The Tenderloin is one of the city's most troubled neighborhoods, with high amounts of vagrancy, drug use and crime. One man decided to try to improve the neighborhood by adding plants and trees to a small alleyway.
"'We saw how the alley was being disrespected,' Smith said of those early years. 'It wasn't a healthy place to be, and we wanted to change that. We wanted physical and environmental safety.' With the help of fellow residents, artists and community activists, he set to work.
His approach over the decades has been consistently two-pronged. In addition to employing more conventional tactics of redefining space– from conducting surveys to lobbying city officials- he has consistently pushed boundaries rebel-style. Back in the 1980s, this meant converting Cohen Alley into a temporary performance space. The pieces of sod he and his friends dragged in to create seating littered the pavement in layers of dirt long before formal plans to change the place into a garden existed.