Friday, November 16, 2012

Jeanette Hill Q&A by Kelsey Ransick

The first drawing of the Quesada
median strip by Jeanette Hill, 2004
We remember Karl and Annette as the first to start gardening on the median strip running up the 1700 block of Quesada Avenue in Bayview Hunters Point. But lots of people were beginning to come together at that time, and some of them were good with plants. Jeanette Hill was one of those people. 
Drawing on her professional skills, Jeanette drew the first site plan of the median strip. She and her husband Dennis were quick to lend a hand whenever anything was needed, helping set a new tone in the community. 

Deja Hill in September of 2004 when
Quesada Gardens was really taking off. 
Courtesy Chronicle/Liz Hafalia
Deja Hill, Jeanette and Dennis' daughter, was pictured on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle when journalist Pat Yollin broke the story about Quesada Gardens. While the family does not currently live on the block, they stay connected with neighbors and are proud of their contribution to Quesada Gardens Initiative.

How would you describe the neighborhood before QGI began? What were the most noticeable changes, both in the physical nature of the neighborhood and in the residents?

My family has lived on Quesada since 1969 when my grandparents bought their first home for themselves and their 11 children. The first day they moved in, there was a riot in the streets. There were other incidents that they recall such as cars frequently broken into, neighborhood kids throwing rocks, and store thefts.

When I bought the house from my grandparents in 2001, I remember seeing trash, oil, weeds, and a neglected piece of land along with the beautiful date palm trees that I remembered as a child. A lot of people loitered in the median which was used as a parking lot and as a place to dump garbage like mattresses, TVs, appliances, and other miscellaneous items that Sunset Scavenger would normally not pick up. People knew DPW would pick up things like that, so this dumping was almost a daily occurrence.

When a few neighbors decided to make a change, that change gradually happened through using plants to bring the neighborhood together. I met Annette and Karl when I first moved in. We began digging holes and turning the soil over to grow plants.

I worked for Friends of the Urban Forest at the time so I tried to organize a tree planting. But at that time, I was only able to get a few people signed up. Involvement from the neighborhood grew, and from then on the median was respected.

How did you get involved with QGI? What made you want to get involved?
Deja Hill near her childhood home
waves from the garden her mom
helped plant.  Photo: Jeffrey Betcher
I got involved with QGI because I was tired of the violence. And as a landscape architect, I wanted to see a pretty picture when I looked outside. My daughter was just born, and I wanted her to be in a safe place. Before I moved to Quesada, I helped organize tree plantings in Visitacion Valley, and liked how it improved the area.

What are some of your favorite memories from your involvement in QGI?

We were involved for about 3 years. Some of that time was when QGI was informal. One of my fondest memories is seeing Karl every morning walking up and down the street picking up trash and holding the peace. He knew everyone. He always had kind words to say, and always made me laugh.

Why do you think QGI succeeded? Why do you think other neighborhoods wanted to emulate QGI's progress, and how did QGI help them do so?

QGI succeeded because the residents all worked together. Fortunately Quesada has many talented people living there who contributed greatly to the cause and who had experience in publicity, grant writing, design, gardening, persistence, and love for people. It was not easy at first because change sometimes causes trouble. I remember feeling a little scared when I dug my first hole and got stares from people sitting in the median near 3rd Street. They didn't seem happy at first, but weeks later, when the plant grew, I remember getting compliments. It felt great.

This interview was conducted by Kelsey Ransick in November 2010 as part of a University of San Francisco McCarthy Center service-learning partnership with Quesada Gardens Initiative.

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