height plays an important role in the creation of these parks. With housing developments permitted to rise several stories higher than other areas of the city, Mission Bay manages to fulfill the need for housing, while offering current and future residents ample space to throw a ball, walk their dog, and let their kids burn off some energy. After all, livability means more than just housing and transit. It’s something SoMa developers could learn from.

Read more from SF Weekly‘s Mission Bay issue:

Mission Bay: The Most Misunderstood Neighborhood
What do you make of a place whose crowning aesthetic achievement is a 10-story parking garage?

What’s It Like to Live on a Houseboat in Mission Creek
Please don’t change the channel, this tight-knit neighborhood of 20 houseboats asks. But Mission Bay is on the move.

Bio Companies Are at the Root of Mission Bay’s Growth
Before the Golden State Warriors staked claim on Mission Bay with a new arena, biotechnology companies and healthcare providers spent two decades turning it into a medical hub.

The Lefty O’Doul Bridge: A Feat of Steel and Engineering
The drawbridge that connects SoMa to Mission Bay was built before the Golden Gate Bridge even broke ground.

The 10 Best Places to Eat and Drink in Mission Bay
Food trucks and fine dining in a neighborhood that doesn’t always get a lot of love.

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Nuala Sawyer Bishari

Nuala Sawyer Bishari is the News Editor at SF Weekly. You can reach her at (415)-359-2644 or nsawyer@sfweekly.com. Follow her on Twitter at @TheBestNuala.

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