Assuring the permanence of a setting for Japanese American culture and the many associated community-based organizations that reside in the neighborhood is sufficient reason alone for preserving and protecting Japantown. In addition, the future of Japantown should be secured in order to:
Continue to provide unique goods and services to the community and the city
Provide a unique visitor destination for city residents and tourists
Enhance the cultural mosaic that makes San Francisco such a great city
It is to this future that the concepts described in this report are dedicated.
Table of Contents
Section Page No.
I. Introduction 4
Definition of the Study Area 4
Purpose of the Phase 2 Study 4
Organization of this Report 4
II. The Vision for Japantown 5
III. Plan Concepts and Strategies 7
A. Economic Development Strategies 7
Economic Opportunities 8
B. Physical Planning and Urban Design Strategies 11
The Urban Framework 11
Correcting Planning and Design Errors of the Past 27
Establish a Unique Image for Japantown 36
IV. Economic and Community Development Priority Programs 43
Priority Program #1: Creation of a Community Plan Implementation Organization 43
Priority Program #2: Japantown Small Business Development, Attraction 48
and Retention Pilot Program
Priority Program #3: Community Benefit Land Use and Development Incentives 51
Priority Program #4: Community Organizing Strategy 58
Priority Program #5: Children, Youth and Families and Young Adult Program 61
V. Detailed Summary of Japantown Community Goals, Objectives and Strategies 63
A. Research on Japanese Anchor Retailers for the Japantown Community Plan 68
B. Japantown Community Plan Phase 2 Participants 72
Exhibit Page No.
1. Definition of the Study Area 4
2. Summary of Busineess Inception Dates 7
3. Census Population Data Japantown and San Francisco 1970 and 1990 8
4 Estimated Japan Center Sales Performance 8
5 Analysis of Supportable Retail in Japantown 10
6 Existing Land Use Patterns 12
7 Analysis of Existing Urban Framework 13
8 Urban Framework 15
9 Fillmore Street 16
10 Gateway to Japantown: Post at Fillmore 17
11 Planning Subdistricts 19
12 Circulation and Access 21
13. Pedestrian Environment 23
14. Streetscape Definition 25
15. Geary Parkway Section 29
16. Future Geary Parkway at Peace Plaza 30
17. Webster Street - Existing 31
18. Webster Street - Proposed 31
19. Webster Street Gardens 32
20. Future Japan Center: Post Street near the Peace Plaza 34
21. Post Street Commercial Core 35
22. Image and Sense of Place: City-Wide Awareness, Wayfinding and Arrival 37
23. Character Images 39
24. Open Space Opportunities: The Gardens of Japantown 41
25. GardenOpportunities/ Garden Examples 42
26. Alternative Development Opportunity Areas 53
27. Alternative Development Opportunity Areas 54
28. Japanese Supermarket /Specialty Food Retailers 70
29. Other Japanese Retailers 71
List of Exhibits
Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan
This report summarizes economic and urban design programs and concepts for consideration by the community as key elements of the Japantown Community Planan economic and physical planning strategy designed to ensure the long-term vitality of the Japantown area in San Francisco. The report summarizes the second phase of a three-part planning process that will ultimately lead to the full Community Plan.
The first phase, completed in October 1999 under the direction of the Japantown Planning, Preservation and Development Task Force (JPPDTF), included extensive community outreach and analysis of existing physical conditions in the neighborhood. The result of Phase 1 was the adoption by the JPPDTF of specific goals and objectives for the future of the neighborhood.
This phase (Phase 2) advances the preparation of the Community Plan. While the work of Phase 2 does not represent the Japantown Community Plan in its entirety, it does include analysis and a range of priority economic programs and urban design concepts that can serve as the basis for completion of the Japantown Community Plan in Phase 3. The final Japantown Community Plan will also include further elaboration of community development and organizing strategies and programs for youth and families which will be prepared by the community at a later date. In general, the economic and urban design concepts summarized in this report include the following:
1. A broad summary of strategies that can be employed to address the goals and objectives identified by the community in Phase 1.
2. Definition of priority economic action programs and projects that will help stabilize and revitalize the economic, social and physical environment of Japantown. Action should begin on these programs and projects now.
3. Preliminary definition of a framework of urban design elements that can guide
long range improvement of the Japantown neighborhood environment in conjunction with economic programs and projects.
Definition of the Study Area
The boundaries of the study area as defined by the JPPDTF are illustrated in Exhibit 1. It includes an area of approximately .25 square mile with a boundary one half block beyond Pine on the north, O'Farrell Street on the south, one half block east of Octavia, and one half block west of Fillmore. The area encompasses Japantown's core commercial district, residential neighborhoods, and important cultural institutions.
Purpose of the Phase 2 Study
In addition to the definition of goals during the first phase of the planning process, an extensive list of objectives related to the goals was defined. Not all of these can be accomplished in the short-term. Therefore, one of the primary purposes of this second phase of study is to identify key issues and opportunities (economic, social, and physical) derived from the goals and objectives and to synthesize them into a set of strategic actions that:
Can be pursued immediately.
Provide the greatest impact for the preservation and enhancement of Japantown.
In their combined effect, address as many of the identified needs, goals and objectives as possible.
Provide a long-term framework for future action.
Organization of this Report
The report is divided into the following five sections:
Section I: Introduces the study area and purpose of the study.
