The Demonstration Gardens is a legacy collection of plants originating almost 45 years ago on the rooftop of the former Shih Yu-Lang Central YMCA located at 220 Golden Gate Avenue (now Kelly Cullen Center). It’s a part of the history of San Francisco and has been a staple at UC Hastings for the last decade.
Now, to make room for a new LEED Platinum academic building (which brings UC Hastings closer to becoming the most sustainable college campus in the country by 2025), the Demonstration Gardens continues its legacy at McCoppin Hub and throughout the Tenderloin neighborhood.
The original garden collection at the Demonstration Gardens was significantly stewarded by those experiencing the inception of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. “People stricken with the disease, even before we knew what it was called, were working in the garden as a practical way to heal themselves, organize each other, and build family,” says Kasey Asberry, Director of the Demonstration Gardens and Sustainable UC Hastings.
It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that the Demonstration Gardens first became a fixture at UC Hastings through a partnership with the YMCA that called for a new building to be built at the 220 Golden Gate Avenue location. “That building plan didn’t happen, but it did result in the Gardens being transferred from the roof of the YMCA to 333 Golden Gate Avenue,” recalls Kasey. “At the time, 333 Golden Gate was just a parking lot paved over the remnants of a torn-down auto shop with trash accumulating along the fence. But the needs of the community coupled with the presence of open space offered amazing potential.”
Four years later, the Demonstration Gardens had sheet-mulched much of the lot producing soil “so rich like chocolate.” The Gardens environmental justice program, which taught hundreds of residents, was incorporated into the Long Range Campus Plan and Kasey was brought on to the UC Hastings staff as Sustainability Director. As it functions today, the Gardens is primarily a green livelihood training program that helps to build community relations and create a cool, green space in the heart of the City. Members of the neighborhood, including seniors, teens, disabled adults, formerly incarcerated people, and anyone who wishes to participate work side-by-side to take care of the Gardens and other parks in the Tenderloin. “I hope it’s a safe haven for everyone,” says Kasey. “We work with people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. The only precondition is that all of our programs have to be free.”
With a new academic building breaking ground at 333 Golden Gate Avenue, the Demonstration Gardens is moving and continuing its programming throughout the Tenderloin and at a new location at the corner of McCoppin Street and Valencia Street called McCoppin Hub. “We’ve moved our collection of ornamentals and our historic collection to McCoppin. However, we’re not leaving the center of the Tenderloin. We continue to offer Tranquility Zones at Boeddeker Park, Turk & Hyde Park and throughout the neighborhood,” notes Kasey. “Moving to McCoppin Hub is a great gift as it is right in view of the LGBTQ Center. This links the collection to its historical presence established at the YMCA. That’s a connection that really resonates with our mission of honoring people who find a way to organize in the midst of great tragedy.”
The Demonstrations Gardens was welcomed to its new home at McCoppin Hub due to collaboration between the City and County of San Francisco and the office of District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim. Alumni Judge Kathleen Kelly ’84 and Phil Ginsburg ’93, General Manager, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department offered significant encouragement and support.
“This was a perfect match,” says Phil Ginsburg. “We are grateful to UC Hastings for its commitment to environmental justice and engagement. The Demonstration Gardens will reinvigorate McCoppin Hub with the same community vitality that rooted it in the Tenderloin for the past decade. And whether here, or in the Tenderloin or in Civic Center Commons, it has been a pleasure to re-engage with my alma mater.”
Kasey agrees with Phil that these sustainability efforts at UC Hastings demonstrate the college’s depth of commitment to environmental justice. “I want to underline the degree of support UC Hastings is putting forward for environmentally sound development. Supporting the Demonstration Gardens and building it into strategic planning for the campus are only part of the significant institutional investments that are going to pay off in unprecedented ways. This investment paired with giving students the opportunity to do hands-on work with their community for a more sustainable, livable neighborhood is what authentic environmental justice means for us.”