The N-Judah Turnaround Beautification Project, launched in late August of this year, is a neighborhood effort by Outer Sunset (“La Playa”) residents, supported by the Office of Supervisor Carmen Chu, SF MTA, SF DPW, SF Dept. of Planning, SF City Administrator’s Office / NEN, Neighborland, and Crowdbrite. Residents had already converted the neglected median in the center of the street into a recreation and gathering space known as “La Playa Park”—complete with organic edible garden and bocce ball court—in time for a 10/10/10 opening. The N-Judah project, a continuation of that initiative, aims to transform the Muni metro turnaround into a vibrant and distinct community asset.
My friend Rachel, a City Hall Fellow at DPW and one of the administrators of the event, was gracious enough to discuss the origins and implications of the project with me.
First of all, could you introduce yourself? How did you end up at the SF Department of Public Works, and what do you do there?
My name is Rachel Alonso, and I’ve been working at DPW for nearly six months, in the Finance, Budget, and Performance division. This past May, I graduated from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies & Planning with a Master’s degree in City Planning, focused on affordable housing and community development. I began working at DPW in August through a program called City Hall Fellows (CHF). CHF is similar to Teach for America, but with local government instead of classrooms. It’s a one-year program, and it places recent college graduates in a variety of city departments; this year, fellows are working everywhere from the Airport and the MTA to Rec and Park and the Public Utilities Commission.
At DPW, my work is primarily related to performance measurement, which is achieved through data visualization. For two years, DPW has held monthly meetings called “DPWStat” to look at the operations bureaus’ performance—the people responsible for street cleaning, tree trimming, graffiti removal, pothole repair, and work in the “right of way” that is crucial for keeping the city clean and in good condition. In October, my team launched “DPWStat DC,” for the design and construction arm of DPW; this work also involves data visualization, as well as determining the best metrics to assess performance and collecting data from new systems.
How did you come to be involved in the N-Judah project?
Every fall, City Hall Fellows participate in what we call STPs, or small team projects. In groups of 3-4, we select topics and complete pro bono consulting-type projects for the city. All projects have a departmental sponsor, and we are careful to choose topics that are important to the City, but which would otherwise be difficult to pursue due to resource constraints. The STPs also expose the fellows to potential future careers outside of their placements.
The N-Judah project was proposed to the City Hall Fellows by Daniel Homsey of the Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN), which is run out of the City Administrator’s Office. Residents of the Outer Sunset neighborhood had been convening to discuss the future of their neighborhood, and one of them got in touch with Daniel in August about holding an event for the community. I knew right away that of all the STPs proposed this year, this was the one I wanted to be involved with. The others concern researching the economic impact of parklets, developing a sustainability plan for SFUSD, and working with the Treasurer/Tax Collector’s Office of Financial Empowerment on what to do about pay day lending institutions. Ours is very different, because it is less research-oriented and more about defining the community’s desires, and executing an event to help best reach these residents. It’s also exciting because we worked with two new technology tools/platforms, Neighborland and Crowdbrite; one of the things I thought about a lot in graduate school was how to use technology to reach a broader community base for planning issues.
What would a neighborhood member have encountered upon coming to the December 15th charrette?
Residents experienced a magical, productive, laid-back, and harmonious atmosphere! I remember being struck several times at how well everything was going. Three residents provided live music, Supervisor Chu provided an introduction, neighborhood history was presented, dogs were petted, people worked through lunch—it was really amazing. It felt very open—people from all backgrounds were represented, and they came and went as they pleased. Someone said, “This really feels like California, doesn’t it?” as a testament to how laid back everything was. After living in Boston for two years, I knew exactly what he meant. It’s not easy to describe something so intangible as the meeting’s atmosphere, energy, and vibe, but it was very positive.