Connecting San Francisco with Nature in the City

April showers bring May flowers! And butterflies too, like the Western Tiger Swallowtail and Green Hairstreak Butterfly! And endangered ecosystems blooming and thriving in the middle of Northern California’s densely-populated San Francisco Bay area!

As you can tell, we’re a little excited to share the lifegiving work of Nature in the City, restoring biological diversity, nurturing natural habitats and so much more, across San Francisco and its surrounding communities.

A well-grounded organization 

Along with accelerating ecological initiatives in San Francisco, Nature in the City, (a customer of our sister company, NumberGarage,) also cultivates community and connection between nature and neighbors. As a grassroots non-profit, figuratively and literally, Nature in the City (NTC) is transforming fragile ecosystems throughout swaths and pockets of San Francisco’s metropolitan landscape. 

And, spoiler alert, they’ve already helped spare a locally-endangered species from extinction! 

We had the privilege of chatting with Nature in the City Donor Relations Director, Bette McDonnell, who shared more about NTC and its extraordinary efforts across San Francisco.

“The Irish have a history of ‘worshiping’ nature and growing up there, that came to mean simply revering that which gives all of us life,” she says. Finding “ways to connect people with the beauty and vital importance of nature for our joy and pleasure, for our ecosystem’s health, and ultimately, human health,” motivates her work with Nature in the City.

Branching out with strategic partnerships

Started in 2005, Founding Director Peter Brastow wanted “to build, strengthen and unify the movement to conserve San Francisco’s natural areas and biodiversity.” He also wanted to “catalyze ecological restoration and stewardship in San Francisco by connecting urban people and nature, starting locally.” Amber Hasselbring assumed executive responsibility in 2006, strengthening and developing NTC’s high-value partnerships. Peter now contributes to creating and implementing the City’s local Climate Action Plan, as the Senior Biodiversity Coordinator for the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

The San Francisco Department of Environment is one of many key partners working together with NTC and other like-minded entities to make the mission of environmental stewardship a reality.

“We do pride ourselves on having great working partnerships with a lot of these pretty large institutional organizations as well as other smaller nonprofits. Because we are so small, by necessity we have to partner with others. The more we partner, the more collective impact we have,” says Bette. Nature in the City’s prolific work is powered by a team of just five staff members and a multitude of volunteers whose passion for environmental responsibility compels their generous contributions to the cause. 

Putting fragile habitats on the map

Though small in staff, Nature in the City’s labors are multifaceted and mighty in influence. The Nature in the City Map is the “final product of a three-year-long, multi-agency collaboration, in which community members and partners worked together” to create the informative and visually stunning city map. The map highlights “trails, natural areas, and local species of the San Francisco Peninsula” and is “both artistic and scientific.” It allows viewers to “learn the stories of earth-shaking forces, charismatic species, and changing urban habitats,” as it guides their exploration across San Francisco. 

They’ve distributed approximately 10,000 of the double-sided maps, (with geological information on the back,) to the San Francisco Unified School District alone. Teachers use the maps in online classrooms, and as one of NTC’s partners, the San Francisco Public Library shares it as well, contributing to the distribution of well-over 100,000 maps since the first edition in 2008.

The inception and production of the map transpired together with the Exploratorium, California Academy of Sciences and others. It is also available for sale at various booksellers, partner retailers, and on the NTC website. 

A unifying endeavor

Nature in the City empowers “local communities—people of all ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic strata by organizing habitat restoration stewardship projects; leading nature walks & events; offering habitat gardening services; and providing tools and educational resources for people to participate in citizen science and lifelong learning.” 

It’s a uniquely unifying endeavor, bringing people together across demographics to preserve San Francisco’s precious fragile ecosystems.

“There’s so much power to effect change starting exactly where you’re at,” says Bette. “We recognize the interdependence of humans, animals, wildlife, and biodiversity. It’s all exquisitely interconnected when you see the whole chain of events.”

There’s no way we can fully do them justice, so we’ll highlight just a few of Nature in the City’s exceptional projects. 

BART/MUNI Canopy Living Roofs 

In partnership with the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system and the San Francisco Municipal Transit Organization, Nature in the City is in the process of designing and installing Living Roofs on station canopies on Market Street.

Little known fact: Market Street’s infrastructure is also known as a “river canyon,” in which Tiger Swallowtails once thrived. “From the butterfly’s perspective, Market Street, with its tall buildings lined with trees and nearby sun-filled plazas and parks, resembles its natural habitat: a river canyon with the butterfly’s larval food trees and nectar flowers in nearby meadows,” Bette explains.

But nectar depletion has threatened the enchanting Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly that once fluttered throughout the corridor. The Living Roof canopies will host intricate native habitats for the butterflies, birds, and other plants atop transit-stop roofs so that the Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, with its striking yellow and black-patterned wings, can again flourish in this distinctive urban terrain. Nature in the City hopes that the project can become a model for other cities and transit agencies throughout the nation. (We hope so too!)

Rooted in community

Whether a long-time resident of the Bay Area or just a visitor passing through, Nature In the City offers a wealth of exciting and immersive opportunities to experience San Francisco’s vast biodiversity.

