At just 1.5 acres, North Beach’s Washington Square Park uses more than three million gallons of water a year, a fact made all the more uncomfortable during the last California drought.
The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department found the outmoded 65-year-old irrigation system — which guzzles up more water per acre than any other city park. On Monday, the department began its six-month closure of the lawn to make upgrades to the irrigation system. Once the improvements are made, it will save more than two million gallons of water each year.
In addition to a new irrigation system, Washington Square will have new drought-tolerant plants, and new draining infrastructure to accommodate rainfall in a way that doesn’t leave the lawn flooded like a swamp afterward. Repaved paths will improve access for people with disabilities,
Children in the neighborhood will still be able to run around at the playground, and the restrooms will also stay open, except when nearby pathways are being replaced.
But neighbors were surprised when they were initially told in early 2018 that the lawn would be closed for a year, feeling left out of the decision-making process. North Beach Neighbors questioned where the unhoused people who rely on the park would go, while the San Francisco North Beach Business Association was concerned about the prolonged drop of customers.
Saints Peter and Paul Church on Filbert Street overlooks Washington Square, which is regularly used by elderly folks practicing tai chi, dog owners and walkers, families, and tourists stopping for a break. For the next six months, the Joe DiMaggio Playground with a clubhouse, green space, and recreational courts two blocks north will have to serve as an alternative.
If the new-and-improved state of Alamo Square and Dolores Park after extended closures is any indication, it should be worth the wait.