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BY ZACH MORTICE / PHOTOGRAPHY BY KYLE JEFFERS

Mixed-income housing alone can’t change public housing residents’ lives. So Gary Strang is putting the landscape to work.

FROM THE OCTOBER 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Correction appended.

The first thing you notice is all the cars. The Potrero Hill housing projects occupy a strange landscape divided by Jersey barriers and concrete retaining walls that carve up the site’s topography. Endless rows of cars are parked along its curving streets and in front of 62 three- and four-story barracks-style buildings that step down the steep hill. It’s the first indication that this isolated, often forgotten section of the city is not that well connected to the thriving, upscale urbanism of San Francisco that surrounds it. “The beautiful green landscape, the Corbusian dream, just becomes parking,” says Gary Strang, FASLA, the founder of GLS Landscape | Architecture, the firm that was hired to radically reshape this place.

For Curteesha Cosby, who lives at Potrero, these parked cars are sometimes a refuge of last resort. When she’s walking her kids to school at 7:00 a.m. and hears gunfire, she hits the ground and rolls her children under them till it ends. She says she hears shooting nearly every day. She’s exhausted by Potrero. “I just want people to be happy and everyone to be safe,” she says. Her cousin was gunned down in the housing complex a few days before we spoke. Edward Hatter, the executive director of the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, a nonprofit serving the area, tells me the community is waiting for the retaliatory violence that often follows shootings.

Potrero Terrace and Annex has long been one of San Francisco’s most dysfunctional large-scale public housing developments. Residents complain of (more…)

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