The 1,400-pound metal planters seem to have done the job thus far at preventing encampments from returning after the large plant pots were installed after Carnaval, but have started another round of “hostile architecture” debate.
It's a story we’ve seen unfold in San Francisco numerous times in recent years. A group of local residents gets fed up with encampments in their neighborhood, and install some sort of physical barriers to make it difficult for people to put tents on those sidewalks. Sometimes the barriers are removed amidst controversy, sometimes the barriers stay up permanently, like the sets of large metal planters installed along 25th and Capp Streets last October, as Mission Local reported at that time.
Now the Chronicle reports that similar large, heavy planters have been installed on Harrison Street between 18th and 20th Streets, funded by a GoFundMe campaign that has raised north of $20,000. SFist counted 31 of these Monday afternoon, consistent with the GoFundMe announcement that the funders were “Thrilled to confirm 31 planters are successfully installed on Harrison between 18th and 20th.” All of these are on the western side of Harrison Street, none on the eastern side.
The planters and plants are not exactly spectacular or bursting with color, most had low-maintenance succulents. "We will use only drought-tolerant plants which are either native to Northern California, or proven to be hardy in our climate,” according to the GoFundMe.
And more than half of the current $20,000 raised comes from a single $11,372 contribution simply attributed to a “large corporate donor.”
SFist observed no encampments, nor even a single tent on a Monday afternoon visit to the area in question (though we did see a couple of RVs that looked pretty lived-in). But we have plenty of confirmation that there was an encampment and a bicycle chop shop there, both of which had reputations for hostile behavior.
The Chron got confirmation that SFPD did clear a bicycle chop shop from that area prior to Carnaval. That paper also reports that one resident says”members of the encampment threw alcohol at her.”
Santiago Lerma, a legislative aide to Supervisor Hillary Ronen, tells the Chronicle that “The behavior of these individuals was not good for the neighborhood.” The paper adds that Lerma “told The Chronicle that a camper in the area once held up a screwdriver and threatened him while he was walking by.”
These planters are perfectly legal, and do not even require permits. SF Public Works said in a statement to KGO that "Public Works supports neighbors' efforts to green and beautify their communities. Our main concern is to ensure that an accessible path of travel is maintained and that the planters are well maintained. The planters on Harrison appear to meet the standards."
Obviously, advocates for the unhoused feel this is an unnecessarily hostile installation. “I think it’s a tremendous waste of energy,” executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness Jennifer Friedenbach told the Chronicle. “I’d rather see (energy) directed toward fights for housing.”
Two weeks into their tenure, the planters appear to be doing their job of preventing encampments. There is obviously room for one to set up a tent, but probably not room for a bicycle chop shop. And that may have been the attraction for camping there, so we’ll see whether this effort is a lasting success, or if it wavers depending on enforcement.
Images: Joe Kukura, SFist