San Francisco's Community Stabilization
Cultural Stabilization

Cultural Districts Initiative

Photo by Dave Fayram (CC BY 2.0)

The purpose of the Cultural Districts Initiative is to celebrate and strengthen the unique cultural identities of San Francisco’s neighborhoods to preserve and promote diverse communities’ cultural assets and to ensure that residents and institutions thrive; and, to formalize partnerships between the City and communities.

Background

What is a Cultural District?

A cultural district is a geographic area or location within San Francisco that embodies a unique cultural heritage. Cultural Heritage is defined as containing a concentration of cultural and historic assets, culturally significant enterprise, arts, services, or businesses and a significant portion of its residents or people who spend time in the area, are members of a specific cultural community or ethnic group that historically has been discriminated against, displaced or oppressed.

Through a formalized, collaborative partnership between the City and communities, the mandate requires that the City coordinate resources to assist in stabilizing vulnerable communities facing, or at risk of, displacement or gentrification. If achieved, this will enable individuals, families and the businesses that serve and employ them, as well as nonprofit, community arts and educational institutions to live, work and prosper within the city. Each Cultural District is led by a community-based group with an executive director, an and advisory body, and is expected to maintain a robust community engagement and communication effort. 

Current Cultural Districts include: Japantown Cultural District, Calle 24 Latino Cultural District (in the Mission), SoMa Pilipinas – Filipino Cultural District, Transgender Cultural District (in the Tenderloin), LEATHER and LGBTQ Cultural District (in the SOMA), African American Arts and Cultural District (in the Bayview), Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, and the American Indian Cultural District (in the Mission).

Why is Creating a Cultural District Important?

The Cultural Districts program aims to bring resources in order to stabilize vulnerable communities facing or at risk of displacement or gentrification, and to preserve, strengthen and promote our cultural assets and diverse communities. The Cultural District Initiative calls on City Departments to collaborate and partner with community groups to establish a clear strategic plan to fulfill each District’s vision and goals, resulting in a Cultural History, Housing and Economic Sustainability Strategies (CHHESS) Report. Extensive community engagement and City reports, and data will inform each District’s CHHESS Report so that it can serve as a ‘roadmap’ to stabilize vulnerable communities facing, or at risk of, displacement or gentrification.

San Francisco's unprecedented housing and affordability reality has pushed neighborhood stakeholders into a state of working feverishly to stabilize their community. Coupled with historical trauma and inequities the Cultural District’s scope and vision is immense. The City acknowledges that supporting local leaders, building skills and a strong foundation in nonprofit management and financial knowledge is key to ensure success. The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) believes in supporting the Cultural Districts beyond their legislated scope of prioritizing and implementing cultural stabilization strategies and has committed to supporting the Cultural District’s leadership in achieving self-determination and the skills necessary for long term power, economic sustainability and neighborhood wellness.

The Cultural Districts Initiative is a long-term community building process with clear benchmarks and outcomes. This City and Community partnership model enables two-way education and the potential for creating new tools and innovative ideas related to cultural sustainability, access to affordable housing, environmental and artistic resilience, economic and workforce development. Ultimately, we want to improve City services, policies and narratives to be culturally responsive and support our neighborhoods to thrive.

Issues Related to the Cultural District Program

The funding needs and requests for implementation of each Cultural District strategic plans, the CHHESS Reports, far exceed the resources available through Prop E funds. There are currently seven cultural districts who have been awarded funds to develop and implement strategies and three additional proposed districts in the pipeline. As more districts are added, funding will not grow proportionate to the number of cultural districts. In other words, as more districts are added, there will be is potential for less funding per district.

Each Cultural District is unique in its capacity, its number of community-based organizations and its level of cohesion and intra-communications. Compounded with historical trauma and the stress associated with societal inequities, creating a community-wide large and diverse engagement process can be challenging and it requires support, time, resources and flexibility.

The Cultural District legislation mandates that a CHHESS Report is written within one year; this can be a challenge not only for the community but also for the City in coordinating across sectors and ensuring diverse voices and perspectives. Once approved by the full Board of Supervisors the Report guides implementation although the resources may not be available for all the strategies prioritized by the community. Upon the three-year mark, MOHCD and the Cultural District are to review and adjust the CHHESS with the same Departments and community groups that participated in the original authoring.

For Future Consideration

The ideas for future consideration that have the potential to increase community stability in San Francisco are described below. They provide a starting point for agencies, decision-makers, and community members to explore stabilization efforts and identify critical pathways forward. Based on preliminary information, staff is qualifying these ideas according to the type of task, scale of resources and level of complexity to underscore that any of these ideas would require time and additional resources not currently identified. These are not City commitments or recommendations, rather informed ideas that will require careful vetting and analysis as to their reach, resource needs, feasibility, unintended consequences, legal implications, and racial and social equity considerations.

