How a "mad viking" saved a crime-ridden park in San Francisco

There's some good information about square-foot gardening in this neat video about Peter Vaernet, the "Mad Viking" who turned a beautiful 7-acre park from a crime nest into a terrific multi-use community area.

Vaernet said one of the ways he got rid of the criminal element was by bringing lots of women and children into the park. The criminals were too embarrassed to behave badly in front of women and children, he explained, so they went away.

Meet the "Mad Viking," Peter Vaernet. He almost single-handedly saved one of San Francisco's least known pocket parks from a scourge of drug abuse, blood sport and murder.

Now Brooks Park is a thriving open space with a community garden, native plants, and sweeping views of the entire city.

Victory of the Mad Viking, San Francisco


  1. Techno Viking FTW!

    totally was hoping for Techno Viking mash up baddies to save a park.

  2. That’s kind of genius.

    I love any anti-crime tactic that involves playing on criminals’ decency.

  3. Awesome.

    Kind of the reverse “broken window syndrome,” or the good side of “keeping up with the Joneses.” My parents did this accidentally once, by fixing up a house. Having a freshly-painted, well-kept house nearby compelled a bunch of the neighbors to start taking care of their own.

    Maybe we need gangs of mothers and children to start invading violent neighborhoods.

  4. If by, “sweeping views of the entire city,” they mean, “a section of Park Merced and Daly City,” then I agree wholeheartedly.

    1. the view extends to most of the coastline on the west, to Mt. Davidson and Mt. Sutro, and even downtown/East Bay through the trees.

  5. Safety should be a right. But in reality, it’s more of a luxury that only rich people can afford. In SF, you pay for your safety. If you can afford Twin Peaks, you’re fine. If all you can afford is Hunter’s Point, then try not to get shot or abused by a cop.

    When the problems of poor communities spill into nicer communities, and the purposed solution is to find ways to drive out the riffraff, then it’s really just glorified NIMBYism. Vaernet doesn’t appear to care who these people are or the problems they face, only that they leave and go back to where? The Tenderloin? Oakland? Anywhere else. Just NIMBY.

    Also the way he describes the “crime” (pitbulls!!! two murders back in the 80’s) seems like hyperbole. You could say that about nearly every park in the city.

    I’m fine with cracking down on violence and beatifying parks – if that’s all it is. But there is a growing movement in SF in favor of hardcore gentrification (i.e. homeless sweeps of GG park and the recently defeated sit/lie ban) that is aimed at making the poor simply less visible. In other words, let the homeless live by the train tracks or under freeway overpasses, but keep them off Haight Street, Lower Market, Civic Center, the Wharf, North beach and above all GG Park.

    It should also be noted that there’s a fair amount of racists in SF who tend to see every dark-skinned person in the park as a potential gang-member. I don’t know if Vaernet fits that description or not. But I know he’ll have no shortage of those types supporting his efforts.

    All I want is for our parks to be welcoming of all people – including obnoxious youths, crazies, homeless people, drug addicts, hippies, and various undesirable creeps – because frankly, these people aren’t going away, and they have every right to hang out in the park alongside nice clean families. For example, “Hippy Hill” in GG Park works fine, and it’s right beside a playground.

    If we are attempting to drive certain seedy elements out of public space in SF, can we at least start with C.W. Nevius?

    1. i made the video and blogged it at

      i’m sympathetic to your position about chasing off “unwanteds” in public spaces, and i’m confident it’s not the case with Peter that he’s suspicious of “dark-skinned” folk or is just a rabid gentrifier.

      however, it is his backyard, and he can be found at the park almost every day pulling weeds and making improvements. and if you read more of the history of the park in my post, you’ll find that it wasn’t just the *presence* of pitbulls, but that there was actual pitbull fighting in this park.

      i’ve visited the park several times over the past month and there’s usually no one there, save the occasional dog walker. but the last time i was there i encountered several non-white 420ers who seemed neither shady nor particularly worried that an ethnic cleansing blonde guy was gonna jump out of the bushes and chase them off.

      Peter has the most inclusive philosophy i’ve encountered in a long time. he does have a strong “personal responsibility” ethic that tends to shrug off “upbringing” as a rationalization for criminal behavior, but that’s not in itself an indictment.

      he has always had an unqualified welcoming demeanor that begs people to use what he’s built. but don’t take my word for it. go visit it yourself if you’re in the city.

      1. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I realize I’m a bit touchy about this. It’s nice to hear that your efforts are aimed at safety and not gentrification. I think I’d probably read one to many Nevius articles (he’d published one the same day “Fight brews with bogeymen of North Beach” involving pitbulls). If I accidentally was lumping you with folks like him, I apologize.

        I certainly am opposed to dog-fighting. It’s just that some people (not you) have been using every extreme report of pitbull behavior (like Kiki) to try to ban the dogs outright. I am pitbull owner and am opposed to that.

        “Peter has the most inclusive philosophy i’ve encountered in a long time. ”
        Wonderful. That’s mainly what I’m concerned with.

        “he does have a strong “personal responsibility” ethic that tends to shrug off “upbringing” as a rationalization for criminal behavior, but that’s not in itself an indictment.”
        Well, I do think we should be “rational”. But I don’t mean to excuse criminal or abusive behavior. I just feel that until certain socio-economic problem are dealt with, it will remain a predictable reality. It like obesity, surely no one can deny the importance of “personal responsibility”. But at the same time no one can deny that our culture of fast food is also a culprit. We need a mix of “personal responsibility” and “societal responsibility”. Perhaps you park is a good example of that. Sorry for calling you NIMBYists, but it is a growing issue in SF (pot clubs, chain stores, sex shops, banning Halloween in the Castro, homeless in GG Park, bikers at the Ferry building, attempting to ban B2B etc…)

    2. Safety should be a right? No. You don’t have the right to be safe. You have the right to breathe and attempt to pursue your particular happiness so long as it does not infringe upon another’s happiness.

      No. Safety is not a right.

  6. Vimeo doesn’t work for me these days, so sorry if he answers my question in the video: How do you motivate mothers and children to go in a park whith drug dealers and pit bull fights?

    1. Hi Teapunk: You will notice that most City Parks have only basketball, baseball and soccer….all activities for younger males. If we in addition add bocce ball, outdoor concrete ping pong tables, chess/checker tables, community vegetable gardens, children’s playgrounds (no adults allowed without children) volleyball, badminton and other social activities that all ages and both sexes can participate in, you will then attract larger numbers of grandparents, mothers with children and all ages of neighbors. When we establish these types of “inclusive” & universally attractive activities, you will thus see a broader spectrum of citizens come out to enjoy our parks in a more representative sample. Much mutual teaching to all people present can then occur about the various types of activities/games in the park, which will lead to the creation of more local neighborhood village meeting places. The SF Rec & Park Dept should give it more of a try with more self-directed activities (e.g.outdoor ping pong, community gardening) made available to all ages at most of our parks. e,g see:

  7. Some really interesting answers here – especially the point about creating facilities for sporting activities that can be fun for multiple ages in addition to facilities that generally attract young men.

    Not sure if any of you are on Quora, but I’ve posted Teapunk’s question for more discussion. It would be great to see your comments and questions there as well.

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