Section II: Summarizes the vision and goals for Japantown articulated by the JPPDTF.
Section III: Discusses concepts and strategies for economic development, urban design and community organizing.
Section IV: Describes priority community development programs in depth.
Section V: Detailed Summary of Japantown Community Goals, Objectives and Strategies.
Appendices:A. Research on Japanese Anchor Retailers
B. Japantown Community Plan Phase 2 Participants
In the first phase of the Japantown community planning process, the Task Force defined the following broad vision for the future of Japantown:
The Vision of this Community Plan is to provide ideas and strategies to preserve and develop Japantown as a viable neighborhood by revitalizing its commercial and cultural district into a local, statewide, national, and international resource. We envision strengthening the ethnic diversity of San Francisco by bringing together the culture and history of the Nikkei community into the Japantown center for all to share, and to create an atmosphere of safety, beauty, and prosperity for the residents, organizations, and businesses all residing in the neighborhood for now and in the future.
As part of the first phase of study, stakeholders in the community expressed a broad range of needs and desires. Three goals were established. During this current phase of the planning study, a fourth goal was adopted by the Task Force to encompass objectives related more directly to Japantown's physical environment. The four goals guiding development of the Community Plan are:
Goal 1: Develop Japantown as an historical center, a cultural capital and a community center for people of Japanese ancestry in America.
Goal 2: Revitalize Japantown as a thriving commercial and retail district.
Goal 3: Preserve and expand Japantown as a neighborhood of residents, community-based organizations and institutions and neighborhood services.
Goal 4: Improve Japantown's physical environment so that it contributes to the cultural, economic and neighborhood vitality and diversity.
Realizing the Vision
Realizing the vision will require the successful implementation of a coordinated set of economic development and physical planning strategies for the neighborhood as a whole and for specific areas within it. The first step, however, will require recognition and understanding by the various residents, business owners, and other stakeholders in the neighborhood of the economic and social realities facing Japantown.
The Role of Japantown:
neighborhood vs. community
San Francisco's Japantown, similar to Japantowns throughout the U.S., emerged as a direct response to historical economic and social exclusion. Community solidarity and enterprise provided new economic and social opportunities for Japanese Americans to retain their cultural heritage while prospering.
While at one time Japantown was the center of a highly concentrated Japanese-American residential population in San Francisco, it no longer plays that role and is unlikely to do so in the future. Historical events, including the internment of Japanese Americans and their relocation resulting from urban renewal activities, the assimilation of Japanese Americans into the larger culture, and changing immigration patterns have resulted in a much more dispersed community. Today, most Japanese Americans in the Bay Area do not desire to live in Japantown, given the myriad alternative neighborhood choices offered elsewhere in the region. As a result, there is not a sufficient density of Japanese American residents in Japantown to support the high concentration of community-based institutions and businesses in the area. Thus, Japantown cannot be viewed as a typical neighborhood center where goods, services, cultural and educational resources are supported primarily by the surrounding neighborhood.
Japantown does, however, continue to play an important role to many Japanese Americans as a place to visit for cultural, educational, commercial and entertainment reasons. While most of these Japanese American visitors do not live in the neighborhood, they are members of a strong regional community with deep roots in the area.
Ensuring Japantown's long-term sustainability requires acknowledging the reality that the neighborhood alone can no longer support Japantown and its institutions. The survival of Japantown will require implementation of eco
The following principles, which have emerged from this phase of planning, are considered key to making Japantown the local, statewide, national, and international resource envisioned by the Task Force:
Reinforce the physical identity of Japantown as a special district in the city. This includes expression of the current role of Japantown and recognizes that perhaps the most important key to neighborhood survival is attracting people to enjoy and participate in Japantown's unique cultural experiences. The physical identity and environment must be attractive to children, youth, adults and seniors alike; each of these groups are integral to Japanese American identity.
Identify and support one or more "economic engines" that are compatible with the desired character of the area, helping to financially support Japantown's cultural and educational institutions and minimize the need for outside public subsidy. This includes identifying methods for increased revenue generation on behalf of the community through development partnerships and other mechanisms.
Establish programs promoting the attraction and retention of businesses that provide goods, services and entertainment appropriate to visitor and neighborhood needs and fit the new demographic realities of the Japantown community.
Define a framework for the improvement of the physical environment of Japantown that reflects activities within the community's varying districts. Like many neighborhoods in San Francisco, Japantown is similar to a small town or "city within a city." It has a "main street", major public gathering places, areas with a high concentration of community cultural facilities, and quiet residential districts. Conservation, enhancement, and renovation actions in both the public and private realms are needed and should be appropriate to the role and character of these districts.
Implement strategies that will attract children, youth, families and young adults to Japantown.
A. Economic Development Strategies
B. Physical Planning and Urban Design Concepts
A. Economic Development Strategies
There are three primary economic challenges facing Japantown. Failure to meet these challenges could result in the eventual demise of Japantown as a center of the Bay Area Japanese American community and residential neighborhood, as well as a unique visitor destination.
The long-term survival of Japantown is fragile given real estate development pressures in the city as a whole.
The current real estate development boom in San Francisco, due to the rapid proliferation of internet and related businesses in addition to significant population growth pressures, has resulted in unprecedented large-scale private redevelopment of underutilized properties throughout the city. It is anticipated that as fewer properties are available for redevelopment in the prime new commercial and residential areas, infill sites within established neighborhoods will become more desirable.