“We have such a wide range of plants native to the area, nature walks, online and local events and corporate volunteering” (and more) which help introduce the community to the “interdependency of native plants. These plants even affect our human health. A lot of our medicines wouldn’t be used without our pollinators,” Bette mentions.

“Community is a big part of what we do, so connecting people with nature is our goal. We want people to enjoy it, love it, appreciate the beauty around them, and also to get involved and learn how they can help take climate crisis mitigation actions locally.”

Foster parenting for baby seedlings

Nature in the City’s local gardening projects teach people about propagating native plants in their own backyards. The gardening events gather individuals and families together in person, creating social opportunities while guests work together and discover more about nurturing local biodiversity.

As part of the Backyard Nursery Network, NTC invites people to come to a community garden and take native seedlings to their backyards, where participants act as foster parents to the seedlings.

First, participants water and nurture the baby seeds in a nursery. They then take them home (like toddlers,) and essentially raise the juvenile plants until they’ve reached adolescence, ready to graduate to replanting. Participants transplant them as pollinators at several specific habitat sites when they have matured into young adult plants able to survive in a new environment. With the prevalence of remote work, the project helps bring people out of isolation and encourages a more hands-on approach to caring for plants, from nursery to transplanting. Many participants become actively involved as regular guests on NTC’s nature walks and other events. 

Restoring a neighborhood troubled by toxic waste 

Under threat of development and despite historical exposure to significant environmental pollution and toxic waste, a rare native grassland has blossomed in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood in Southeastern San Francisco. In conjunction with community advocacy group, Friends of Palou-Phelps, Nature in the City is fighting to save it. 

And, it’s mission-critical. Due to lingering contaminants from a nearby former naval shipyard, neighbors have experienced documented health challenges like asthma, cancer, etc. over the last few decades.

A 2022 report conducted by a Civil Grand Jury for the City of San Francisco says that “In 2018, the San Francisco Department of Public Health found that Bayview Hunters Point is significantly more at risk of health and environmental catastrophes than other neighborhoods.14.27% of the neighborhood is situated within a quarter-mile of a contamination risk, and Bayview Hunters Point residents have worse health outcomes, higher maternal deaths, twice the rate of breast cancer, and three times more ‘preventable hospitalizations’ than other San Franciscans.” 

Though the City and Navy have tried to clean up the waste for over thirty years, the Bayview Hunters Point community remains in “desperate need of greenery and clean air.” Programs like the Palou Phelps Park project are advocating on behalf of this neighborhood to preserve this crucial greenspace.

Saving a species

Don’t worry, we didn’t forget about Nature in the City’s ventures to save a species! The Green Hairstreak Butterfly, “is about the size of a nickel, and a beautiful iridescent green,” explains Bette. “It’s a little jewel!”

These magical butterflies faced danger of local extinction, until Nature in the City started planting the habitats they needed to survive and reproduce. And they made a comeback! “So they’re no longer facing local extinction and we’re really proud of that.” Wow, bravo NTC! Saving a species from local-extinction is no small feat, and a win for nature is also a win for humanity!

A phone tree for Nature in the City

So what about NumberBarn and Nature in the City? We like to call NumberGarage the older sister of NumberBarn, with the same great features as NumberBarn, but multiplied to meet the “maturing” needs of small and growing businesses.

Nature in the City uses NumberGarage as their virtual business phone system, which allows their staff multiple-user access and forwards incoming calls to the cell phones of various team members. NumberGarage offers advanced features like auto-attendant menus, (sometimes known as “phone trees”) to help get callers to the right place. Bette especially appreciates NumberGarage’s convenient message notifications and technical assistance from “friendly, real human beings” when needed. (It’s true. Our real humans are always happy to assist!)

Get involved with NTC, from anywhere!

Want to get involved with the inspiring outreach of Nature in the City? You don’t have to live in San Francisco to make a difference with projects like Palou-Phelps Park and more.

For businesses, consider corporate sponsorship opportunities. Individual annual memberships also make fantastic gifts for grads, grandparents, and friends. They include earlybird invites to NTC nature walks, as well as access to some environmental policy and advocacy events (many hosted on Zoom so you can still observe from afar). Students can receive a free one-year membership just by sending NTC an email from their school email address. If you have friends in San Francisco and want to send a membership as a birthday present, NTC will send a membership packet and even include a personalized message from you.

Don’t get stuck in the weeds. Or do! 

Nature in the City also offers corporate habitat workdays where a group of employees spend a day helping plant and weed at one of their local San Francisco sites. The team enjoys time outdoors, away from technology, while helping protect biodiversity.  

Thanks NTC for everything you’re doing in San Francisco, and for demonstrating so many ways to enrich and protect our environment starting locally, like from our own backyards!

Growing your business, team, or organization? Check out scalable and advanced virtual phone system features, with budget-friendly pricing at NumberGarage!

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Written by

Melana Preston

Melana Preston is a lead Copywriter for NumberBarn and ClearHello. With her background in marketing and humanitarian work, she loves working for “a company that truly values people and meaningful connections.” When she’s not pun-tificating clever copy or dad jokes, you can find her lost behind her camera lens capturing a mountain or sunset.