Academy of Art University student revitalizes abandoned lot in San Francisco

Ridge Lane after the redesign. Photo: The Academy of Art UniversityRidge Lane after the redesign.
Photo: The Academy of Art University

Before Nahal Sohbati and the neighbors of Ingleside banded together, Ridge Lane was just another one of the City of San Francisco’s 1,500 plus vacant lots.

The 15-feet wide path was an “orphan” space that was original plotted out to be a street but its meager width caused it to remain abandoned for almost a century. The stretch of space became a dangerous location where robbery, assault, loitering and dumping of garbage occurred frequently.

Residents would use the trail of exposed rocks and trampled weeds as a shortcut, risking the hazards to reach local transit hubs.

Ridge Lane before the renovation. Photo: The Academy of Art UniversityRidge Lane before the renovation.
Photo: The Academy of Art University

Believing that a comprehensive design could reduce crime while improving the area, 10 neighbors worked along with Sohbati to explore design solutions. During the design process for Parcel 1, which served as the pilot project for the remaining parcels, monthly meetings were held where a diverse group of locals gathered to discuss concerns and desires.

Because of the location and sheltered southern exposure of Ridge Lane, the space is popular for the butterfly mating behavior called “hill-topping.” This is where butterflies gather at the highest point of their local habitat to find a mate. Despite the extensive urban development in the area, there remains a diverse population of butterflies there.

The presence of this natural butterfly habitat became a guiding principal for the conceptual design. The pathway is an abstraction of the venation pattering found on butterfly wings, creating pockets of space for visitors while maintaining a straight line of movement through the space.

Water conscious natives and well-adapted non-natives were installed for their ecological value as well as year-round interest.

The construction of the space was finished in June 2016 by Catmex Construction and Maintenance. Since its opening, planting days and butterfly workshops have been held at Ridge Lane. A mixture of visitors from all ages frequent the space and features like seating and a bulletin board help encourage spontaneous social interactions.

Residents participated in planting days after the project was completed. Photo: The Academy of Art UniversityResidents participated in planting days after the project was completed.
Photo: The Academy of Art University

This project earned Sohbati an American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Student Award in the category of Community Service after she spent three years leading the project.

Sohabti is the second Academy of Art University student in two years to win an ASLA award.

“This award is a testament to Nahal’s ability to listen to the constituents of her project, work effectively with various with various governing agencies, and utilize her energetic, creative and engaging personality for productive and nuanced design work, problem-solving, and graphic presentation,” said Dr. Elisa Stephens, president of The Academy of Art University. “Nahal’s award also speaks to the true quality of the faculty, and what a student can achieve if they take advantage of the resources available to his or her department.”

Check out a video about the project here.

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