Although most of San Francisco's commercial neighborhoods are vulnerable to major
mations, Japantown is particularly vulnerable due to the control of major key parcels by a single property owner.
This development pressure has already occurred in Japantown as major blocks of Japantown's key commercial properties are reportedly on the market or soon will be placed on the market for sale.
An analysis of business data provided by Dun & Bradstreet suggest that Japantown is vulnerable to a rapid change in the neighborhood's business character due to the aging of current business and property owners. Data on the age of existing businesses indicate that Japantown has a remarkably high number of old family businesses. Approximately 28 percent of businesses in Japantown were established before 1975, and 57 percent were established before 1985, as highlighted in Exhibit 2. Community representatives familiar with these businesses report that many of the owners are planning on retiring soon without family members interested in continuing the business. These observations are corroborated by documentation that approximately 5 percent of Japantown's businesses closed in 1999 due to older business owners retiring. Reportedly, many of the business and property owners in Buchanan Mall, the core of Japantown, are in the age range of 80 years and presumably will also close shop soon and sell their businesses or their properties. If the established businesses are not able to sell their successful going concerns, or property owners are unable to find buyers who are interested in preserving Japantown, the retail spaces will most likely be leased to non-Japanese or non-community serving businesses. A change of use and constituency served by these major parcels would have an irreversible negative impact on the effort to preserve Japantown.
Based on these data and a comprehensive analysis of Japantown's demographic and business conditions, economic consultants project that Japantown's unique cultural and commercial
Summary of Business Inception Dates
entities could be redeveloped to other uses within 10 to 15 years unless significant strategic intervention in market forces commences immediately to preserve the neighborhood's unique culture.
Japantown's role as a predominantly Japanese and Japanese-American residential neighborhood has weakened, requiring strengthening the neighborhood's identity as the cultural, spiritual, recreational and commercial center of the region's Japanese and Japanese-American community.
For more than a half-century Japantown served a critical role as a residential community for Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans, providing essential Japanese goods and services that were not available in other parts of the city or region. A host of historical and current events have resulted in the significant decline of the neighborhood's Japanese and Japanese American population. These events include the historical impact of the WWII internment of Japanese Americans and the urban renewal impacts of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency's property demolition and redevelopment actions, in addi
Demographic data document the rapid decline of Japantown's Japanese and Asian
population during the past four decades. Between 1970
and 1990, Japantown's Japanese resident population declined 6.5 percent, while the Japanese
resident population increased approximately 3 percent
in the city as a whole. In contrast, the
representation of other Asians is growing steadily in
the neighborhood and dramatically in San Francisco as a whole. For example, between 1970 and
1990 the Asian population in Japantown increased
approximately 18 percent, while the Asian population increased approximately 92 percent in the city as a whole. These demographic data, summarized in Exhibit 3, suggest that Japantown is not viable as a Japanese residential neighborhood in the long term. However, Japantown can play an important role as the heart of the region's Japanese and Pan-Asian cultural, spiritual, commercial and recreational amenities.
Japan Center's physical condition could have significant negative or positive impacts on the long-term sustainability of Japantown.
The Japan Center is the primary defining icon of Japantown due to the size and prominence of the property. Similar to the anchor of a retail mall, the Japan Center is the harbinger of Japantown's quality, vitality and viability as a whole. Significant positive or negative changes in the Japan Center will foreshadow changes within the rest of the neighborhood. If the Japan Center continues to suffer from apparent disrepair and deferred maintenance, Japan Center could trigger disinvestment within the rest of Japantown. Without significant capital investments to improve Japan Center's exterior and interior conditions, the loss of potential economic value could ultimately result in a sale of the property for its highest and best use.
If the Japan Center is transformed into uses
that do not contribute to Japantown's unique
cultural values, there will not be a sufficient draw
of customers seeking Japanese products and services to support the neighborhood's smaller
retail outlets. Therefore, the other Japanese
retailers will most likely eventually also be replaced
by non-Japanese and related uses. Similarly, without a base of small businesses providing
Japanese goods and services, there will be no
reason for the nonprofit and cultural organizations
to remain in such a high rent neighborhood as Japantown. A domino effect, commencing
Estimated Japan Center Sales Performance
Census Population Data
Japantown and San Francisco
1970 and 1990
the redevelopment of the Japan Center into non-Japanese serving uses, could rapidly initiate the demise of Japantown.
Alternatively, the reinvestment, repositioning and restructuring of Japan Center into a vibrant festival marketplace of Japanese and Pan-Asian goods and services could have significant positive ripple effects throughout the neighborhood. Although detailed recommendations on methods to reinvest in Japan Center are not part of the scope of the Japantown Community Plan, the economic and planning consultants highly recommend that the Japan Center issues remain a priority of all Japantown planning agendas.
The Economic Opportunities
The community can meet the economic challenges facing Japantown by capitalizing on the opportunities available.
The most effective method to implement the Japantown Community Plan is through the creation of a community organization, which can continue the important community stewardship functions provided through the professional expertise of the Japantown Planning, Preservation and Development Task Force.
An essential component of the Japantown Community Plan is the creation of a nonprofit Japantown Community Plan Implementation Agency to function as a catalyst, manager, organizer, monitor and advocate for the long-term preservation and enhancement of the neighborhood's unique cultural, spiritual and economic resources. The Agency's initial range of services would focus on economic development; land use preservation and development; urban design; communications, promotion and marketing; and fundraising and funds management.
