Charles Higgins: Seeking the Town Square

The Richmond District is a big place. From the Pacific Ocean, it spans four miles eastward to the Laurel Heights and University of San Francisco neighborhoods. To find the Town Square, or heart of the place, is an interesting challenge.

What is the Town Square? It depends on who you ask, but it might be a place where residents gather. It's a place to play, read, rest and talk. It's a place where people feel good about the community and where they celebrate the values of the place, even if that celebration is a quiet one. It is also a place where people gather to consult and comfort each other when the community faces a pressing issue or crisis.

Out here on 30th Avenue, where the Richmond District Neighborhood Center (RDNC) is perched above Golden Gate Park and below George Washington High School, the heart of the Richmond, our Town Square, might be near the Balboa Theater. Toward the Presidio, it may be around Angelina's Deli or on Clement Street, near the 4-Star Theater. At Clement and Third Avenue, most people at the Sunday farmers' market would think they were at the heart of the Richmond. Indeed, everyone is right. The heart is where you are and where you feel it.

Being the "neighborhood center," as RDNC is called, is a challenge in a district as large and dispersed as this. I think of our work as the weaving of community fabric, which has many different threads of varying textures and colors. It is woven into patterns that reflect what people here value and how their values nestle into place.

The Richmond District is home to a number of cultures, languages and nationalities. Though we may not speak the same languages, often we share the same values. As members of this west-side community, many of us want to connect with each other and promote the values that we share. We are drawn to the natural beauty of the Presidio to the north, Golden Gate Park to the south and the ocean to the west. People will list a variety of other things they value, such as safety and clean streets, but the challenge comes in connecting with each other to share values.

At the RDNC, we offer a platform for people to connect with each other and with the community. At four elementary schools, we connect with kids starting in kindergarten. These connections continue as students move to middle and high schools. We operate the Richmond Village Beacon at Roosevelt and Presidio middle schools and Washington High School to support the development of socially- and emotionally-healthy teens, adults and seniors, who continue to connect with the community.

In September, we will offer programs in the historic clubhouse at the Fulton Playground, located in the block between 27th and 28th avenues and Fulton and Cabrillo streets. This site expands our platform and offers neighbors another place to access the heart of the Richmond through arts, after-school activities, yoga and cooking. A half block from Golden Gate Park, we plan to engage volunteers in stewardship of the neglected sidewalk on the park side of Fulton Street while building a corps of people to help us deliver food to homebound seniors and further our reach in the community.

Finding the Town Square can mean choosing to engage with your community. We invite you to connect with RDNC and your community on Sept. 2 at the Fulton Playground; Sept. 14 at the Jog in the Fog; and Oct. 2 for the annual RDNC dinner.

When you connect with your neighbors, the Town Square is revealed where you are.

For more information about RDNC, visit the website at or stop by 741 30th Ave. Charles Higgins is the executive director of RDNC.