Like Hyde Park in London or Sheep Meadow in New York, Dolores Park is open – a sweeping green slope punctuated by incredible views. Over time, it’s become both our beach and our living room. It’s where movies play on hot (and cold) summer nights, where Critical Mass winds up at the end of its random route, and the best place in the city to hang at the end of the day.
To me, Dolores Park has meant several things. It’s the place where my kids have grown up, first as toddlers on the playground and later as teens hanging with friends on sunny days. It’s the place where my Border Terrier loves to sprint around or roll in the grass. It’s the place where I go running in the evening when things have quieted down but there is still a pulse. Tennis balls are flying. The playground is lit and adults are on the swings.
Friday (June 3) the fences went up. Some parents and nannies near the slides were discussing the park’s seven-month closure and its unfortunate timing coinciding with the closure of Mission Playground, a block away. The fact that it will be closed until January is a shock to many, especially as we head into the warmer months. Some summer events, like the symphony’s performance, have been canceled. Others, like movie night, have been relocated to the old soccer field.
As the crew drove in the stakes and then began wrapping the chain-link fence around them, a dozen or so kids played on the structures. Going down – or up – the slide. Attempting the rings. A group of eighth graders arrived and took to the swings, going higher and higher until it was time to leave, and then they filed out. Meanwhile, fencing surrounded more and more of the playground. It reminded me of a documentary showing the Berlin Wall being built while kids are playing in the street.
Unlike most parks in the city, the playground is not caged in, it’s open – an integral part of the overall park. This encourages people older than children to use the playground, and I support that. I like seeing adults on swings. Of course, cigarette butts, condoms, needles, and dog poop aren’t what you want your kid playing with in the sand.
The newly renovated playground will create a considerably larger footprint in the park. While most of the colors of the play structures will be subdued to blend in, there will be brightly colored spring toys. There will also be a super slide, and perhaps that will win over all of the criticism. Luckily, the playground won’t be fenced in. (Early on in the planning meetings, I was horrified by all the people with very young children who wanted to build a high fence around the playground to keep out dogs and teenagers.)
I’m hoping the park won’t be stamped with the cookie-cutter park equipment that is now so common around the city. I think the designs are based on the incredible kids playground in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, with an Eiffel Tower made of cables and a gentle variation of a zip line. Some of its elements appeared in the Julius Kahn playground in Laurel Heights and then began popping up in new playgrounds here in SF. My kids actually prefer the original steel climbing structures, rings, monkey bars, and slides in favor of colorful plastic spinning toys.
On Thursday (June 2), a public planning meeting for the next phase of the Dolores Park renovations brought in a hundred or so people. They filled the cafeteria at Mission High to discuss the construction scheduled from October 2012 to January 2014.
They had many ideas for the development of the rest of the park – from murals incorporating the site’s history (Ohlone village, Jewish cemeteries, and post-earthquake tents) to more trails, clearer dog signage, better water fountains, nicer lawns, brighter lighting, new soccer fields, multiuse possibilities for the tennis courts, and more. Several had overlooked the playground design, assuming it would be only a modest upgrade, and were surprised at the larger scale, wondering about the impact on the current open layout of the park.
I don’t want massive changes, just some improvements. Fix a few problems – make the bathrooms bigger, update the trash/recycling/composting system, rework the drainage, and you’re set. Losing the cargo containers now scattered around the park would be great, and the perfect place for that (and more bathrooms) might be under the tennis courts. Making the rec center more useful as a single-story building (as it apparently used to be) would be nice. And why not use the water from the creek that runs underneath the park to irrigate the lawn rather than sending it through the sewers to the Bay?
The beauty of the park is its roaming landscape. If every agenda item gets implemented, the park will be cut up, rather than staying open and adaptable as it is now. The bottom line is that anyone who wants to see drastic changes avoided (or drastic changes made) should really be a part of the dialogue. Come out to the next planning meeting on Thursday, June 30 at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria of Mission High and have your say on the new Dolores Park.