Japantown's strong business environment provides a solid foundation for attracting and retaining the desired business mix necessary to preserve the commercial district as a Japanese and Pan-Asian serving center.
Despite the market pressures facing Japantown's businesses and the extensive deferred maintenance of the Japan Center, the businesses are performing exceptionally well in Japantown as a whole. As reported by Dun & Bradstreet data (see Exhibit 4), the sales per square foot estimate for the Japan Center retailers is an average of $440. This level of sales is comparable to vibrant specialty retail centers such as Ghiradelli Square, which achieves $400 per square foot in retail sales.
The small retailers within the neighborhood are achieving sales of approximately $395 per square foot, an exceptionally high sales volume for small businesses. Furthermore, the retail space in the Japan Center and neighborhood are typically 100 percent occupied and command relatively high rental rates.
These exceptional business performance statistics confirm the strong demand for Japanese products and services. Furthermore, based on a recent survey, Japantown has been very successful in attracting patrons with high expenditure patterns. According to the survey, 17 percent of the respondents spent or planned to spend more than $100 in a single visit, 23 percent spent or planned to spend up to $50, and 28 percent spent or planned to spend between $11 and $25 during their visit. Moreover, one-quarter of the visitors shopped weekly at Japantown and one-third shopped monthly.
Priority Program #2 Small Business Development, Attraction and Retention Program _ (see Section IV) outlines methods to utilize these and other market data to attract Japanese and Pan-Asian businesses to the area. The program's key elements include strategic marketing within regional and statewide Japanese and Asian business networks; specialized business training to existing and potential Japanese and Asian-serving businesses through the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center; introduction of kiosks as new retail opportunities with minimal barriers to entry for new entrepreneurs; and ongoing technical assistance and mentoring with successful neighborhood businesses.
The revitalization of Japantown could significantly benefit from a comprehensive marketing plan.
There are numerous unrealized opportunities for preserving and enhancing Japantown due to the lack of a coordinated marketing strategy to both potential businesses and customers. For example, Japantown's commercial district could be treated similar to a regional shopping mall in which a single entity jointly coordinates the marketing of all the shops and restaurants, in addition to the retail leasing opportunities.
Research revealed significant opportunities for business attraction. For example, a recent
survey of 22 Japanese retailers revealed that
several established Japanese retailers might be
very interested in locating in Japantown in the
future, although minimal marketing information has been provided to recruit these stores. Both
small retail shops (e.g., Trendy Toy Stores and
Utsuwa-No-Yakata pottery store) and larger anchor
retail tenants (e.g., Maurkai, Nijiya Market) have indicated interest in Japantown and the
area's demographic data and business climate.
The research also revealed that many Japanese businesses presume Japantown is not a
good location for retailers. The poor physical
dards of the Japan Center could be contributing to the area's image as a weak business environment. A summary of the survey results is provided in Appendix A.
In addition, there are numerous opportunities to attract additional visitors to Japantown through more intensive and focused marketing. The creation and production of Japantown icons representing the image of the neighborhood will be an important contribution for unifying and promoting Japantown's wealth of cultural, spiritual and historical resources.
The most effective tools to preserve and strengthen Japantown's land uses as the region's Japanese and Pan-Asian cultural, spiritual and economic center is through private sector financial incentives rather than additional governmental regulatory controls.
One of Japantown's greatest strengths is the unusually high proportion of businesses and properties currently owned by Japanese and Japanese American individuals and institutions. This existing property ownership pattern provides a strong foundation for preserving community control of Japantown's future. For example, religious institutions or associations own 20 parcels within the Japantown project area and nonprofit organizations own 12 parcels. Individuals with Japanese surnames own approximately one-third of the properties in the project area. And furthermore, of 182 Japantown businesses reporting to Dun & Bradstreet, Japanese, Japanese American, or other Asians own 94 percent of the businesses. These data indicate the viability of long-term preservation of Japantown with innovative controls and incentives for transfer, sale and reuse of properties consistent with the Community Plan vision.
As cited above, market forces could rapidly
alter Japantown's community ownership and business patterns unless strategic incentive-based land
controls are implemented. Priority Program #3 _ Community Benefit Land Use and Development Incentives (see Section IV) _ outlines tools to maximize community control and influence over land use decisions and development in Japantown. The key program elements include the following:
Utilizing Development Agreements and Owner-Participation Agreements to preserve street level space for Japanese and Pan-Asian goods and services or other community benefits in exchange for density and Floor Area Ratio bonuses;
Marketing Federal and State historic rehabilitation tax incentives as a means to acquire sites, raise equity, rehabilitate or preserve uses of the community's historically significant sites;
Creating a community Land Trust for acquiring properties to secure nonprofit service, religious and cultural organizations in the neighborhood
Creation of a Japantown Neighborhood Commercial District.
This is an excellent time to explore these opportunities given that the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency is in the process of transferring jurisdiction over the A-1 and A-2 project areas to the San Francisco Planning Department due to the closure of the project as a redevelopment area. In preparation for the transfer, the community should continue to work with the Planning Department to evaluate the effectiveness of the current zoning and land use designations in Japantown.
