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San Francisco Embraces the Pop-Up for Neighborhood Revitilization

In San Francisco, pop-up incubator SQFT attempts to showcase the potential of temporary business for economic development

Once a strategy for retailers to build brand awareness and coolness cred in a flashy spectacle (now you see us, now you don't), the pop-up shop has transformed into a tool of urban revitilization. In San Francisco, the city government has partnered with a pop-up incubator called SQFT to help activate a downtrodden neighborhood's potential with a jolt of temporary business inserted into retail deadspace. Today, SQFT celebrates its launch by bringing a slice of life to a string of blocks in San Francisco's Mid-Market with a pop-up library, yoga studio, and cafe, among other temporary businesses.

The idea for SQFT was born at a design hackathon hosted by economic development group Creative Currency in April. SQFT's website, which launched last week, serves to connect aspiring entrepreneurs with cheap, temporary office space in Mid-Market, using a rent calculator tailored to the needs of people looking for a lot of flexibility. While a realtor might think you're crazy if you asked for help finding an office that could accommodate a lecture series only on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings, for example, that's exactly the kind of request that SQFT was built to field, provide a quote for, and find spaces for.

The Mid-Market neighborhood is a paritcularly good fit for temporary business, according to SQFT. It boasts a central location, plentiful public transit, a bounty of open office space, and rent that's lower than average for this exorbinantly expensive city. But the area has its fair share of problems too, including crime, blight, and homelessness, that have limited development and renewal in the area while large swathes of the rest of the city have been thoroughly gentrified.

According to SQFT, pop-ups have the potential to bring a buzz of activity to the area by boosting foot traffic, supporting existing business, and potentially luring permanent businesses. "Temporary leasing allows creative entrepreneurs access to spaces typically beyond their budget, enables landlords to recoup taxes by testing multiple uses, and brings activity even amidst uncertain planning and development processes," the organization writes in a press release.

Today, an all day event celebrates SQFT's launch. The group has welcomed a variety of pop-ups to join them on a two-block corridor of Market, and has hired the labor of local residents to help make the event a success. A pop-library is hosting chess tournaments. A temporary yoga studio will lead passersby through vinyasas. And a coffee shop will keep commuters energized.

The event is just the beginning for SQFT, who intends to "ripple throughout the neighborhood" after testing the waters at a few locations and is planning for several exciting public challenges as a way to engage community members in Mid-Market revitalization efforts.

What are your thoughts on pop-up projects like this? An economic jolt, the final frontier of gentrification, or something else altogether? Let us know in the comments below.

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