[Aerial view of Golden Gate Park, photo via charmed.wikia.com]
Is urban agriculture an appropriate use of city parks? This is a question we'll hear more often in coming years, as interest in urban farming grows, and advocates try to identify open lands within city limits. I have advocated for it in the past, writing about urban ag in parks here. Several months ago, at the Mayor's Forum on Urban Agriculture in San Francisco, an audience member asked the candidates about the potential for farming in Golden Gate Park. The subsequent debate got me thinking a little more deeply about the issue. Several of the candidate's responded categorically that farming should not be allowed in the park, citing the park's Master Plan. And I for one agree.
Well sort of.
But let's start at the beginning. It is sometimes erroneously believed that Golden Gate (GG) Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the famous designer of New York's Central Park. By the time Olmsted was asked to design GG Park, he had turned away from the idea of a singular large park, and his suggestion to San Francisco was a chain of smaller parks, similar to the Emerald Necklace in Boston. His recommendation was rejected, in favor of the Central Park model, and the park we have today was designed by William Hammond Hall and later John Mc Laren. Both men agreed with Olmstead's naturalistic prefernces, feeling a park should be a place apart from the city, where people could enjoy 'nature'. William Hammond Hall is quoted as defending the open spaces, saying "The value of a park consists of its being a park, and not a catch-all for almost anything which misguided people may wish in it."