On Alhambra Looking West (www.SocketSite.com)
Two different perspectives, one Marina block. Looking west-ish from out front of 147-149 Alhambra above. Looking east-ish across 143-149 Alhambra below.
143-149 Alhambra (www.SocketSite.com)
Kudos to the owners for this little oasis of neighborhood green (and our encouragement for others to follow suit).

63 thoughts on “Two Different Perspectives, One Marina Block And An Oasis Of Green”
  1. Imagine if the Marina, and much of the city for that matter, had a system of alleys in the rear that would allow the parade of garage doors to be moved to the back of the properties, therefore allowing owners to create gardens in the front such as what is shown. Instead, we have neighborhoods with most properties having back yards which are under-used, many of which are larger than yards now provided in most new suburban residences. I think alleys would have created a whole different aesthetic in areas like the outer Sunset, and would allow me in the Marina to not feel I need to dodge cars backing out of their garages when I go for a walk from my residence near the corner of Scott and Prado in this hood. Although an owner in the Marina, I am currently a resident also in Chicago setting up a new division of our firm, and going back and forth has allowed me to see where even a city as beautiful as San Francisco could have been made better.

  2. even disregarding the alleys…imagine what SF would be if more of it were like the good pic above! The city has made limited progress in encouraging greening, but there’s a lot further to go.

  3. one of the main reasons keeping more marina owners from greening up their front spaces is dog-owners feeling entitled to let their pets pee all over anything green, clueless pretending that dog urine causes no damage to (other people’s) plants

  4. Yeah, every time I drive through the Marina I keep thinking how much better it would look with some freakin’ trees! I live in Presidio Heights and this neighborhood had the right idea about 40 years ago… There’s barely a curb save for the driveway cuts that doesn’t have something growing out of it..

  5. Does anyone know how difficult the process is to jackhammer a square of the sidewalk out and plant a good-sized tree? In terms of City approval I mean.

  6. People walk their dogs all over my neighborhood in LA the trees and plants seem to do just fine. The lack of green in SF would seem to be more to do with poor planning than some backlash against dogs.

  7. This topic is tailor made for Ex-SFer.
    Wasn’t it Khrushchev who quipped on a visit to SF in the 50s something like “Nice city, but where are all the trees ?”

  8. I used to live on Pierce and Alhambra and the treeless, plantless, flowerless expanses of sidewalk didn’t faze me in the least at the time. After moving to a Seattle neighborhood 1.5 miles from downtown with green grass, plants and flowers on the sidewalk maintained by home owners, the Marina reminds me of a moonscape. A little green would certainly go a long way to beautifying the Marina. It was my favorite place to live in SF.
    And I do miss SF. Especially the stench of urine and feces on Market street encountered in the morning walking from the 30X bus stop to my office downtown!

  9. This was one of the big things SF is lacking. Trees are fine and good but that is not enough.
    the residents need to start tearing up some of the pavers and put in green ground cover. Not only does it make the blocks much much more attractive and walkable but it absorbs and holds water and filters runoff before going into the city sewers (many of which enter straight into the bay.)
    There is no reason residents and the city cannot reconfigure the sidewalks that are currently 5 pavers deep in most areas to somehting similar to what is shown above, 2 pavers of green, 2 pavers of concrete, and one paver of green. If enacted across the city you would have a much greener SF, literally.

  10. This is a great post! a perfect example of comparing green vs. concrete in our neighborhoods. The same kind of problem also exists in many other districts, including Noe Valley.
    I really wonder why property owners dont add trees and landscape to the front. Here are my thoughts why they dont:
    1. They are used to the way it is, assuming SF sidewalks just have to be that wide.
    2. They assume the process and cost is prohibitive. Not true. as many previous posts show, it’s MUCH easier now to get a sidewalk landscape permit.
    3. They are just lazy and don’t want to deal with landscape cleanup tasks now and then, such as leaves and litter. It’s not a big deal and look how INCREDIBLE the street can look with all that green.

  11. I thought these photos were a joke, but I guess they aren’t.
    I think the landscaping here is absolutely terrible, even though I of course strongly agree with the pro-landscaping sentiment.
    What’s really awful is the mapjack link shows this *in progress*, so this is not an accident — someone actually means it to look like this.
    I have not (and won’t) drive by in person, so maybe it’s not so bad. But this is like being hungry and then expressing joy at finding a slice of pizza on the ground! 🙂

  12. One other reason that people may be reluctant to plant trees is that the future removal process can be a legal hassle. In my neighborhood, once a tree reaches a certain size you have to go through a permit process if you want to cut it down. Often the result is that you have to plant a new tree in the place of the removed tree. Sort of like having a protected tenant in your front yard.
    Not that it stopped me. My very first act of home improvement at my current abode was to plant trees. It was a very good decision.

