How City agencies support the Cultural Districts' goals

Table illustrating the Cultural Districts program focus areas and strategies

The San Francisco Cultural Districts program receives a historic investment of municipal resources. The complex nature of the program requires Cultural Districts to collaborate with different departments, including the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), Planning Department, Arts Commission, and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD). Still, the program is driven by the idea that solutions developed by the people most impacted by social inequities are often the most viable and impactful.

The Cultural History, Housing, and Economic Sustainability Strategies (CHHESS) Reports serve as roadmaps for stabilizing cultural communities and are updated every three years. CHHESS reports outline how each municipal department contributes to the Cultural Districts program in each community. The table above illustrates the Cultural Districts' legislative strategies and the City agencies involved in its successful implementation.

San Francisco Arts Commission

The San Francisco Arts Commission approves all artwork and structures on public or City-funded property. For the Cultural Districts program, the department provides technical assistance and guidance to the Cultural Districts as they develop and implement arts and culture initiatives that are laid out in their CHHESS report.

Staff members guide the Districts through the Arts Commission’s approval process, often through the Visual Arts and Civic Design Review committees. They outreach to the Cultural Districts to share grant funding opportunities so that Districts can share that information with local artists and organizations. Lastly, the Arts Commission may partner with or co-sponsor events with the Cultural Districts that align with the department’s goals.

Some examples of this collaboration include the Arts Commission providing technical assistance and guidance to the Leather and LGBTQ Cultural District for the approval of sidewalk plaques through the Civic Design Review Committee and then the full Commission for approval, as well as partnering with the SOMA Pilipinas Cultural District for a gallery exhibition titled, “Carlos Villas Roots and Reinvention.” The relationship between art and the Cultural Districts is vital to transporting and maintaining culture in different locations, shaping and widening perspectives, and creating representation in the community, which makes the partnership with the Arts Commission an important component of the program.

San Francisco Planning Department

The City’s Planning Department (Planning), under the direction of the Planning Commission, shapes the future of San Francisco by developing and executing strategic plans through planning controls, environmental analyses, and enforcing the Planning Code.

Planning provides the Cultural Districts with support for community engagement and planning tools, especially focusing on CHHESS development and implementation of zoning, land use, and cultural conservation strategies. The department’s staff support each District by answering questions, engaging them in the review of major projects within their Districts, and supporting community collaboration and engagement.

Planning provides a wealth of support to the Districts before and after the adoption of each Districts’ CHHESS report. This includes hosting virtual "Planning 101" trainings, strategizing on engagement efforts related to planning their housing needs and goals, facilitating information sharing and project consultation, especially for cultural resource evaluations, as well as assisting with navigating the design and review process for public realm projects with other agencies. In turn, the Planning Commission and department staff use the Cultural District's CHHESS reports and statements to inform their plans for projects and developments throughout the City.

The Office of Economic and Workforce Development

The purpose of the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) is to create a thriving and resilient economy, where barriers to economic and workforce opportunities are removed, and prosperity is shared equitably by all.

OEWD supports the Districts by providing useful information throughout the CHHESS development process, such as existing businesses, nonprofit organizations, and tourist activity that contribute to the culture of the District, as well as analyses of past, present, and future trends in demographic and economic profiles of the District. In addition, OEWD reviews the economic and workforce training aspects of the Cultural Districts’ CHHESS reports.

OEWD has helped guide projects focused on the economic vitality of Districts’ commercial corridors by sponsoring cultural events that increase visitors and activity, providing technical assistance for businesses, and supporting quality of life projects in those zones. Additionally, they support the development of Special Use Districts (SUD) – an added layer of land use regulations that apply to a specific area and serve a specified, often economic purpose – by aligning their goals with that of the Cultural Districts and the Planning Department.

Some examples of OEWD’s work in the Cultural Districts, the department helped the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District’s economic development on the 24th Street commercial corridor and SOMA Pilipinas Cultural District in developing Mission Street as a commercial corridor. This work, done in partnership with Kultivate Labs, demonstrates the transformative power of collaboration between City agencies and the community.

The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development

The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) supports San Francisco residents with affordable housing opportunities and essential services to build strong communities. MOHCD plays a critical role in helping the Cultural Districts achieve their overall legislative purpose by overseeing the coordination of the program, implementing all aspects of the City’s enacted ordinance establishing Districts throughout the City, and planning work in the areas of community development, capacity building, and grant management.

In collaboration with OEWD, SF Planning, and the Arts Commission, MOHCD coordinates the development strategy for the CHHESS Report for each approved District. This report aims to provide a demographic and economic profile of each district, including past, current and future trends; analyze and record the tangible and intangible elements of the district’s cultural heritage; identify areas of concern that could inhibit the preservation of the District’s unique culture; and propose legislative, economic and other solutions and strategies to support the successful development and vibrancy of each district. For MOHCD, an important aspect of that includes analyzing and sharing available data and displacement trends of residents within Districts to promote affordable housing and homeownership opportunities. Given the complex nature of the CHHESS report process, and the wealth of activities and programming described, MOHCD supports the program by facilitating peer learning, and serving as a committed liaison between the Districts and their communities, City agencies, and City leaders.

In addition, MOHCD also supports the establishment of new Cultural Districts, including the most recent Sunset Chinese Cultural District and the Pacific Islander Cultural District. Once the proposed District legislation is adopted by the Board of Supervisors, MOHCD develops and issues the Request for Proposals from community-based non-profits, the vehicle by which the City begins resourcing the new District to begin the important work.

The highly collaborative effort between the Cultural Districts and City agencies described continues to reflect and honor the place-making and place-keeping nature of the program, as set out by the founding legislation.

Last updated March 9, 2023