South of Market- San Fran’s most mixed-use community

I included only part of what is traditionally considered SoMa in this evaluation excluding South Beach, Rincon Hill, Mission Bay, and the Design District. I feel those neighborhoods are unique enough to stand and their own and should be evaluated separately. I thus used these boundaries for the District: Highway 101, Market Street, Townsend, and 3rd St.

During the mid-19th century, SOMA became a burgeoning pioneer community and was centered around a business district along 2nd & 3rd Streets (now Yerba Buena Gardens). The 1906 earthquake and fire completely destroyed the area but was replaced with wide streets helping to foster light to heavy industry. Still much residential mixed in creating a very mixed use area.  With the construction of the Bay Bridge and U.S. Route 101 during the 30s large swaths of the neighborhood were demolished.  The 40s & 50s saw many transients, seaman, other working class men settle in the district in its many smaller side streets and alleyways. The area quicky got a reputation for being a seedy place. This helped set the ground work for the gay leather community to take hold in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. Sadly the Aims epidemic made life challenging for the community and most of the bath houses and hang out spots were shut down by the City.

The 80s and 90s brought the city’s budding underground rave, punk, and independent music scene to the district taking over many of the neighborhoods underutilized warehouse buildings. More permanent reuses of these bldgs occurred in the mid 90s with SoMa’s resurgence as a dot-com high rent district. This trend has certainly continued into the present day and SoMa is now one of San Fran’s most mixed-use areas combining significant amounts of light manufacturing, alleyway historic housing, retail, tec offices, and new in-fill apartment buildings. SoMa also has many different urban flavors. Its northern border along Market is mostly historic office buildings and department stores. The east border is the Yerba Buena Gardens cultural and entertainment complex. The western border is filled with lots of light industrial and big box stores. The southern border blends into the newer South Park, Design District, and Mission Bay neighborhoods. Fortunately over half of SoMa housing units are restricted for affordability helping it retain a very diverse racial and economic community. There are very large Mexican and Filipino communities here. Market rents are very expensive here but there are lots of small condos selling between 300K-700K, relatively affordable for San Francisco.

Areas for SoMa to improve include better park spaces, more tree canopy, in-filling its remaining surface parking lots, redeveloping auto centric uses, and solving its lingering safety issue and large homeless population. I also believe SoMa could be a lot denser and help relieve the City’s housing shortage. Currently there are about 25K per living there per square mile. This number could easily get pushed up to 70K, a similar density of adjacent districts like Chinatown and the Tenderloin District.




Click here to view my SoMa album on Flickr

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Overall great connectivity with a very gridded street network with lots of smaller cut through streets, excellent public transit and access to Dwtn, and probably the best dedicated bike lane infrastructure in the City. Tons of tec offices located right in SoMa.
* While only around 20-25% of all units are rent controlled but around 75% of them are reserved as affordable housing units. This helps explain why the median rent is roughly $1,600.
* Excellent ADA infrastructure in this very flat district.
* SoMa hosts some of San Fran’s best and most extensive modern in-fill. Historic architecture is also pretty good… a mix of historic warehouses and traditional homes.
* Good array of restaurants, bars, and cafes but pretty spreadout throughout the district. Great array of night clubs, and live music venues. The Theaters, Cinemas, Museums, and performing arts spaces are concentrated along Market Street and Yerba Buena along the edges of SoMa.
* SoMa hosts lots of big box stores including 2 targets, a Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, a couple food halls, Costco, & Bed Bath & Beyond. Also several more big boxes stores just over the boarder in the Mission District (e.g.  Best Buy, office max, Food Co). Great array of department stores and Shopping Malls in the Northeast corner of SoMa near Union Square; several home goods and Hardware stores in the western half, and a sprinkling of other retail through out. A couple post offices located here and the Main Library is nearby in Civic Square.
* Decent array of schools but not walkable high schools.
* One of the most mixed used district in San Fran combining live-work space,  residential, retail, office, and light manufacturing throughout most of the district.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* For sale product is certainly expensive but lots of options. Some of the most affordable studios in the Cit are here ranging from 300K-700K. 1-bedrooms btwn 500K-1M. 2-bedrooms btwn 750K-1.35M and some 3 & 4 bedroom product selling btwn 850K-3M
* Market rentals are more expensive. Some studios rent in the $1,000s similar to the Tenderloin district but most list in the $2,000s. 1-bedrooms 2K-4K, 2 bedrooms 3K-5K. Very limited 3-bedroom product for rent.
* There are still so safety concerns in SoMa especially with its large homeless population concentrated just south of Market Street. Some crime but doesn’t appear to be a major issue like Tenderloin.
* Several very attractive parks and plazas in SoMa including Yerba Buena Gardens, Jessie Square, a Rec Center, Victoria Manalo Park and Civic Square is nearby. But little to no parks in the western half of SoMa.
* Local boutiques and unique stores are a bit limited in SoMa.
* Tree canopy is really hit or miss. Pretty good on residential streets but more limited where manufacturing is concentrated.
* Urban massing is generally good but still some surface parking lots and autocentric uses remain. 

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