  13. I agree milkshake. One of the first things we did when moving into our house in Noe was plant street trees. All 7 trees are now mature and beautiful.
    But, milkshake: once a tree reaches a so called “certain size”, WHY would you want to cut it down? ok, so if you did cut it down, then YES, most certainly you should plant a new one. Unfortunately, I have recently seen too many trees cut down in Noe V, for no real good reason, and not replaced. What a disgusting thing to do.

  14. “Does anyone know how difficult the process is to jackhammer a square of the sidewalk out and plant a good-sized tree? In terms of City approval I mean. ”
    you are absolutely right. i would stick to smaller trees but here’s greening your sidewalk in SF 101:
    1. on friday go to home depot and buy plants, a bunch of used-looking bricks, mortar, a sledge hammer and some dirt.
    2. building inspectors don’t generally work on weekends. pick up one laborer at 6am on saturday. have him smash up a square of the sidewalk by 7 a.m. It’s only about 3-4 inches thick. Have him build a planter box with the bricks and mortar and make it look like it’s been there a while. plant the plants. complete the project by sunday night.
    3. put up a small fence or dog repellent. you will definitely have the neighborhood dogs trying to “piss” your new investment away.
    4. hope the building department doesn’t find your home’s new facade on mapjack or their satellite photos (yes they do this).

  15. I don’t think it looks bad… Eventually the trees will mature, even if they look a bit wimpy now. Meanwhile, the grasses, flax, and lavender planted at the base are nice because they are low-water, low maintenance, and do very well in our climate. This is a much better approach than trying to plant a mini lawn that needs excessive water and fares poorly in sandy soil.

  16. Also, be sure to check out the major street scaping on Lyon at Broadway. A half-dozen or more mature olives and french lavender have been planted down the hill. I think it’ll look pretty sweet when it’s done. I wonder who paid for it?

  17. noearch – I’d only take down a tree if it was diseased and at risk of falling. But I’ve known of many others who removed non-street trees to make room for construction or simply because they didn’t like the look or mess of trees. The latest trick is to remove the tree on Sunday when code enforcement isn’t in the office. So even if someone calls in to intervene and rescue the tree, no-one’s going to stop the chainsaws.
    Speaking of working on the weekend to evade the City, if anyone follows resp’s suggestion be really careful when whacking out a concrete square. It’s hard to get a nice clean square cut.

  18. milkshake – yes you have to make sure to take an entire square out or rent a concrete cutter if you only want to remove part. many homes in the marina used to have small green areas out front that were concreted over – the odd shapes are easy to spot and easier to remove than the standard sidewalk squares.

  19. some interesting points of view. clearly some people simply dont think sidewalk landscaping is not “suited” for a big city. Huh?
    and, ah..milkshake: what’s with the “latest trick” concept of thinking? so one does this to avoid some minor permits? to do it illegally? to be cheap? what kind of logic is that?
    I can never understand the idea of doing things on the sly, or cheaply. who does it serve and what’s the point?
    oh, I know: Life is hard. Let’s cheat.

  20. noearch – In no way am I encouraging cheating to get rid of trees. Or even getting rid of (healthy) trees. All I meant to do was relay how people are getting around regulations. I’ve seen a few more tricks as well. The point is that there are people willing to remove trees, even under threat of legal penalties because the permit process can be a hassle, sometimes even requiring neighborhood input. Again not me. I am a hugger 🙂
    Resp – I’m sure you meant this, but even taking out a “square” can be tricky as the crack from your whack can jump across the track. The last time I took out a chunk of concrete I spent about an hour using a masonry chisel to deepen the channel where I wanted the break to occur, just for extra insurance. Renting a masonry saw is even better (though spendy and inconvenient)

  21. I wouldn’t recommend breaking the concrete without PG&E marking where their underground gas and electrical lines are or you’re going to have a big problem on your hands (you need a number of agencies through USA to give you underground line locations). I just applied for a tree permit last week- within two days PG&E came out to mark where their lines are (i.e. don’t dig here) and the Bureau of Urban Forest rep called and is coming by this week to approve the location and give me a permit- which is free. I was shocked at how quick and efficient the process is.

  22. m -yes another good point on the utilities lines. and another good reason not to put in large trees that need deep holes. but code states how deep your utilities have to be buried and they’re normally deeper than than you need to go for landscaping plants. also another reason i suggested building a brick planter box and filling it with dirt to avoid digging down.

