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Vacancy to Vibrancy: How Pop-Ups Invigorated a San Francisco Neighborhood

Despite big names moving into the neighborhood, San Francisco’s Mid-Market—and many neighborhoods across the country—is still full of vacant spaces. Millions of square feet are going unused. SquareFoot is putting that space to use, connecting entrepreneurs to underutilized space, and using pop-ups as a vehicle for neighborhood revitalization.
Pop-ups can be about more than high concept dining or a fresh Japanese retail concept: Short-term leases give residents a chance to invigorate the neighborhood and initiate new connections, spurring growth from the bottom-up. They give creative entrepreneurs a platform to prototype new ideas, unencumbered by the cost and red tape of long-term leases. Rapid experimentation can shift the assumptions we have about how we use our neighborhood spaces, helping us envision new possibilities while also creating a space for the local community to strengthen bulwarks against displacement by the rising tide of property values.
We set out to demonstrate the transformative power of pop-ups this fall. We partnered with Kor Group, a forward-thinking property management company that bundled together a block of underutilized retail space on Market Street under the name ‘A Temporary Offering.’ Over the course of 10 weeks, we sought to funnel the neighborhood’s street-level energy—the chess players on the sidewalk, the bicycle commuters on Market, and the food trucks in UN Plaza—into the space.
A variety of events and entrepreneurs, from Bicycle Banh Mi to a General Assembly workshop on food entrepreneurship, brought economic possibility to the block. While creating employment opportunities and generating revenue for entrepreneurs and landlord alike, the 10-week experiment ignited the imagination about the varied uses that could take flight in the space.
As these new players breathed fresh life into the space, the transformative effect on the street was inescapable. It was amazing what an impact a few weeks of activity could have on the neighborhood’s deteriorating facades. Pop-ups drew folks to the neighborhood and engaged a local crowd as well, helping foster a more robust local business community to draw resources to clean the streets and maintain safe corners. Swap/meet SF, an art collective that popped up in the space every week, put it best:
For us, neighborhood revitalization isn't about gentrification; it's about bringing in the community. We were able to mix locals with outsiders and in the process we changed perceptions about the neighborhood. We gave people a voice and safe place and, as a result, the community owned it.
We want to put more spaces to use throughout the city. Help us connect people with good ideas to underutilized spaces by sending us your ideas for a neglected block in your neighborhood. If you’re a creator, community-builder, or entrepreneur looking to pop-up in a space, a short-term lease brings the flexibility to test new products, fine-tune user experiences, and devise new ways of reaching your audience. Check out our online calculator and drop us a line. Finally, if you have idle space, connect with us so we can get to work exploring the possibilities to breathe life into your neighborhood.

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Original Image via (cc) flickr user Randolph Gardner

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