I left my heart in San Francisco

Mission Dolores Park with city in the backgroundMy family lived in the San Francisco Bay area when I was born. I saw them later on visits while in elementary school and later as an adult. Two perspectives: family and city attractions through a child’s eyes and man’s eyes.

I father’s sister Vera lived up the hill from Mission Delores Park for most of her life, communting to and from work on the J Church Street car that ran along the park’s edge.  When I was in the navy, I lived in an apartment next to Mission Dolores Park a short walk from Vera’s apartment. When I wasn’t using my car, I also commuted in and out of town on that J Church train in Dolores Park, May 2018.JPGsame old street car to the terminal where I mad connections for a bus ride across the Bay Bridge to Alameda where my ship was in port. That Naval Station is no longer there.

When I was a child, the family often visited my great Aunt Claire in a nursing home in the 1950s. She was still living in that same nursing home in 1968–all those years: hard to imagine. When I saw her in 1968, she was sharp and alert and spoke one minute about going across country in a covered wagon when the family moved west from Iowa and then about the policies of the Nixon admiistration that she didn’t approve of. She lived to be about 103 years old.

San Francisco Bay Historic Cable Car Steep Streets Alcatraz California  Stock Photo - Download Image Now - iStockLesa and I went to San Francisco on our honeymoon in 1987 and there was my old world in another incarnation, a married man “seeing” the cable cars, Golden Gate Park, and other sites from my wife’s perspective. Of course we sent to fisherman’s wharf, changed over all the years, and enjoyed the cable cars. And, we visited the family that was still around.

When I was young, I thought I’d end up living in San Francisco. I loved those wonderful hills. But as I grew older, the city grew out of reach: I could no longer afford it. The three-story aparment building where my aunt lived is now a private home worth around $2,000,000. And then, too, all  my employment offers were in the Atlanta area which is quite another world. And that includes California politics which have slid further to the left than I carew for.

Vera’s old house is still there with a blur from Google Street View. She lived on the top floor with a bay window that gave her pretty much the entire city to watch. Years ago, a short dead-end street ran behind the buildings so I always parked my car at the fourth floor level and walked in her back door. I’ve cropped the picture close to avoid showing the modern home built on the right that doesn’t match the neighborhood (and looks ugly).

I had plans for this house when I was little and didn’t know the ways of the world. I always thought it needed an elevator. In many ways, my heart resides in on 20th Street between Sanchez (where Vera lived) and Dolores (where I lived).

Unlike Tony Bennett, I can’t (on the advice of my lawyers) sing the old song for you, you know, the one about little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars, so this post is a brief taste of where I grew up off and on.

–Malcolm

How can you not love a great city park?

“One of the most important but least recognized essentials to an attractive and healthy urban environment is a well-designed and well-maintained network of city parks—an essential component of any city’s infrastructure. Parks support public health, the economy, the environment, education, and community cohesion. They are also critical to workforce development, particularly green career tracks. Parks make our cities sustainable, livable and vibrant.” – City Parks Alliance

Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco - Wikipedia photo
Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco – Wikipedia photo

Do you have a favorite city park?

I remember the parks of my childhood, Winthrop and Myers in Tallahassee, Florida; Nelson and Fairview in Decatur, Illinois; and Golden Gate in San Francisco.

If you’re a New Yorker, perhaps Central Park or Union Square Park or Bryant Park fits your style. In Boston, perhaps you stroll about the Boston Commons.  In San Francisco, you may like Mission Dolores Park–I do, I once had an apartment next to it. Forest Park in St. Louis has a lot to offer as does Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

Forest Park, St. Louis - "Help sustain Forest Park as it sustains us all."  - Forest Park Forever
Forest Park, St. Louis – “Help sustain Forest Park as it sustains us all.” – Forest Park Forever

Many of us enjoy little pocked parks whose names aren’t well known outside their neighborhoods. Some of them are great for lunch with business associates; others appeal to dog owners and their pets; and some feature swings and green space for children.

Every time I receive a copy of “land + people,” the publication of the Trust for Public Land, I smile. Why? This magazine is a celebration of parks. New Parks being created. The latest innovations. Spotlights on trends and recent park ideas.

Some people criticize parks because they cost money, attract noise and/or “the wrong kind of people,” or create headaches when those who built them cannot afford to maintain them.

Griffith Park, Los Angeles - Wikipedia photo
Griffith Park, Los Angeles – Wikipedia photo

Aside from quality of life (as in beauty, play and relaxation), parks generally increase nearby property values, reduce hardscape, aid wildlife and increase the city’s tree canopy. Or, as the Trust for Public Land puts it, “We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to connect with nature. And as research clearly shows, access to nature is an essential prescription for the physical, environmental, social, and economic health of a community.”

I recently saw a link on Facebook to doctors who were prescribing time in a park for some of their patients. Many of the comments were along the lines of “about time.” Unlike some of the medications we’re given, park addiction is a habit we can live with. We’re hard pressed to live without it.

The current issue of “land + people” includes a photograph from Knight’s Pond in Cumberland, Maine, of a boy in old clothes walking along the shoreline with a net. The cutline reads, “Dragonflies and salamanders, fish and frogs–who knows what the day’s exploration will turn up. Every kid needs a place to discover the natural word.”

I like that. It reminds me of long childhood days. And it reminds me, too, that discovery of the natural world leads to respect.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a 1950s-era novella set in the piney woods of the Florida Panhandle he discovered as a child. Thank you all for your support of this book:

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