“It could be a novel: The Boulders of Clinton Park,” said a 30-year resident who asked to remain nameless out of fear of retaliation. Understandably so. Ever since a handful of her neighbors banded together to place 25 two-ton boulders along a troubled stretch of sidewalk, her block has received national attention and scorn from activists.
“I was actually surprised when I saw them,” she said of the boulders. “They look kind of nice.”
On September 20, Teresa Hammerl of Hoodline reported that a series of large rocks had appeared on Clinton Park, a small street studded with Edwardian apartment buildings, which lies at the border of Mission Dolores and Duboce Triangle just off Valencia.
A handful of neighbors “chipped in a few hundred dollars” to purchase the urban obstructions and then have them installed in an effort to discourage tent encampments, open air drug use, crime, and sleeping on the sidewalk.
After the story went live, homeless activists took aim at housed Clinton Park residents. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Neighbors were getting death threats, being viciously trolled specifically by activists who found their names and addresses, and being shouted at on the street.”
Then, a few days later, unidentified anti-boulder people pushed the heavy rocks onto the street, which prompted the city’s Department of Public Works to move the boulders back onto the sidewalk.
By Saturday, some of rocks returned to the street, and some remained on the sidewalk.
The rocky mess has polarized people over the correct way to remedy the city’s chronic homelessness crisis. And not everyone on Clinton Park is pleased with their neighbors’ unilateral decision to hinder sidewalks from sleeping.
“It sets a bad precedent—that a group of neighbors can decide to do this—but I understand where they’re coming from,” the anonymous resident told Curbed on Sunday. “I live on the street and I know it’s a serious problem: These guys are usually here with their stolen bikes, menacing dogs, and sometimes they’re shooting up, even in people’s doorways.”
The visibility of the city’s homelessness crisis didn’t make its way to Clinton Park until three years ago, she said. “San Francisco isn’t going to figure the problem out itself. It has to be the state and the nation working together to figure it out. This city is throwing a lot of money at the problem, which doesn’t seem to be working.”
Pablo Soriano, a five-year resident of Clinton Park, had firmer words about the hostile architecture, saying, “While I understand the frustration, I think it comes from a negative place.”
“Needles and human feces have always been an issue, but I don’t think this is the best solution,” he said. “Maybe instead of putting the time and effort of putting ugly rocks on the sidewalk, my neighbors could donate to foundations and try to get City Hall to fund more shelters, counseling, and methadone clinics.”
Three area residents refused to speak with Curbed out of fear of activist vengeance.
As of Monday, the boulders remain strewn on the sidewalk and streets. The Department of Public Works plans to remove the boulders for good. Curbed reached out to DPW for comment and will update when they reply.
While the large rocks will be no more, that still leaves a major homeless problem that still needs fixing. As Mission Local’s Joe Eskenazi pointed out, “It’s hard not to see the flashpoint at Clinton Park as an indicator of how this city’s response to its homeless crisis is failing. Failing writ large. Failing everyone.”
This isn’t the first instance of hostile architecture in San Francisco. From shortened park benches—or removing them altogether—to setting stones in sidewalk cement, the city has used anti-homeless design in an effort to dissuade our most at-risk residents. And it’s not just the city: One of the most egregious incidents was in 2015 when Saint Mary’s Cathedral installed a water system designed to drench homeless people as they slept on the church’s steps.