According to Wikipedia, “A public space is a social space such as a town square that is open and accessible to all, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level. One of the earliest examples of public spaces are commons.” San Francisco’s streets and public right of ways make up twenty-five percent of the city’s land area, even more space than is found in all of the city’s parks. Pavements to Parks is a collaborative effort between the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Public Works, the Planning Department, and the Municipal Transportation Agency to take underutilized areas of street space and re-imagine them as urban parks and plazas. The Castro Commons at 17th and Castro Streets is a part of this project.
The Castro Commons is located at the terminus of the San Francisco Muni’s Historic Streetcar line which connects the Castro neighborhood with the Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf, bringing hundreds of tourists into the Castro neighborhood every weekend. Obviously, the neighborhood’s business leaders, the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, or MUMC, have an interest in making the Castro Commons a safe and welcoming space to introduce tourists to the area.
Every weekend morning, long before the first influx of tourists arrive on the historic streetcars, a few men can be found resting at the tables and chairs of the commons. One can tell these men’s economic situation just be looking. Some are there with all of their worldly possessions stashed in a cart. Some just have to look that one soon acquires from living on the streets after awhile. Every weekend morning, like clockwork, a San Francisco bicycle patrol officer appears and engages these men in conversation. This officer never bothers to speak with other, more affluent Commons users, only those whose status is apparent by their dress.
It is a mystery what the officer says to these men, but the conversation always continues until, one by one, the men finally leave, after which the officer leaves. Perhaps the officer is directing these men to city services where they may receive food or housing. I don’t know. What is clear is that every weekend morning, after the officer comes through the Castro Commons, the area is clear of these homeless men.