  23. ok, milkshake. I hear ya! 🙂 good points you made. I think just having this dialogue is good. more people are becoming aware of how relatively easy street planting is to do..not a difficult process.
    I would agree that cutting out concrete on your own is not easy..hire an experienced concrete installer. they can do it quickly and the right way. and the right species of trees are important. no more Ficuses! check with the Bureau of urban forestry for the right kinds of trees and landscape.
    Let’s make San Francisco greener (literally) than Portland.

  24. my 4 reasons why people don’t plant trees on their own front sidewalks in SF:
    1) Encourages dogs to poop in front of your house. most dogowners don’t seem to clean up. IMHO, they should have to clean up the pee too.
    2) encourages homeless people to poop in front of your house. even mmore disgusting
    3) encourages drunk marina-ites to pee in front of your house
    4)encourages homeless people to leave used needles in front of your house.

  25. spencer hits the nail on the head – dogs dogs DOGS, or more to the point, their owners who feel their little bundles of fur can do no wrong.
    Picking poo out of a newly planted tree hole is easy, but running enough water to dilute the never ending streams of urine to a point where it’s not harmful is completely different.
    I can’t even get the shop owners near me to care about dogs in grocery stores and cafes – forget them curbing their dog on the curb rather than the street tree.

  26. i did add planter boxes to my house as outlined above and definitely have the dog issues that everyone’s talking about. anyone know of a good product to keep them away?

  27. The dog issue is a lame excuse not to plant trees or plants. Once again, there are more dogs than people living in my hood and, for the most part, the plants are fine. Boxwood and bermuda grass don’t stand up to dog pee, but hardier species seem to handle the throngs of dog walkers that traverse Washington and Jackson. If they didn’t, my block would most certainly be full of brown vegetation.
    That said, what does irk me about the dog walkers is that in parts of the Presidio, they just let 30 dogs out of their hatchbacks to run loose and poop wherever they will – which is everywhere. There’s one area I know of that’s literally a field of dog sh*t. Hundreds, if not thousands, of graying piles litter the ground there and woe to the jogger that comes upon that place.

  28. sleepiguy – you’re right when it comes to established trees with good root systems, but dog urine is quick death for a newly planted tree with a damaged and recovering root system. I’ve seen it happen on my block and blocks of friends before. Nice new tree comes along and never thrives and eventually just slowly dies, even with regular new-tree care. The arborist told us it was dog pee.

  29. This topic is tailor made for Ex-SFer.
    Thanks for thinking of me Milkshake! and I agree, it is totally suited for me… even I thought I hijacked socketsite for a minute!
    All I can say is YES YES YES YES!
    Even though I might not have personally chosen these exact plants, I think it makes the block look SO much more attractive! now all we need is 100,000 other domiciles to do the same!
    As for those of you afraid to put up trees due to the dogs:
    yes, dogowners can sometimes be a PITA. however, if you can get your whole neighbrohood to “green up” then the dog pee/poo is spread around and your greenery will do ok!
    On a side note: I’ve been walking around South Beach a lot lately and I note that they have planted a fair number of trees in that ‘hood. It’s DEFINITELY a start and it looks great! it’ll look even better as they mature.
    bravo San Francisco!
    (lastly: fwiw the seattle exsfer above isn’t me)

  30. ex SR-er, a while back didn’t you post a picture you took of a street in Chicago showing how much landscape there was on a block of very high density? San Francisco has urban planning backwards with garage doors facing the street, and trees hidden in back yards.

  31. Morgan,
    Where I lived in Baltimore was that way and it sucked. You think the piss, bottles, etc. are a problem on the sidewalk try having all those back alleys and no yards.

  32. morgan, sorry dude, but you got it all wrong. If we really had alleys in the back yards, with garages, we would end up with very very small rear yards and much less landscaping and trees.
    what we have is just what works for San Francisco, and it really reflects a good deal of our urban planning history.

  33. Milkshakes post makes it sound a bit easier than it really is. You may be one of the lucky ones with utilities in the right places and no Christie boxes (the little hatches that go to the various clean outs and shut off valves). There are strict guidelines that are designed to keep pipes safe from roots and other accidental damage. See the Bureau of Streets and Mapping weblink below with requirements for landscaping and for trees.
    Alas, no scatological information.

