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Transform your sidewalk into an urban garden

A new sidewalk greenscape installed through DPW’s Grey2Green program photo: Courtesy sfdpw

Do you want to beautify the front of your home?
Are you looking for space to put in flowers, plants, and trees?
Do you want to help divert rainwater out of the sewers?
Do you want to attract more birds and butterflies to your neighborhood?
Does your front sidewalk need repair?

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, then the San Francisco Department of Public Works’ (DPW) “Grey2Green” sidewalk landscaping program is for you.

San Francisco is well-known for beautiful parks such as Golden Gate Park, and open areas such as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, yet much of the city was paved over during the residential development boom between the 1930s and the 1950s.

Paved streets and sidewalks now comprise more than 25 percent of San Francisco’s land area, more than all its parks combined.

Transforming portions of San Francisco’s hardscape into greenscape improves the city’s livability; creates opportunities for increasing both native and beneficial nonnative species and habitat; helps to decrease carbon monoxide levels, especially by adding trees; and increases the amount of permeable area, thereby decreasing runoff to an already overloaded sewer system that, during heavy rains, causes the discharge of potentially polluted water into the
bay and ocean.

San Francisco has become a leader in conservation ethics and enjoys the leadership and support of the mayor, city government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and residents in redeeming and protecting “green” public space. Success, in this regard however, is often hampered by residents’ limited awareness of the opportunities they have for civic participation, and their lack of understanding of the permit process required for transforming sidewalk pavement and neglected city spaces into well-tended gardens.

DPW’s Grey2Green program invites San Franciscans to transform their sidewalk into a green oasis. San Francisco now offers a low-cost permit that allows property owners to convert impervious sidewalk into green garden space. The more property owners that participate together, the cheaper the permit – so get your neighbors involved!

Sidewalk landscaping not only increases property values, but also contributes to a more pedestrian-friendly environment, provides habitat for birds and butterflies, connects ecological corridors, and creates better growing conditions for urban trees. These are just some of the many positive benefits sidewalk landscapes can provide to the city and the homeowner.

Storm water management is a huge challenge in San Francisco because of our combined-sewer system that processes both waste water and storm water. Sidewalk gardens can play a role in helping to reduce storm water runoff, which helps ensure that the sewer does not overload and spill into the ocean or bay. In addition, these gardens help create a sense of community and encourage neighbors to get to know each other. They can activate the space and give an opportunity to people who might not have any other greenspace for a garden in our highly urban environment.

Some property owners receive notices from the city to fix their sidewalks. This is a perfect opportunity to remove some of the concrete permanently and install a garden. Permits are required to ensure that the public right-of-way remains accessible to all users and to help protect the city and the property owner.

DPW has many helpful tools on its website, including plant palettes, lists of drought-tolerant recommended plants, a resident’s guide, permit information and application, and templates for designing a sidewalk garden. It even has how-to videos posted on its YouTube channel.

For more information on DPW’s Grey2Green sidewalk landscaping program, visit and transform your sidewalk into an urban garden.

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