SF’s New I-80 Freeway “Urban Forest” Just Opened
San Francisco Public Works has opened the city’s first street tree nursery.
The City’s new Street Tree Nursery took root on November 9, 2023, at a celebration marking the opening of the innovative Public Works project to grow San Francisco’s urban forest, combat climate change and train people for jobs planting trees and caring for them.
Located on Fifth Street, between Harrison and Bryant streets, on a once-vacant, 14,000-square-foot state freeway parcel, there is space to grow as many as 1,000 street trees for planting throughout San Francisco’s neighborhoods.
The Street Tree Nursery, overseen by the San Francisco Public Works Bureau of Urban Forestry, delivers a locally based system of tree propagation and care, as well as volunteer and educational programming related to urban forestry, environmental justice and climate protection.
The nursery brings much-needed green space and beautification to the surrounding South of Market neighborhood, which lacks trees and open space and is burdened by the freeway’s air pollution and other environmental justice impacts.
“San Francisco is proud that its first-ever Street Tree Nursery innovatively transformed an underutilized parcel in the South of Market into a place that is environmentally sustainable, enjoyable, and effective in creating healthy and vibrant communities,” said Public Works Director Carla Short, a certified arborist by training. “We are excited to be a partner with the State of California to deliver this project.”
With its location in the City’s urban core, the nursery reduces the transportation and environmental costs associated with delivering trees from commercial nurseries located in the far reaches of the Bay Area, eliminates transplant shock when trees are grown in other climates, increases species availability and provides local, green jobs and learning opportunities, Short noted.
The nursery’s “New Roots” workforce development program, operated by Public Works’ nonprofit grant partner Friends of the Urban Forest, will provide job training and support career pathways in urban forestry for those facing barriers to employment.
The benefits of street trees in an urban environment are well documented. Not only do they make neighborhoods more inviting, but they help manage stormwater, reduce air pollution, improve human health, cool homes and streets, provide wildlife habitat and calm traffic. Studies show that trees in communities are associated with improved physical and mental health, lower average temperatures during extreme heat, increased food security and new economic opportunities.
This Street Tree Nursery will bolster Public Works’ efforts to increase tree cover in districts including Bayview-Hunters Point, the Tenderloin and the South of Market, provide equitable access to nature and deliver tangible economic and ecological benefits to neighborhoods across San Francisco.
The project was funded, in part, with a grant from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2022 Clean California initiative. The program allocates $311.7 million for 126 beautification projects along the state highway system – with 98% of the projects benefiting historically underserved or excluded communities.
At a cost of $6.55 million, the San Francisco Street Tree Nursery received $3.8 million from Clean California, through the state Department of Transportation (Caltrans); $1.2 million from Cal Fire for workforce development; $1 million from the City and County of San Francisco for capital and operating costs; and $550,000 from the California Natural Resources Agency for workforce development and tree planting.
Public Works provided landscape architecture, construction management and landscape services. Yerba Buena Engineering & Construction, Inc. built the project, and UrbanBloc created the on-site modular buildings for classroom and office space.
The nursery will provide space for hundreds of saplings and young trees – including native species, such as the California buckeye and other tree groups known to thrive in San Francisco’s microclimates. The young trees will grow in containers until they are mature enough to plant in the City sidewalks.
The nursery complements StreetTreeSF, a Public Works initiative approved by City voters in 2016 that earmarks $19 million a year in dedicated funding for the maintenance of the City’s 125,000 street trees. The program, however, does not provide funding to plant new trees.
In September, the department’s greening efforts received a big boost with the award of a $12 million tree-planting and workforce development grant under the federal Inflation Reduction Act.
Public Works will use the funding to plant and establish thousands of street trees in low-canopy, underserved census tracts to mitigate extreme heat and establish climate-ready neighborhoods. The grant funding will create green jobs and workforce development positions by hiring and training residents from disadvantaged neighborhoods to promote long-term employment and environmental, racial and economic justice.
San Francisco’s new Street Tree Nursery will serve as a hub for the City’s planting initiatives and workforce training.
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