Based on the above data, it can be inferred that the Japantown's predominant customer base includes various segments of the "visitor" market. For example, Japanese and other Asian residents within the larger Bay Area region depend upon Japantown for essential Japanese products and services. Other non-Japanese San Francisco residents also patronize Japantown's retailers for its unique goods and services.
Japantown is also an important site for San Francisco tourists. In 1998, more than one-half million tourists visited Japantown. Approximately 143,500 tourists dined in Japantown and 127,100 tourists shopped in Japantown in 1998.
In summary, there is a clear cultural and economic need for the preservation and enhancement of Japantown as one of only three Japantowns remaining in the United States. The Japantown Community Plan will chart the path and provide the tools to achieve Japantown's vision.
Analysis of Supportable Retail in Japantown
Select Population Groups
Japantown's current urban pattern or framework evolved as the result of two primary factors:
The historic urban grid of San Francisco, which shaped growth of the City from its earliest years
The redevelopment plans of the 1950's and 1960's which reshaped this historic pattern, with the intention of "improving" and modernizing the blight perceived to pervade the area.
The Japantown area was like other portions of the city: a part of the extensive grid which hosted the numerous diverse neighborhoods that comprised San Francisco. The grid promoted easy access between areas. It also was extremely flexible and adaptable to a variety of building types and scales.
In the 1950's and 60's however, redevelopment policy promoted assemblage of "superblocks" which were cleared and reconstructed with modern residential, office and retail uses. In many places buildings were built considerably higher than their surrounding neighbors, and streets were closed to allow parcel assemblage.
The pattern was applied to the Japantown area, and resulted in the construction of the Japan Center, which spanned three standard blocks, and which included a major retail mall, hotel, underground parking, and public plaza. These buildings were very modern in appearance typical of their era. They also did little to promote an active civic life, and in fact provided numerous blank walls to the street.
Today as a consequence of these factors, the framework of Japantown does not promote
an active, vital neighborhood with a sense of
human interaction and activity as well as it could.
In addition the image of Japantown is a mix of relatively bland, modern architecture
juxtaposed with more intimately scaled buildings, some
of which have Japanese architectural references. Further compounding the lack of
image for Japantown is the lack of unique streetscape except in a few areas, such as the Buchanan Mall. The district as a whole is poorly defined, with unclear edges, boundaries, and gateways.
This lack of a distinctive image has been identified as a critical problem in the area. Two objectives defined by the previous work of the JPPDTF recognize the need for a more clear urban framework as follows:
4.1: Develop a cohesive urban design vision for Japantown by highlighting its center and better defining its edges so that the place is welcoming to people and visually unique to its surroundings.
4.2: Improve and upgrade the physical appearance of Japantown's commercial district to ensure that people will be attracted to the businesses, resulting in continued financial viability of Japantown.
As a first stage in defining a framework for Japantown, background analysis was undertaken. Two key parts of that analysis were:
Analysis of existing land use patterns
Analysis of existing urban framework
Extisting Land Use Patterns
During Phase 1, the JPPDTF and their consultants did extensive mapping of existing conditions throughout the Japantown area. Property ownership, land uses, zoning districts, age of structures, and special community features were mapped.
Based on this land use analysis and observations and findings since then, generalized land use patterns in key categories were identified. Exhibit 6 illustrates in sketch form the land use patterns that are relevant to defining a general urban framework. Among the key observations:
Regional commercial uses are generally
located between Post Street and Geary Boulevard in the Japan Center. These are mostly
retail, restaurant and hotel uses that serve as a
destination and attraction for visitors and
tourists from a wide geographic area. These uses,
which occupy what was previously three city blocks, now constitute a "superblock" shopping center, served by a large parking structure which lies under most of the superblock. The retail uses are arranged in a traditional suburban mall configuration, with access from the interior and few windows or other openings to the surrounding neighborhood.
Neighborhood commercial uses are generally located along the north side of Post Street, along Buchanan Mall and along Fillmore Street. These uses serve surrounding residential neighborhoods, and include stores selling Japanese groceries, hardware, clothing, videos, restaurants, and other amenities and services.
There is a high concentration of community, educational and cultural organizations in the four blocks bounded by Webster, Laguna, Post and Bush. Sutter Street, between Webster and Laguna, is the heart of this area.
A commercial interface zone between regional commercial and neighborhood commercial exists along Post Street. This is where there is a blending of visitor and local-serving uses.
Generally land use patterns fall into two categories:
- A distinct "core" of predominantly non-residential uses bounded by Sutter/Geary/Laguna/Webster. This core contains regional and neighborhood retail, restaurants and cultural and educational facilities.
- A surrounding ring of residential areas outside of this core, generally located north of Bush, south of Geary, east of Laguna and west of Webster.
There is not a significant amount of open space or public gathering areas in the district. The two key spaces include the Peace Plaza between Geary and Post, and the Buchanan Mall between Post and Sutter.
There is no soft, naturalistic open space or children's play areas in public parks.
B. Physical Planning and Urban Design Strategies
There are three elements of the planning and urban design strategy for Japantown:
1. The Urban Framework
2. Correct Planning and Design Errors of the Past
3. Establish a Unique Image for Japantown
The Urban Framework
A strong organizing framework is essential to guide future development throughout the Japantown area. A framework establishes the overall pattern and organization of land uses, the structure of vehicular and pedestrian circulation and the image of the community. This in turn helps guide future public and private decisions and investments.
