An SF Tech Founder Wants This Vacant Lot to Become a Park — Not Housing

Zach Klein, the founder of Dwell and Vimeo, along with his daughter and a few neighbors, started beautifying Parcel 36 in SF’s Mission District Saturday.

There are an estimated 61,000 empty homes in San Francisco at the moment; 20,000 people in the city will experience homelessness at some point in 2022. Housing should be a human right; this is not up for discussion.

What is, however, up for debate is what might become of a 26,000-square-foot lot in SF in the Mission District. A plot of this size, which measures around a half-acre, is capable of holding a dozen units for multifamily housing. But one tech founder thinks it would be best repurposed as a park — an idea that’s gotten a bit of pushback on social media.

Zach Klein, the founder of Dwell and Vimeo, was joined by his neighbors and 8-year-old daughter when they opened a gated and locked lot over the weekend. Behind the aluminum fence was an open, clear, ostensibly tidy open space — a rare sight in San Francisco. The lot, which is known as “Parcel 36” by the City, has no clear owner. In a 2017 article by Mission Local on the enigmatic slice of San Francisco, neighborhood resident Elizabeth Creely noted that “there is no title or deed on file at the Office of the Assessor-Recorder of the City and County of San Francisco.”


On Saturday, Creely and others, including Klein, began the self-knighted process of doubling as park supervisors, clearing the space of weeds and random debris to make way for soil beds lined with mulch. As one does, Klein has already created a Substack for the project that will publish updates and field comments around the park project. And we must say: The Mission Greenway does have a certain ring to it.

Klein was also astute in researching why such strangely impractical plots of land like Parcel 36 exist in San Francisco, particularly in the areas of SoMa and the Mission District. The tech founder, who once installed speed bumps in his neighborhood after learning it would take the city years to install them, found that Southern Pacific Railroad that bisected the neighborhood for a century began slicing and dicing these neighborhoods of San Francisco in the late 1890s.  Alas, this has created a patchwork quilt of irregular, sharp-angled plots that are difficult to build on.

For years, Parcel 36 existed as free parking spaces for nearby residents who shared access to the gated area. Now, it could become something of a community park.

Instances of neighbors rallying together to reclaim beautiful bits of San Francisco isn’t historically uncommon. Before residents on Napier Lane banded together to improve the Filbert Steps, it housed a growing trash heap that mounded atop Telegraph Hill like a metastatic tumor. (These same people literally set fire to the pile, with permission from the city, to rid themselves of the eyesore.) To this day, there are still community gardening days that happen on the 22nd Street Jungle Stairs Street Steps in the Castro.

When we give spaces back to communities, they have a track record of evolving into gorgeous, beguiling, wonderous things; an amble down the JFK Promenade is perhaps our city’s most poignant example of this at this current juncture in time and space. This said: It’s important that communities, too, have input into what becomes of these spaces.

For an affluent white male in a majoritively Hispanic neighborhood, not to mention one containing 17% of households that sit below the poverty line, to adamantly proclaim a space should be a park before housing seems suss. Decisions like this, especially amid a worsening housing crisis and the widening wage gap, should be cemented by an engaged community cohort that all represents its most disenfranchised and vulnerable members. Not by a single individual or small group of friends and family, no matter how objectively altruistic their intentions are.

“You know, I support more housing,” reads a tweet in a sixteen-part thread from Klein on the Mission Greenway project. “But I also believe that a livable city must be interlocking fingers of built things and growing things. The Mission has done a lot for housing, and it needs a fair share of green space.”


According to Klein, the gate now remains locked with additional security measures; they’re meant to help safeguard the already potted plants and beds of nutrient-dense mulch. Klein also says that the goal now is to “bring awareness to the parcel’s status and start the process to establish a use with greater benefit to the community.”

Hopefully, this all comes with widespread feedback from all sectors of the said community, as well.

Feature image: Screenshot via Google Maps

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