S.F. stairway transformed to a showcase of sustainability 

click to enlarge Kay and Fred Curry take a stroll through the gardens that make up Bengal Alley, which will debut Saturday. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Kay and Fred Curry take a stroll through the gardens that make up Bengal Alley, which will debut Saturday.

After many years, a stairway in a neighborhood west of Mount Davidson that had been overgrown and useless for getting to the Muni bus stop at the foot of the pathway will reopen.

Bengal Alley, in the Sherwood Forest neighborhood, is one of dozens of staircases throughout The City that are the responsibility of nearby landowners for maintenance and upkeep, much like sidewalks and trees.

Kay Curry, steward of the staircase and member of Friends of Bengal Alley, said she wasn’t aware that she and her neighbors were expected to take care of the stairs when she moved into her home on Lansdale Avenue 20 years ago.

“We were actually warned not to do anything to it because it could become a liability,” the 67-year-old said.

Over time, though, she said, the staircase became overgrown with weeds and shrubs and strewn with trash. In 2004, a landslide took out the bottom half of the stairway, forcing the Department of Public Works to block access because of safety concerns.

Then in 2009, a neighbor requested that The City put some money toward fixing the staircase to make it accessible for residents to reach both Lansdale Avenue and Miraloma Drive. The improved access would also allow people to reach the 43-Masonic bus stop at the bottom of the stairs.

After the neighbor’s request, the four homeowners were told of their responsibility.

Curry said she wanted to make the stairway space both sustainable and permeable for better drainage. For help, the Currys turned to those who knew something about sustainable “permaculture,” including David Cody, who helped co-found the Hayes Valley Farm, and Katy Broker-Bullick, a designer at Integrated Habitats.

“The idea is reviving the public plaza,” Broker-Bullick said. “It’s not just about the site and learning to connect with nature. To me, it’s also connecting with the community and what it means to build resiliency.”

The result is a zigzagging walkway that features permeable steps, edible plants and a bench halfway up the stairs.

At the top half of the staircase, the neighbors even kept stones that made up the original staircase.

“They are Bengal Alley,” Curry said.

To celebrate the hard work, an opening party will be held at the staircase Saturday. Curry said she is happy to see this part of the process completed.

“It’s been challenging, it’s been fun, it’s been frustrating and it’s been a real learning experience,” Curry said. “But the work at a garden is never done.”

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