A long term framework to guide urban development of Japantown is particularly critical at this time. Since the end of World War II and the establishment of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, the development of Japantown has been guided by the plans and policies established for redevelopment areas A-1 (Japan Center) and A-2 (Western Addition). Those plans and policies are now inadequate because:
Redevelopment Area A-1 recently has been closed by the Redevelopment Agency. As a result, development guidance in this area will be controlled primarily by general policies of the San Francisco Department of City Planning. No existing specific detailed plans or policies pertain to the Japantown area, unlike other special districts of the City.
Redevelopment Area A-2 will be closed in 2009 with the same result as A-1.
Many of the planning and design principles that were put in place to guide the redevelopment of Japantown in the past are not desirable nor sustainable today. A new framework to guide future development is therefore required.
Existing Land Use Patterns
Community Open Space and Meeting Areas
High concentration of community/cultural facilities
Commercial interface zone
Exhibit 7 illustrates a sketch analysis of the existing urban framework. A number of key points emerge from this analysis.
Three distinct subdistricts can be identified in the area: 1) the Japantown core; 2) the upper Fillmore, an active neighborhood street with restaurants and bars, clothing and home furnishings and other services, and 3) the Lower Fillmore (or Jazz District), which lies across Geary, and which is currently undergoing renovation as a destination entertainment district.
The core of Japantown and the uses which generate the highest intensity of pedestrian activity lie in the center of the study area around Post Street. This is the area which is most closely identified as Japantown to visitors.
Geary Expressway acts as a barrier between Japantown and surrounding neighborhoods, including the St. Francis Square residential area and the Lower Fillmore district. The width of the street and the volume and speed of traffic are formidable barriers to pedestrians trying to cross and effectively isolates Japantown from its neighbors to the south.
There is only one clear Japantown gateway, or marker that indicates an entrance to the district. This lies at the north end of the Buchanan Mall and is designed as a modern interpretation of a torii (gate). Buchanan is not, however, the primary path of entry for most visitors to the area. The major entry corridors in the district, Post, Sutter, Webster, and Buchanan (from the south), do not present an identifiable image of Japantown and do not include any gateway treatment or announcement.
The major focal point of the district, the Peace Plaza, which has recently been renovated, is somewhat hidden from view with the exception of the Peace Pagoda. A clear idea of the character of the plaza and how to enter it is particularly difficult from Geary.
The edges of the Japantown core are not
clear and do not present a memorable image to the surrounding community and visitor.
Analysis of Existing Urban
Existing Community Gateways
Potential Community Image Corridors
Community Entry Corridors
As discussed earlier, in order to guide future planning and development decisions, a clear framework needs to be articulated for Japantown. The framework provides the reference for the various plans and programs and will help guide specific decisions on future projects.
Exhibit 8 illustrates a proposed framework concept to guide the future of Japantown. This framework identifies key zones and their roles within the larger areas. It also identifies locations for key features, edges, gateways and the like, and identifies appropriate roles for major circulation elements.
Within the Japantown core, three major zones are identified corresponding to prevailing land uses and activities as illustrated previously in Exhibit 6, Existing Land Use Patterns. These include:
Commercial core. This area already is the place for the majority of retail businesses in Japantown. Japan Center and Post Street host a variety of restaurants, retail businesses and services used by the Japanese American community as well as other San Franciscans and visitors.
Community/cultural core. The area surrounding Sutter Street is the site of many of Japantown's community service and cultural organizations. Although it is not an area of high pedestrian traffic, it is intensively used by local Japanese American residents, and could be more of a destination for visitors.
Community Crossroads. The Buchanan
Mall and Peace Plaza lie at the center of
Japantown and in many ways constitute the symbolic
heart of the community. This area also attracts visitors who are drawn to the mall and
Japanese style of the installations in the Peace Plaza. This area also has the potential to be even more of a meeting place and crossroads for the variety of communities who have Japantown as a destination.
Streets serving Japantown can be defined as Community Framing streets or Community Access streets. The Japantown core is defined on three sides by Community Framing Streets, which include Fillmore on the west, Laguna on the east and Bush on the north. Although relatively undistinguished today, these streets should be redesigned to:
Signal the edges and boundary of Japantown through a change in streetscape design elements,
Provide orientation and wayfinding information to destinations in the core,
Be expressive of the unique character of Japantown and provide a distinctive image to passing motorists, transit riders and pedestrians through streetscape, signage, and other elements.
Although the Geary Expressway does frame the Japantown core on the south, it should not be designed with a character that uniquely references Japantown, since it is a city-wide great street and traverses many neighborhoods and districts. However, the presence of Japantown should be announced more clearly from the Geary Expressway to passersby (other modifications to Geary are discussed elsewhere in this report.)
Community Access Corridors provide vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle access to Japantown. There are two types of Community Access Corridors:
Primary access corridors lead directly to the core area of Japantown as well as to the Community Crossroads. These include Post, Sutter and Buchanan.
Secondary access corridors provide more tangential access to the Japantown core. Webster Street is a secondary access corridor.
A hierarchy of gateways to the Japantown core should be provided on all primary and secondary community access corridors. The most important of these gateways to Japantown should be provided on the east and west ends of Post Street (at Laguna and Fillmore) signifying Post Street's role as the commercial "Main Street" of the neighborhood.
Exhibit 9 illustrates a detailed concept for the location of gateways and streetscape along Fillmore Street, which serves as an important "facade" to the outside world for Japantown.
