Most all of us are suckers for a comeback: the phoenix rising from the ashes, the underdog, the against-all-odds, inspirational story. That’s why I love hanging out in Hayes Valley. It’s the poster child for post-natural disaster recovery. It’s also not perfect, but I want real, not perfection.
I was not living in San Francisco when the 1989 earthquake hit or watch the recovery efforts afterward, but I did witness the revitalization efforts. Earthquakes are a terrible thing, but good can come from bad and the Hayes Valley neighborhood is a stellar example of good revitalization. Neighborhood revitalization is a long and frustrating business. It takes years before the fruits of labor blossom and the community can experience it with all their senses.
Hayes Valley is generally bounded by Fulton on the north, Van Ness on the east, Haight on the south and Fillmore on the west. It’s easy to get there by Muni, BART and by car, although traffic and parking can be difficult due to its proximity to the Civic Center and Alamo Square.
Centered by Patricia’s Green at the intersection of Octavia and Hayes streets the neighborhood was once literally under the Central Freeway. Underutilized buildings disappeared in the shadows, grocery carts were piled up, and trash strewn about.
After the quake some property owners chose to stay and participate in the revitalization, others sold to those who were willing to be very patient. Buildings came down, buildings went up, parks were planted, some people left and some remained, and change happened. People actually stroll about and socialize.
For me the balance of simple, charming storefronts and apartment buildings, beautiful Victorian houses, and compatible new buildings has cultivated a genuine sense of place. I love how this neighborhood’s vibe is both artsy and professional, quirky and familiar. It still has grit and it has a new sense of community.
It’s new and old, messy and beautiful, familiar and strange - just like life. So let’s get out there and enjoy it, instead of just driving by.
Cafes and restaurants galore. Pass on the public restrooms at City Hall
and the Public Library. La Boulange is pretty tolerable of folks using theirs but it's nice to get a coffee or something if you do.