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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

Septembet 2005 Issue

Maintaining the High Ground
Used almost to death, a venerable San Francisco park is given new life by neighborhood volunteers.

By Marilyn Clemens, ASLA

Maintaining the High Ground

Can a park representing a city's heritage, one of its iconic spaces, become so overused that it has to be fenced off and abandoned? This almost happened to Pioneer Park on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. In 1995, the park was threatened with closure because foot traffic had dangerously eroded its steep slopes, and the city couldn't find the money to maintain or restore it.

Today, however, a 17-foot-long curved bronze plaque at the base of Coit Tower by artist Michael Manwaring commemorates the visionary nineteenth-century civic leaders who saved Telegraph Hill from development in 1876—but also the donors of a project launched in 1995, when the park was threatened with closure. This most recent battle to save Pioneer Park was won by neighborhood volunteers (including landscape architects), rather than by the city Recreation and Park Department.

Telegraph Hill and North Beach are known as San Francisco's blend of bohemia and Little Italy, and Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill is a point of orientation for the whole northeast quadrant of the city. Despite astronomical real estate prices, the Hill is home to about 9,000 residents who live on its 40-odd narrow streets and alleys.

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