Exhibit 10 illustrates a concept for the major gateway to Japantown at Post and Fillmore.
Task Force Objective 4.1
Develop a cohesive urban design vision for Japantown by highlighting its center
and better defining its edges to make it welcoming and visually unique to its surroundings.
Primary Community Access Corridors
Secondary Community Access Corridors
Community Framing Streets
Gateways to the Commercial Core
Task Force Objective 4.2.4
Give Japantown a positive face along Fillmore Street.
Transition Gateway between Japantown District and Upper Fillmore
Gateway to Japantown:
Post at Fillmore
The proposed urban framework illustrated previously describes a general framework for the future development of Japantown. In addition, at a more detailed level, there are distinct subdistricts that have unique roles within Japantown's social, economic, and physical environment, as illustrated in Exhibit 11. The economic and physical planning programs and concepts that will make up the Japantown Community Plan should recognize and strengthen these subdistricts and strengthen their unique roles within the study area and city as a whole.
Bounded by Bush, Geary, Laguna, and Fillmore, this is the area of highest intensity activity within Japantown and an area where commercial, cultural, and community uses are concentrated. It is Japantown's "public" district. Notwithstanding the importance of Japantown's residential neighborhoods, it is the area where economic and physical planning strategies can have the greatest impact. The core comprises the following subdistricts:
Geary Corridor is a major transportation corridor and street of city-wide importance. Adjacent to Japantown, Geary is a high-rise, high-density corridor. The Sequoias, Cathedral Hill Apartments, Webster Tower, Cathedral Hill Condominiums, Post International, and Fillmore Center all are located along the Geary Corridor within or adjacent to the study area. This concentration of high-density development suggests that opportunities to intensify the development of Japantown along the corridor for office and residential uses that would help support other objectives in the neighborhood may be appropriate.
Japan Center, fronting most of Geary and
Post within the study area, is the primary
defining element of Japantown due to its size and
prominence. Similar to the anchor of a retail mall, it is the index of Japantown's overall vitality and viability. While Japan Center provides some goods and services to the surrounding neighborhood, it is primarily a regional and subregional facility serving visitors and tourists from throughout the Bay Area and beyond. As the "economic engine" of Japantown, the success of the Japan Center is critical to the economic health of the area and, therefore, needs to be considered in any comprehensive planning for Japantown.
Post Street Commercial Core is an important transition zone between the greater density and scale of Geary, including Japan Center, and Japantown's residential and cultural uses. With the character and scale of a typical San Francisco neighborhood commercial district or small town "main street," Post currently serves the Japantown residential neighborhood as well as visitors to the community and has the potential to become a much more vital neighborhood commercial street.
Sutter Street Community/Cultural Core. Many of Japantown's most important community, religious and cultural institutions, which serve both the local community and Japanese Americans throughout Northern California, are located along Sutter Street or in close proximity.
Buchanan Mall is Japantown's "community crossroads" forging a link between commercial and cultural subdistricts. Considered the symbolic heart of the Japantown community, the Buchanan Mall primarily contains small-scale retail uses with some community/cultural and office uses. Like Post Street, the mall has the potential to expand its commercial draw.
Corridor describes the currently underutilized stretch of Fillmore
bordering Japantown between Geary and
Bushthe "facade" of Japantown along one of
Francisco's most popular neighborhood commercial streets. Fillmore Street offers opportunities to intensify residential and commercial development that would give Japantown a strong and visible presence to visitors along this important commercial corridor.
Japantown Residential District
Includes the residential neighborhoods which surround the Japantown Core. This district consists of original Victorians as well as more recent housing of varying densities. The existing lower density and smaller scale of these neighborhoods should be preserved.
Economic and physical planning concepts for the Community Plan provide an opportunity to reshape the character of the neighborhood and provide leadership in achieving important changes that the city has been unable to provide but that, nonetheless, will benefit both Japantown and the city as a whole. Japantown's unique subdistricts define an economic and physical planning framework that should underlie the elements of the Community Plan. The priority economic projects, urban design concepts, and detailed implementation plan must be based on the overall framework and the subdistricts defined above. These elements are interrelated and represent a holistic approach to achieving a vision for Japantown that focuses on the long-term, sustainable preservation and enhancement of the community's cultural, spiritual, commercial and residential uses.
Japantown Core Boundary
Sutter Street Community/Cultural Core
Post Street Commercial Core
Fillmore Street Corridor
Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan
Circulation and Access Issues
The transportation system is vital to the economic health of a commercial district or neighborhood. It provides a critical link to the surrounding city and region and is fundamental to moving about an area. The transportation system also provides the physical framework around which land use patterns develop. When the land uses and transportation system serving them are of a compatible scale and character, a positive relationship develops and the neighborhoods or districts are inviting to users. Conversely, if the scale and character of the land use and transportation systems are not compatible, it may be detrimental to the success and attractiveness of a neighborhood.
These issues are clearly demonstrated in an analysis of circulation and access issues in Japantown, and illustrated in Exhibit 12. Among the key observations:
Japantown is bisected by several high capacity transportation corridors, which emphasize through vehicular movement over pedestrian circulation. All of the east west streets in Japantown - Geary Expressway, Post Street, Sutter Street, Bush Street and Pine Street - are broad streets ranging in width from three travel lanes to eight travel lanes. These broad streets emphasize through-movement rather than local auto and pedestrian access to serve local businesses, cultural uses and residences. While these broad and open streets provide easy access to Japantown, there is not a strong sense of destination or local orientation.