  34. Noearch, I understand that the way San Francisco now exists, works, but in my opinion, the upper picture COULD be an alley if it were not so wide.
    As a Marina owner, I cannot stand the lack of trees, and when I go up to my roof, I can look into many yards of some rather desirable homes to see concrete, some grass and almost no trees. There was an amazing tree in the rear yard on Avila Street near Prado that was cut down because it blocked a neighbor’s “light”. As a frequent long-stay visitor in Chicago, the amount and variety of trees is still astonishing to me. There seems to be no fear in Chicago of dogs, tree roots, leaves, or picky neighbors complaining about light to stop owners from creating beautiful street side landscaping. The Marina could be the most landscape starved part of the city. (Ex SF-er, I apologize for the spelling error on your name earlier)

  35. Morgan:
    yes, I did post a picture a long time ago showing my hood that is high density yet full of trees. It was a great picture. Unfortunately I can’t find that picture anymore.
    This picture is also of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood, as dense if not denser than most SF neighborhoods
    This picture isn’t as good as the other one but I can’t find that one 🙁
    If people are interested though, they can go to googlemaps and “walk around”. I’m near N Cleveland ave and W Grant Place (don’t wanna say too much!)
    But you don’t have to go that far. Just mapjack Henry and Noe St, San Francisco and look SOUTH. (compare the look of this to Noe Valley by the way).
    That’s why Duboce is my favorite neighborhood in SF, and why if I move back I will probably move to Duboce
    It’s also why all the cries of Armageddon if a tree is planted are all rediculous to say the least

  36. @morgan: I would agree with you completely. I visit friends in chicago frequently and yes, that city is so much greener and tree friendly than San Francisco.
    We have a lot to learn from Chicago. It is very frustrating to see the lack of trees here, Noe Valley no exception. NV has acres of wide sidewalks. I just don’t get it. I have personally tried to convince neighbors in my area of Noe to put in trees or street landscape. They want no part of it, citing the hassle of permits (not true) the dog issue (true but solvable) and Oh my god!! the hassle of leaves blowing around. Can you believe it?
    We have a LONG ways to go toward becoming a world class city.

  37. ^^^San Francisco before humans = mostly san dunes and windswept barren hills
    Chicago before humans = forests
    And we wonder why there are more trees there?

  38. San Francisco before humans = mostly san dunes and windswept barren hills
    and yet trees manage to live in Golden Gate park, which used to be all sand dunes.
    Moreso: the Palm in Dubai used to be OCEAN, and yet they manage to grow trees and have plants there.
    sorry, this excuse doesn’t fly.
    “Chicago before humans = forests”
    is this true? I’m not saying it’s not true… I’m just not sure.
    when you drive from Chicago along I80 to San Francisco you don’t drive through forests, you drive through farms and prairie lands. The forests are further north in Minnesota and Wisconsin and Michigan as example, or east to Ohio. I truly have no idea what Chicago used to be since it’s all urban now and I’m not a native chicagoan.
    a lot of the midwest isn’t forest, it’s prairie land. I’m not sure what kind of topography Chicago had pre-humans. (forest land versus prairie land)
    also, much of chicago’s trees are relatively newly planted, due to the great Chicago fire which burned down much of the city (including killing the trees).

    it really is beyond humorous when we have these discussions about the impossibility of planting a tree or having grass in San Francisco. Last time it was “Trees rip down power lines and tear up the sidewalk!!! (even though every other city seems to be able to have sidewalks and power lines and trees cohabitating nicely).
    This time it’s “we used to be a barren dune!!!” (despite the fact that we have trees in GG park)

  39. The midwest from Ohio through Iowa was about half forest and half prairie prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Forests occupied the lower swampy regions and prairie the high spots (a subtle distinction where the low and high spots in some Illinois counties are only differ by about 30 feet altitude 🙂
    But yeah, the prior natural state of a region only defines what it would devolve into if left alone. You can grow just about anything in the bay area, especially with all of that water imported from the mountains.

  40. I think that someone needs to call “real SF” on this discussion. The marina, Noe, SOMA; they are treeless, but there are vast areas of the city that have sidewalk trees, front yards, and even rear parking.

  41. The “trees don’t grow here” comment is kind of silly.
    Right now I’m looking out my window overlooking the a former sand dune called the Presidio which is filled with, um, thousands of trees. I can also count at least 40 mature tress on my block.
    There’s simply no excuse not to plant trees.. None.. Zero.

  42. J:
    my goal wasn’t to restrict the forestland to the states I previously mentioned…
    it is very possible that Chicago itself is also part of forestland. again, I have no idea.
    I was honestly asking a question if chicagoland was originally forests, because when I drive around it seems more like plains/prairie. i mentioned the above states because I have travelled through them a lot and have seen lots of forests around. but I have no doubt that other midwestern states (such as Indiana and perhaps even Illinois) may have forestland.

