How one San Francisco Neighborhood is Creating a Stronger, Greener Community

Patricia De Fonte, captain of the Ney Street Neighborhood Watch

Many San Franciscans travel through the Ney Street neighborhood on the way to the 280 and 101 freeways. But the Ney Street neighborhood isn’t just a gateway to one of San Francisco’s main thoroughfares – it’s also the home of a vibrant community that is dedicated to improving the lives of its residents. 

It All Started with a Neighborhood Watch

In 2010, the Ney Street community started working with San Francisco SAFE to initiate the Ney Street Neighborhood Watch (NSNW).  After a year of meetings, the group felt cohesive enough to start tackling other problems in the “Neyborhood.”  They made a list – dumping, graffiti, greening, better lighting at night, cleaning up the local grocery store, and more.

“We started out as 20 strangers in a room. We soon realized that we were more than that – we had common concerns and goals in addition to safety.  We wanted a cleaner and more beautiful community and we felt confident enough in each other to start working toward it,” says Patricia De Fonte, captain of NSNW.

A Full-fledged Greening Effort Begins

Trees line the streets leading up to the entrance to Alemany Boulevard  

Supervisor John Avalos had been attending NSNW’s meetings from the beginning and the Neybors brought him their concerns. Seeing the level of commitment in the group, Supervisor Avalos gave them $5,000 for greening and introduced them to Mohammed Nuru of the Department of Public Works. This kicked off a new mission and a new energy in the group.

NSNW members began monthly cleaning crews, going block by block weeding, meeting new neighbors, increasing group membership and educating residents on their rights and obligations.  They worked with Friends of the Urban Forest to plant 70 trees within six months with the money from Supervisor Avalos. 

The whole community came out to plant – they brought their children, they planted trees for elderly Neybors who could not participate, and they celebrated with potluck meals afterwards.

In just over a year the Ney Street residents had made big changes in their neighborhood - and people were noticing. In 2012, they received the “Outstanding Neighborhood Watch Group” award at the annual NEN Awards.

Since then, the Neybors have received grants to green the median on Alemany Boulevard east of Lyelle Street, further green Alemany Boulevard near the bike path east of Congdon Street, and improve the intersection of Congdon and Trumbull Streets with potted plants. They are currently working on designing and funding a small park in the Neyborhood. 

Advice for San Francisco Residents

How can San Francisco residents start greening their neighborhoods? Here’s some advice from De Fonte:

Create a cohesive group. The NSNW started a neighborhood watch group with San Francisco SAFE to get organized and create a launch pad for their greening efforts.
Reach out to all neighbors. NSNW translates meeting information into Spanish and Chinese. “You don’t have to speak the same language to be neighborly,” De Fonte says. “You can always plant flowers in front of your neighbor’s house.”

Learn about what works. “You don’t have to have experience to make an impact in your neighborhood,” De Fonte says. “Contact the Parks Alliance and ask them when their next seminar is and ask them for a list of citizen-created parks to visit.”

Access free resources. De Fonte stated that residents don’t have to spend money to improve their neighborhood. There are a lot of free resources – free compost and free paint from Recology, and access to neighborhood painting, gardening and building resources from the Department of Public Works through the Giant Sweep program. In addition, the NSNW successfully applied for several community grants that allowed them to work on larger-scale projects.

Reach out to the City. Building relationships with the City has been key to NSNW’s success. “If something is bugging you, you can probably fix it,” De Fonte says. “Contact 311 or contact your supervisor and ask what to do.”