Established in late 2016, the Carolina Green Space, created by a volunteer group of Potrero Hill neighbors, works to enhance the safety and beauty of the large median on Carolina Street, between 22nd and 23rd Streets, one of the largest vegetated islands in San Francisco. This group has united to transform their “island,” which was once a beautifully maintained space by the City, into an inviting green space and gathering spot for their neighborhood, the community, and the citizens and visitors to San Francisco.

We recently caught up with Cathryn Blum, who provided insights into the history of Carolina Green Space and discussed its prospects.

What inspired you to establish Carolina Green Space, and what were your initial challenges in bringing this project to life?

My home is directly adjacent to the top (north) end of the large median now known as the Carolina Green Space, and it always seemed to have some wonderful potential. Looking at it daily, I could envision a more cohesive, curated garden or green space that was more easily accessible and welcoming.

Before 2008, the City had a gardener who came out once a month and pruned trees, maintained the space, and helped things look moderately well-kempt. However, after the financial challenges of 2008, the City’s regular maintenance ended, resulting in the median falling into a wildly overgrown area; it became an unsavory spot where trash accumulated, an occasional homeless encampment sprang up, and illegal activities took place. The bottom line is that safety became an issue, prompting efforts to improve the situation.

Can you describe the journey from Carolina Green Space being a mere concept to becoming one of the largest vegetated islands in San Francisco?

The median was created in 1932 and is 960’ long and 26.5’ wide from top to bottom. Over the years, nature came in randomly, or neighbors planted things haphazardly, including many cotoneaster bushes, succulents, echiums, pink melaleuca trees, and a very large eucalyptus tree in the middle of the long block.

In 2016, I reached out to the SF Parks Alliance, who helped with guidance about establishing neighborhood clean-up days, connecting to the proper channels within the DPW (who own the land), introducing us to Terrain Studios Landscape Architects, and ultimately helping us to receive a Community Challenge Grant in 2020. Delayed by the pandemic, we finally implemented the improvements in 2022 and created the “Skyline Terrace,” which we consider “phase one” of transforming the median into a cohesive green space.

After completing that phase, we opted to begin working with Greening Projects as our fiscal sponsor for various reasons. They’ve continued to be wholly supportive and involved as we look to implement further improvements.

How has the transformation of the Carolina Street median impacted the local community and the broader San Francisco area?

A devoted contingent of neighbors who’ve worked together, helping to move the changes forward. We have had very productive clean-up days over the years, held a few social events in the updated space, and are hoping to work on continuing improvements throughout the median.

Skyline Terrace is now utilized regularly by people walking their dogs, people sitting and enjoying the view, kids having fun on the Soma Stones, friends visiting, local workers on their lunch break, or just walking through betwixt and between. We are also a recognized open space of interest on the Blue Greenway map as part of their “green corridor” plan.

What strategies have you employed to involve the community in maintaining and improving this green space?

In addition to creating a website, we have an email list for reaching out to people (currently ±100 people), plus Instagram and Facebook accounts. We have also distributed printed flyers to inform people nearby about events, fundraising initiatives, etc.

Can you share any memorable experiences or stories from this community project?

In 1967, several neighbors, self-proclaimed the “Potrero Hill Landscapers,” got together and poured six concrete pads in the middle of the Skyline Terrace. At the time, the children of those neighbors wrote their names in the concrete. When we renovated in 2022, we “repurposed” two pads, turning them into stairs. You can still see the names and markings from 1967, and several folks whose names are there still have connections to the neighborhood and have visited to see what they scratched into the concrete 55+ years ago!

How do you envision the role of Carolina Green Space in the future development and beautification of Potrero Hill?

We hope more visitors can enjoy the overall space as we develop and maintain it. It became apparent during the pandemic how important it is to have outdoor space to stay healthy and get to know one’s neighbors. More participators who become involved and feel a sense of ownership of the space create more of an opportunity to build a stronger, inclusive community.

How has working on Carolina Green Space influenced your perspective on urban greenery and community involvement?

It’s been a great way to meet more of my neighbors, which, in turn, builds my sense of being a part of the community. Additionally, seeing how many people enjoy spending time in green spaces has been very rewarding.

What advice would you give to communities seeking similar initiatives in their neighborhoods?

Be patient, persistent, and flexible. Maneuvering through the maze of City agencies, permits, and neighborhood input can be daunting and time-consuming. Be realistic about the budget, and do as much as possible with what little you’ve got. Aim for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground about what is possible. New wrinkles can often show up to slow things down or cost more than initially estimated. Get the input of professionals (landscape designers/architects, civic engineers, experienced gardeners, etc…) whenever possible. But most of all, try to make it a fun, creative, and rewarding process for all involved.

How do you balance the ecological aspects of maintaining a green space with the aesthetic and social needs of the community?

There will often be some with a different vision of what they’d prefer, and the adage “you can’t please all of the people all of the time” is apt. It’s important to let people share their thoughts and concerns and see if they can incorporate them into the plans. Pay attention to the site, and choose fauna that will thrive in it based on the amount of light, water, and wind. We are fortunate that here in the Bay Area, we can have plants growing year-round, and ideally, we plan to plant a variety of species that will provide year-round interest.

Expanding and improving green spaces also benefits the bigger picture of climate change. Installing rain or infiltration gardens or bio-swales helps mitigate water runoff and reduces the strain on the city’s water system. More trees or greenery improves air quality and mitigates pollution, making for a healthier living environment. Plants that attract bees, birds, and other wildlife support the natural environment and are a way to offset living in a world of pavement and buildings.

Finally, what are the next steps for Carolina Green Space, and how can people get involved or support your mission?

Our future goals include developing and improving the median’s southern end, the “Sunset Terrace,” creating another gathering area for people. We are also discussing decorating the two staircases with murals, tile mosaics, or both. It would be great to put in more hardscaping to terrace the steeper portions and plant things that would do well naturally. This requires people pitching in, whether as part of a community clean-up effort or financially, to help build up the funds to pay for some of the infrastructure and maintenance. We are looking towards applying for more City grants (Community Challenge Grant, SF PUC Watershed Stewardship Grant, asking our D10 Supervisor to help with discretionary funds in their budget, etc…). People interested in getting more involved may sign up via our website: The more the merrier!

Greening Potrero Hill: The Carolina Green Space Story

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