  43. Sleepiguy, the Presidio forests are amazing and many newer residents don’t realize that those trees were planted only about 100 years ago. I take my dog for walks in the Presidio forest and the experience is almost spiritual being amongst those beautiful trees. You are fortunate to live so close to such a beautiful landscape.
    As for Chicago, I really believe the mayor there has created an urban culture where many homeowners and condo towers now almost compete with eachother on landscape displays. Look at what Chicago stores do to their planters between boulevards and their sidewalks on streets like Armitage and Michigan. The mayor’s addition of landscapes has also changed areas of Chicago that had almost no residential value into very desirable dynamic neighborhoods. (Millenium Park is an example. It was a former railroad yard)

  44. I like some greens, but I have to say that’s some ugly landscaping work. Looks like nobody’s trimmed it in a year or two.
    And the way the plants hang out over the sidewalk? Bogus. It’s approaching a walking hazard already. Please curb in your greenery as well – it just keeps growing, and overhanging bushes and grass like that are perfect for capturing trash, more dirt, and spreading to block even more sidewalk.
    For those of you asking for more green, I’ll just remind you to keep the bloomin’ sidewalks clear for those of us who use them for transportation. An average sidewalk block is about a hard wide, and that’s bare minimum the ADA asks for in terms of passage. I prefer two yards, so that when a body meets a body comin’ thru the landscaping, we can actually pass at speed instead of having to stop and wiggle.
    Also, you tree lovers? Tree roots are heck on my sidewalks. You want to plant trees, expect to pay extra to keep the sidewalks nearby flat enough for my wheels.
    (And don’t get me started on people who park blocking the sidewalk and think that eight inches of 45-degree driveway is enough to let pedestrians by, or that we can walk in the street. Those jerks are why I have City Tow on speed-dial.

  45. I just noticed this place the other day and thought it was a good effort- not stellar but it really stands out and makes a statement on that barren stretch of road. I did make a point of hustling my dog past it so she couldn’t make her own statement on it…
    RE: Wheelchairgirl’s comments- it is true that this stuff can get out of hand. Avila, which has this sort of thing up and down each side, has lots of areas where you really could not continue riding on flat territory but would need to dip down into the driveway curb cuts because these green oases come out so far into the sidewalk- this seems like a real hazard to wheelchair users and I have often commented on it to my walking partner.

  46. Also, you tree lovers? Tree roots are heck on my sidewalks. You want to plant trees, expect to pay extra to keep the sidewalks nearby flat enough for my wheels.
    I’ve already addressed this before wheelchair girl.
    Every block around me in both cities I live has trees every few feet. We have no problems with wheelchair accessibility. our sidewalks are flat as can be. here and there you’ll get a sidewalk come up a little bit, but that’s no different than happens in SF from the shifting of the earth as example. if it comes up once in a while (maybe once every 20-50 years or so) you can simply replace the sidewalk, it’s cheap and easy.
    please come and wheel around any midwestern tree-lined street. it’s really quite pleasant.
    I’m not sure if you’re for real or not, but if you’re wheeling around San Francisco’s considerable hills I would guess that you could get over a crooked sidewalk.
    but I agree: they didn’t use the greenery I would have chosen. I still applaud their effort. (you could easily get through that space by the way)

  47. The tree root prying up sidewalk panel issue is highly dependent on the species of trees. Some are notorious for cracking concrete up. Others are benign.
    Oddly I noticed that the SF “Friends of the Urban Forest” website recommends some of the notorious sidewalk cracking species like liquidambar.
    Best would be to do your research before planting a street tree. Sidewalk repair can be expensive and as wheelchairgirl mentions you’re required to maintain a serviceable sidewalk.

  48. We have friends in Seattle on Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill has amazing trees, really stunning, and the first thing I noticed was how badly cracked, tilted, warped, shifted, etc. the sidewalks were. No one there could tell me if sidewalks were the responsibility of property owners or the city of Seattle.
    My California conditioning had me reflexively thinking “How are these people not getting their pant sued off by folks in wheelchairs and the elderly?” as I was enjoying the street trees.

  49. very interesting posts – I love sidewalk scaping.
    Of note: To cut the sidewalk you don’t need a concrete saw. Simply take a skill saw and put on a diamond blade and run water over the spot you are cutting. It takes my handyman about 35 minutes to cut a single square vs. about 10 for the FUF concrete cutter guy.
    On the permit side, I have found the city very helpful in planning my cutouts.

  50. If you use that skilsaw and water method, make sure you’re using a grounded saw (with a 3 prong plug) and run the extension cord to a GFI protected outlet. Otherwise you’re in danger of getting a lethal shock.

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