The Infamous Tenderloin District- Known for its homeless and crime, but still a great urban neighborhood

Development came to the Tenderloin district shortly after the California Gold Rush in 1849. This was the district where those without wealth (i.e. prospectors and immigrants) first came because it was flat. The wealth of the City settled up the hill in Nob and Russian Hill. The neighborhood quickly became known as an entertainment district — both legal and illegal. Almost all of the buildings in the neighborhood were destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire but were quickly rebuilt like the rest of the City. After the fire until the 50s the Tenderloin District was one of San Fran’s hottest places for entertainment. But this quickly changed in the 60s with the collapse of the movie industry and a rise in crime and drug dealing and general City neglect as a pass-through neighborhood between Union Square and Civic Square.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the Tenderloin was a haven for gay and lesbian San Franciscan. There was also an intense desire to avoid the wholesale urban renewal of adjacent Western Addition and Yerba Buena neighborhoods. This led to highly organized community groups in the 80s creating a historic district designation, passing zoning to prevent high rise construction and office buildings, and doubling down affordable housing preservation (25% of the district is restricted affordable housing and there are 100 bldgs of SROs). While these efforts helped maintained the district’s affordable and diverse character it has also enabled an intense concentration of homeless and poverty. I hope that some of these regulations could loosen up to encourage more retail, office, and market rate housing to completement Tenderloin’s preserved affordable units.

The Tenderloin district certainly lives up to much of its hype as a drug infested/crime and homeless written area. But not necessarily as the common observer may expect. Most of the crime is drug, prostitution, and assault among people living on the street. There are also many urban positives to Tenderloin. It is has incredible convenience located in between Civic Square, Hayes Valley, Japantown, Chinatown, Union Square, Theater Square, and Yerba, great transit access and overall great walkability. The district also boast of many cultural amenities (especially night life), great access  to shopping at Union Square and Market Street and is one of them densest and economically/racially diverse neighborhoods in San Fran. The Tenderloin District continues to be ground zero for many immigrants arriving to the Bay area especially Hispanics and Vietnamese.  Other than improving safety, Tenderloin needs more retail within its borders. Much of its current retail is convenience and liquor stores. Tree canopy could also be improved along with more green and park spaces. Even with all its issues the Tenderloin District would be a top urban district in most American metros. If it cleaned up its act it could be one of the best in San Francisco.

Click here to view my Tenderloin album on Flickr

URBAN STENGTHS:

* One of San Fran’s most dense neighborhoods at nearly 70K per square mile.
* Excellent ADA infrastructure minus a handful of intersections missing modern curb cuts
* Wonderful architecture esp. historic.
* Great urban connectivity with a location next to Dwtn, quality public transit, great bike infrastructure, and straight forward grid system.
* The most racially and economically diversity districts in the City and likely one of the most racially in the country. The district really functions as the Ellis Island for the City.
* Surprisingly only 56% of units of rent controlled. This is lower than surrounding districts.  But lots of affordable housing here  (about 25%)) due to aggressive non-profit acquisitions and about 100 SRO buildings in mostly repurposed historic hotels. Medium rent is about $250 less than the City average. This one of San Fran most affordable districts surrounded by high priced neighbors.
* While not always well maintained, lovely historic architecture. Great modern infill along the edges (Market and Van Ness Streets).
* Near perfect urban form with only a couple of auto centric mid century hotels. This feels like a slice of lower Manhattan.
* While not always agreeable characters, this is a very vibrant district.
* Surprisingly a good amount of cultural amenities within Tenderloin or nearby. The district hosts a good amount of restaurants (lots of mom & pop ethnic restaurants and dinners), plenty of cafes, and lots of bars of all types. Several theaters, performing arts venues, cinemas, museums and live music venues within and just outside the district; and good # of art galleries.
* When factoring in retail amenities along the edges of the district, Tenderloin performs rather well. Trader Joes, Whole Food, Target, San Fran public library, hospitals, and the plethora departments stores & retail chains all sit on the edges of the neighborhood. With Tenderloin retail amenities are more limited but still include,  several ethnic grocerias, drug stores, vintage clothing stores, a post office, a good # of churches, and a couple of gyms and dessert places.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Safety and sense of safety is the #1 concern in the Tenderloin. So much so that tourist generally steer clear of the district. Tenderloin has more violent crime than almost any other neighborhood but as locals report this is generally among those living on the margins in the district. Drug usage & prostitution are still major issues but the odds of a visitor getting assaulted here are actually not that high.
* Not a ton of for sale market product. What does exist is pricey but relatively affordable to surrounding areas. For sale studios & 1-bedrooms sell anywhere between 350K-750K. 2-bedrooms btwn 800K & 1.3 M.
* Lots of market rentals available. Studios are plentiful leasing in the mid to high $1,000s. 1-bedrooms range btwn the high $1,000s to high $2,000s.2-bedroom mid 2Ks to low 3Ks.
* Schools options within the district are pretty limited and mediocre but lots of good options in walkable adjacent neighborhoods.
* Thanks to its high density, tree canopy is kinda of sparse but not bad.
* While not completely justified from an urban perspective, the persecution of this district is not great. That hasn’t stopped attractive housing and restaurants from moving in however.
* Parks within the Tenderloin are limited several nice playgrounds and plazas but several very nice parks sit on the border of the neighborhood (i.e. Civic Center, Union Square, and Yerba Buena).
* Lots of seedy liquor and convenience stores still here.

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