Take a walk around San Francisco, and on some blocks you’ll notice strips of green space on either side of you, running parallel to the sidewalk. This landscaping does more than just add beauty – it helps prevent an ugly problem: overflowing sewers.

Like many old cities, San Francisco sends its sewage and stormwater through the same pipes. So during heavy rains, water rushes off sidewalks and down storm drains, and the system can overflow – sending untreated sewage into the bay.

It’s a problem that’s expected to get worse as climate change brings more extreme weather. So a group called “Friends of the Urban Forest” is taking action – helping communities replace squares of San Francisco’s wide sidewalks with soil and plants.

These mini-gardens absorb rain, so less water rushes off into storm drains and sewers. And the benefits don’t end there.

Assistant program director Karla Nagy says the sidewalk garden projects are community driven, so they bring neighbors together and provide an opportunity to share information.

Nagy: “Educating people about the environment and the benefits of sidewalk landscapes is I think really important.”

”‘Sidewalk Click To Tweet

With each new sidewalk garden, this initiative is growing awareness about climate change solutions.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo source: Courtesy of Friends of the Urban Forest.

More Resources
The Sidewalk Garden Project
Concrete Jungle: Urban Gardening Takes Over Your Block

Diana Madson

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...