Student Engagement in Climate Justice

Creating a Haven in St. Mark’s Square

May 27, 2023

man hands child flowers to plant in garden

St. Mark’s Square is a parcel of land in the heart of San Francisco. Located adjacent to the Tenderloin, Nob Hill, Fillmore, and the Civic Center neighborhoods, the square provides green space in a dense, urban area. The square is located next to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, and encompasses an affordable senior living facility (a ministry of St. Mark’s), a large auditorium, and non-profit office spaces.

For her project with the Community Organizing for Climate Justice as Love in Action class, Shannon Valenti Cheng, a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and a Board Member of the St. Mark’s Square Board, set out to “activate” the square. Through interviews with residents of the senior living facility, congregation members, teachers at nearby schools, and residents of nearby apartment towers, Shannon received feedback that many community members didn’t find the square welcoming, needed better places to sit, or even didn’t know they were welcome to use the square. With this feedback, Shannon and her team developed three goals: 1) make the square more welcoming, 2) increase awareness about the square, and 3) create a vibrant intergenerational campus. The long-term goal is to develop additional affordable housing for seniors and families, beginning with 90-unit building on the site of a current parking lot.

St. Mark’s had already taken a hard look at the history of the square in order to honor the history of the land and those who had lived there before. St. Mark’s Square Board worked with the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone and the St. Mark’s Racial Equity Team to write a Land Acknowledgement. And the team worked with mural artist Jane Kim from Ink Dwell Studios to create a visual interpretation of the Land Acknowledgement, a mural titled, “All Creatures Great and Small”. The team also learned about the racist “Redevelopment” policies in San Francisco in the 1960s that pushed many African Americans out of their homes in the neighborhoods around St. Mark’s and contributed to the current housing crisis facing many San Franciscans.

For her project in the Community Organizing for Climate Justice and Faith class, Shannon organized an Earth Day celebration in the square to increase awareness of the square, create a more welcoming space for people and animals with native pollinator gardens, and build community power with the long-term goal of building more affordable housing. More than 60 people from the congregation and surrounding neighborhoods came to attend a forum on native plants and join in the Earth Day celebration. Next steps will include continuing the organizing cycle of listening, research, action, evaluation, and visioning to continue building community power to develop more affordable housing.

St. Mark’s Square’s Land Acknowledgement

St. Mark’s Square sits on the unceded ancestral homeland of the RamaytushOhlone peoples, who are the original inhabitants of what is called the San Francisco Peninsula and who were the first to gather, love, grow, celebrate, cry, and sing in this place. We acknowledge and mourn the exploitation of the RamaytushOhlone peoples and the destruction of their ancestors, homeland, and culture.

We honor the RamaytushOhlone for their enduring commitment to this land, Mother Earth, and to all of Creation. We honor their ancestors and all other members of their communities. We value Indigenous wisdom in working toward the healing of creation.

 With God’s help, we strive to grow toward right relationships with Indigenous people and the Earth. With openness of heart and spirit, we hold ourselves accountable to respect and steward the land, its grasses and trees and creatures great and small.