After breakfast at Samovar Tea Lounge one morning, I climbed the hill, following the Peace Wall. Designed, created and installed by young artists, the Peace Wall is a colorful reminder of the best wishes for a community space, for all who venture within the Park.
The Koshland Community Park was built in 1973, on the site of a horrendous apartment fire that left 6 dead and many homeless. The neighborhood voted to create a park, and the Koshland Family, searching for a way to honor their father, stepped up to provide the funds.
However, like the neighborhood, the Park hasn't always been a place of respite and beauty: in the mid-80s, with the neighborhood sinking under intense poverty and all of poverty's trappings, the Park became every pimp/prostitute, drug pusher/addict, and runaway's front porch and bedroom. When it got so bad that Parks & Rec folks were threatened with knives and guns in broad daylight, it was time for a change.
With assistance from the Governor's mandate to study substance abuse, Neighborhoods In Transition was created to focused on places like Hayes Valley, looking for practical and compassionate ways to heal communities and create harmonious environments.
In 2008, renamed Community Grows, the endeavor brought together churches, schools, residents, merchants and grass-roots neighborhood organizations to brainstorm, plan and raise essential funds.
In particular, Community Grows created the Community Learning Garden, a tidy, terraced vegetable and flower garden with an outdoor teaching area and hands-on activities, as well as the Western Addition Peace Wall at the corner of Page and Buchanan streets.
The newly spiffed up playground and half basket ball court are visible from Buchanan Street, and most of the park is now wheelchair accessible. The day I visited, a brilliant windy morning in May, I had the Park to myself. It was clean, well laid-out and inviting. As I sat facing the City, the wind thrashed through the grasses opposite me and the sun heated my back.
At least I thought I was alone...I heard a gate latch click, and then the gate close...below me on the path an small elderly man in worn clothes, carrying a bundle, stepped into the sun. Like so many really old people who are still out and about, he seemed ancient and mythic. He slowly made his way down the path to the Page Street entrance and didn't notice me.
An urban garden monk emerging from his hut, going on his way to collect morning alms in exchange for a sutra?
A street person with all of his possessions on his back, wending his way down to Samovar's back door for a day old scone and a cup of Ocean of Wisdom tea?
All of this and more.
Like me, a visitor on this amazing planet, stepping into the day.