Building on the three-year success of the Mission Community Market (MCM), organizers have partnered with local organizations and the City to propose a plan that would transform the block of Bartlett Street between 21st and 22nd streets into a permanent civic plaza in the Mission.
“It’s about creating a new public space—the market is an excuse to get together,” said Ilaria Salvadori of the Planning Department’s City Design Group. “We want to bring a cultural dimension to the market with music and murals.”
A public meeting showcasing a conceptual design of the Bartlett Mercado Plaza project was hosted at the Women’s Building on May 29 by representatives of the San Francisco Planning Department, Department of Public Works, Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) and Rebar Design Group, in an effort to gather community input in the planning stages of the project.
Organizers said they have secured $1.6 million in funds through Proposition B, a ballot measure that set aside a total of $50 million for streetscape improvements. The proposed plaza would feature permanent market stalls, a retractable canopy, pedestrian lighting, street greening and a street mural.
Though the small room was packed at capacity during last month’s meeting, a lack of diversity among attendees was reflective of the affected area’s changing demographics.
“The whole point of the market is to bring the newer and older residents together—we are succeeding in some regards and not succeeding in others,” said John Bela of the Rebar Group, the design firm working on the project. “This particular round of public outreach was led by the City and happened in really short timing, and we felt that we didn’t do as good of a job as we could have in reaching the Latino community.”
According Jeremy Shaw, executive director of the MCM, organizers of the project have consulted and formed partnerships with local groups such as People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER), Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), and the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA).
“The Mercado Plaza project has always been part of MCM’s vision,” said Shaw. “There is the potential for all sorts of events and activities that support small businesses, youth arts and nutrition outreach programs.”
Although much emphasis was placed on community partnerships, none of these local organizations were present at last month’s meeting.
“We did not participate in the last community meeting because we caught wind of it too late and the outreach was kind of poor,” said Charlie Sciammas, community organizer at PODER. “We are in support of using public spaces like Bartlett Street and transforming them into community spaces—with that, we also recognize the potential contradictions: Are we creating a space that is really helping strengthen our community, or are we just creating a good time?”
Removing parking and narrowing the wide roadway on the one-way street were discussed as key elements to creating the plaza. Although community support for turning the poorly-lit block of Bartlett Street into a safer, public event space seemed to resonate among attendees, several residents voiced their concerns during the meeting.
“The problem is that you’re addressing the needs of young people—but you aren’t addressing the needs of the elderly or people who need their cars,” said Shari Steiner, 72, who is a resident of Bartlett Street. The conceptual design proposes that 27 of the block’s 40 parking spaces are to be removed.
With the demand for affordable housing on the rise and the steady exodus of the neighborhood’s working-class residents, community advocates agree that more work needs to be done to ensure that the space is utilized in a way that will benefit all members of the community.
“We are trying to see if there is an opportunity here to link a really healthy space, like a farmer’s market (in the community) and finding a balance of making it accessible and enticing to Latino families that are there,” said Vanessa Bohm, social services director at CARECEN. “I think people have that vision and want to think that it’s possible, but it takes a lot of hard work to make that happen.”
With a focus on health education, CARECEN currently funds two health educators to conduct outreach work at MCM twice a month. According to Bohm, this partnership has been very successful, and despite limited resources the organization is committed to “figuring out creative ways of getting folks to participate and access that space.”
“By default, (MCM) is not inviting to Latino families because the produce isn’t that accessible in terms of prices,” said Bohm, who hopes that incentives such as matching funds with Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards at the market, more working-class families will participate. “It’s certainly a process and its not even where it needs to be— but there are some good people and good intentions around the market project.”
According to a timeline presented at the meeting, construction of the Bartlett Mercado Plaza is scheduled to begin mid-2014.