KEY PRIORITY

Cultural District Initiative capacity

The recently formalized program of cultural districts created the opportunity to expand the capacity of existing and future cultural districts to support the community-led process as they craft their respective Cultural History, Housing and Economic Stabilization Strategies (CHHESS) and move towards its implementation. The CHHESS will strengthen government and community partnerships and coordination. There is an opportunity to fully build the capacity of this program as it launches in order to expand it to areas of the city where it might be needed in the future. Additional capacity will build grassroots policies and protocols to guide development of cultural districts in a manner that builds community collaboration and cohesion.

Type of Response Prevention, Mitigation
Type of Task Funding
Funding
Resource Extensive funding (the kind typically required for capital investments) and staff time would be required
Complexity Complex – generally major legislation, and/or new program required, and more than three agencies involved
Timing Long Term (more than 5 years)
Geographic Scale Citywide
Partners Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD), San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC), Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD),  Planning, community partners
Key Priority Yes - Enhancements to Existing City Programs and Policies
Benefit Additional capacity will further support the celebration and protection of cultural districts throughout the city.
Challenge There are limited resources to support community groups and City staff. While each cultural district has a unique identity and history, strategies should ensure that the community as whole is included, otherwise community members could feel excluded.
KEY PRIORITY

Dedicated funding source beyond Prop E funds

With the growing interest in cultural districts in the city, there is an opportunity to partner with philanthropic entities and other potential funding sources to support the place keeping strategies and cultural sustainability projects.

Type of Response Prevention
Type of Task Funding
Funding
Resource Extensive funding (the kind typically required for capital investments) and staff time would be required
Complexity Complex – generally major legislation, and/or new program required, and more than three agencies involved
Timing Long Term (more than 5 years)
Geographic Scale Citywide
Partners Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD), San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC), Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD),  Planning, community partners
Key Priority Yes - Enhancements to Existing City Programs and Policies
Benefit Consistent funding would support the development and implementation of cultural districts- not just the Cultural District’s institutions but the many endeavors within the Districts.
Challenge There is a lack of available funding. Setting aside funding specifically for arts and culture could mean taking away funding from a larger issue such as housing.

Inclusive model of kinship among cultural efforts

The diaspora reality precludes the Cultural Districts to enforce borders. Given that cultural businesses and endeavors exist beyond the boundaries of the Cultural Districts, it requires the inclusion of a ‘kinship’ or partnership model that would allow cultural efforts anywhere in the City to be allies of the cultural preservation work.

Type of Response Mitigation
Type of Task Policy Implementation
Policy Implementation
Resource Generally only staff time and some program funding would be required
Complexity Medium – generally some legislation and/or some change of and existing program, and two to three agencies involved
Timing Long Term (more than 5 years)
Geographic Scale Citywide
Partners Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD), San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC), Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), Planning, community partners
Benefit It allows cultural communities to see themselves wherever they are and not exclude a cultural asset that is not within the geographic boundaries of the District.
Challenge There is lack of available funding, and the legislation is specific to a geography therefore the alliance may be primarily in the realm of marketing, events and awareness.

Embracing tourism while maintaining an authentic cultural center and focusing on a local target population

Research has shown a foggy link between gentrification and tourism which makes it difficult to determine how to encourage tourism for a healthy economy while also preserving the cultural eco system and supporting small local businesses. Managing the need to attract the new tastes of visitors can affect the cultural landscape of a neighborhood and the people whose jobs depend on tourism. However, additional technical assistance and robust support is needed for small business succession planning and adjusting to the slowdown of retail site usage.

Type of Response Mitigation
Type of Task Policy Implementation
Policy Implementation
Resource Generally only staff time and some program funding would be required
Complexity Medium – generally some legislation and/or some change of and existing program, and two to three agencies involved
Timing Long Term (more than 5 years)
Geographic Scale Citywide
Partners Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD), San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC), Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), Planning, San Francisco Travel, community partners
Benefit Promoting tourism will help stabilize and strengthen the identity of the district while contributing to the district’s economy.
Challenge High rents and a lack of long-term affordable leases are an ongoing challenge for local neighborhood cultural enterprises. Finally, many of the Cultural District’s, their businesses and their historical assets are not included within the highly circulated and highly marketed San Francisco tourism materials.

Resources

Adopted Cultural District Legislation
Read Legislation »