Tamara Walker is the Outreach Manager for the Buchanan Mall Initiative at Citizen Film, a non-profit documentary media organization and an Engage San Francisco community partner, based in the Western Addition.
On Saturday, April 14th, Citizen Film, Community Grows, the Rosa Parks Senior Center and a team of neighborhood volunteers will be rolling up our sleeves to plant, mulch, and clean up the gardens of the Buchanan Mall.
You may be wondering: what is a documentary media company doing organizing a volunteer garden day?
Since 2014, we’ve been working with residents of the Western Addition neighborhood, city agencies, and local non-profits to re-imagine the Buchanan Mall, a five-block park cutting through public housing near our office. Once unsafe and underused, the Buchanan Mall is becoming a connective point for the neighborhood, an example of unity and community storytelling.
As documentary filmmakers, we’ve often tackled social justice issues and used storytelling to advocate for equitable solutions to community problems. Creative placemaking — working to make a place better for all people who inhabit and use it — has been an exciting evolution of that practice. Through a process of collaborative documentary storytelling, the community arrived at a vision of what the park could be — a vision rooted in the collective memory of what the neighborhood once had been.
Residents have begun reclaiming ownership of their space by stewarding the community gardens along the Mall. We’ve partnered with Community Grows, the Rosa Parks Senior Center and Collective Impact to gather stories about the neighborhood’s history of growing food and feeding the community as a form of activism These gardens can do more than nourish the community; they are steps towards self-sufficiency and greater social justice.
The Western Addition was once a home and thriving cultural center for African-Americans, but the community remains scarred from urban renewal that has been repeatedly forced upon it since the 1950’s, displacing thousands of residents, shattering the local economy and engendering distrust. The films that we co-create with the community, the media and garden installations on the Mall, future murals, and media – these are all essential in keeping the community’s people, voices, and hopes front and center as another round of redevelopment looms. By co-creating films with local residents, and by actively soliciting and heeding their feedback, the community can take control of its own narrative.