How a National Forest Grew From a Derelict Alley

TEnderloin National Forest photoFair Companies/Video screen capture

Bonnie Hulkower has already explored how the Tenderloin National Forest grew from an abandoned alley, aided by the fertile imaginations of some San Francisco artists. But it's hard to get enough of this story, which shows how communities can take charge of their own surroundings, injecting both humanity and greenery into an otherwise hostile, over built environment.

Tenderloin National Forest gate photoFair Companies/Video screen capture
So I was delighted to see that for their latest episode, Fair Companies—the good people who have brought us video of teenagers building tiny, off-grid, mortgage-free homes and economically-challenged families pursuing $700 remodels—decided to pay a visit to the forest, meeting with Daryl Smith, one of the original founders of the project. They talk about how it all began, how it has evolved, and the resulting community-building that has occurred as a result.

Tenderloin National Forest courtyard photoFair Companies/Video screen capture

On one level, this is a story about the value of urban green spaces. From the successes of the High Line to the planting of a virtual orchard, there are plenty of other unusual and potentially game-changing ways to integrate nature into our cities. On another level, it's a story about people and permission. Rather than wait for funding or permits, the originators of the Tenderloin National Forest simply started planting trees and asked forgiveness later. And that's something communities (and authorities) everywhere should take note of.

This is not a plea for abandoning rules or planning restrictions. Legislation is crucial to maintaining orderly cities. It is, however, a reminder that rules will be broken. And sometimes the results of those broken rules—whether it is Banksy's graffiti or guerrilla-grafted street trees—are so beautiful and/or valuable that the powers-that-be would do well to leave it well alone, let it flourish or perhaps even offer support.

How a National Forest Grew From a Derelict Alley
The Tenderloin National Forest lies in an alleyway in urban San Francisco. There are lessons here for every city.

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