SAN FRANCISCO — Each weekend in San Francisco for the past six months a different street has been closed to traffic to allow residents to come out and play. It’s a program called “Sunday Streets” and it has been wildly popular. Now, some are proposing the idea as a permanent way to help out one the city’s most downtrodden neighborhoods.

“You know, it’s a rough place and a lot of people can’t take it, mentally,” said Lewis Murphy, a crossing guard with the city’s “Safe Passage” program. He sees the problem every time he works a shift helping people on the streets of the Tenderloin and he especially worries about the kids there.

“There’s a lot of mentally ill people and, if I was a child and I had to walk past people doing drugs or drinking or passed out on the sidewalk — yeah, I’d be a little bit leery,” Murphy said.

“You do it one block at a time and, if you can show what you can do on one block, why can’t you do it on another block and a third block and a fourth block?” said Saint Anthony CEO Nils Behnke. “So many people are so downtrodden — they’re really down on the city, down on the Tenderloin and I think we all need to be the change we want to see and actually make change happen. Then a lot can happen. So, I think we can dream big.”

The money for the project would come from both the city and a public fundraising drive. Organizers say they don’t have a timeline for completion but they hope the first phase could be finished within six months.

Up to 3,500 kids call the Tenderloin District home but you rarely see them because they play in a few small courtyards and parks, fenced off from the grim realities in the city’s most desperate neighborhood. WATCH the news story on

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Michael Vuong from the Boys and Girls Club in the Tenderloin explained just how cramped things can get.

“I believe there’s a statistic that says, for the amount of people that live in the Tenderloin, there’s, like, a yoga-mat-size of open space for them. And that’s ridiculous! We need space for kids to just be kids,” he said.

When they close a street to cars and let people play, as they did Sunday, it’s a big deal for the neighborhood. Now a coalition of community groups is proposing to permanently restrict traffic on the 100 block of Golden Gate Avenue and install green space and benches and a play area — a place for people of all ages to come out, relax and have a little breathing room.

“Creating an entire block’s worth of open space exponentially expands that opportunity for everybody here,” said Katy Birnbaum, Livable City’s Sunday Streets director. “So, it’s going to be a game-changer, a complete game-changer to have the Golden Gate Greenway.”

Birnbaum said there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. The fire department says the overhead transit lines have to be moved. But if and when it’s completed, those who are organizing the effort say the greenway could provide something the Tenderloin has lacked: hope that things there can change.

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