Japantown has a high level of transit
service. However, it is located peripheral to Post
Street, the primary neighborhood commercial street.
Patrons must walk from (or across) Geary Expressway and from Sutter Street to
business. This is contrary to the prevailing pattern of transit service found throughout San Francisco, which is typically provided directly on all neighborhood commercial streets. Direct transit service ensures a high degree of pedestrian accessibility for businesses and enhances the visibility of the commercial uses. Furthermore, there are not well defined entrances to the Japantown shopping district from transit stops along Geary Expressway and only one along Sutter Street (at the Buchanan Mall).
Japantown has a large supply of off-street parking compared to other commercial districts in the city. However, the off-street parking facilities are not clearly visible to visitors to the area. Double parking occurs along Post Street resulting in traffic disruption.
The broad streets in the district detract from pedestrian comfort and the creation of a pedestrian scale shopping district that invites shoppers and visitors to explore on foot. It is difficult for shoppers to cross Post Street, a broad neighborhood street and the heart of the commercial district. The crossing between Japan Center and the Buchanan Street Mall, which serves high volumes of pedestrians, could use better delineation. The lack of businesses with direct access onto Post Street compound the pedestrian scale issues associated with the broad streets. Some of the Geary Expressway crossings are unsafe for pedestrians to cross due to their width and the timing of the lights. The pedestrian bridges on Webster and Geary contribute to the feeling that the street level is not a desirable place for pedestrians.
Geary Expressway, which provides the
most frequent transit service, and a connection to major residential uses to the south
Japantown, is inhospitable to pedestrians. This results from the heavy traffic volumes, the width of the street, the lack of pedestrian amenities and scale, the pedestrian overcrossing which take people off the street level, and the large blank walls presented by the Japan Center.
There is a lack of secure bicycle storage facilities visible from the street level in Japantown.
Circulation and Access
(High speed through traffic)
(High speed through traffic)
Major Vehicular Streets
Neighborhood Commercial Core
With the exception of the Buchanan Mall, the newly renovated Peace Plaza and surrounding residential streets, most of the public spaces in Japantown are not inviting for people to walk, socialize or relax. This is the result of several factors, including:
Blank walls at street level along Geary, Fillmore and Post offer no street-level activity or invitation for people to walk and experience the street.
Stairs and ramps from Geary to the Peace Plaza have a secondary, "back door" feel.
Blank facades of Japan Center facing the Peace Plaza impede active flow of pedestrians.
Spatial Structure Designed for the Automobile
Street width and speed of traffic on Geary are intimidating to the pedestrian
Excessive street width on Webster, Post and Sutter
High traffic speeds on Bush Street
Difficult Pedestrian Street Crossings
Unsafe at-grade crossings on Geary, especially for children and seniors.
Geary Bridge feels isolated and unsafe for people.
No at-grade crossing at Webster.
Poorly defined pedestrian crossing on Post between the Buchanan Mall and Peace Plaza.
Lack of Perceived Safety and Few Streetscape Amenities
Lack of seating, pedestrian-scale lighting, and other amenities on major and secondary streets discourage more active use by people in Japantown.
Cobbles at Buchanan Mall make uncomfortable walking surface, but are an historically important part of the imagery of the Mall.
Ficus trees along Sutter cast heavy shade and block street lights.
Lack of street activity means fewer "eyes on the street."
Heaved and broken sidewalks impede
pedestrians, particularly seniors.
Develop streetscape improvements that provide comfort for people walking on all primary pedestrian routes throughout the Japantown core. This is particularly important on Post Street which serves as the neighborhood commercial main street of Japantown.
Throughout the primary pedestrian precincts of the core, promote land uses adjacent to primary pedestrian routes that are people-friendly. Encourage active ground floor uses, including retail and restaurants, building transparency, and attractive lighting. Discourage blank walls and inactive ground floor uses.
Implement traffic calming measures on all streets in the core pedestrian precinct to provide greater advantage to pedestrians over vehicular traffic.
Surrounding residential neighborhoods generally already provide attractive pedestrian environments due to the relationship of residential frontages, gardens and facades to the street.
Additional improvements to be considered are described in Section III, Streetscape Definition.
Pedestrian Framework Plan
A key element of the success of the economic development strategy for Japantown will be the establishment of a strong physical design framework that promotes walking, socializing, relaxing, and shopping in Japantown through pedestrian linkages and amenities. This has the potential to achieve several objectives, including:
Increase economic activity as people are encouraged to linger.
Reduce short auto trips from the nearby neighborhood.
Improve communication and relationships between people residing in the surrounding neighborhoods, in particular across the Geary Expressway.
Exhibit 13 illustrates a proposal for the geographic extent of the core pedestrian precinct in Japantown. Among its features:
Provide easy pedestrian connections across Geary at all cross streets and intersections. This will likely require changes to the design of the Geary Expressway. For a more complete discussion of these possibilities, see discussions regarding changes to the Geary Expressway, later in this report.
Task Force Objective 4.4
Provide a streetscape that is safe, lively, pleasant and comfortable.
Task Force Objective 4.6
Provide easy access to Japantown for all ages by foot, car, bicycle and public transportation.
Encourage pedestrian-oriented uses and design
Primary Pedestrian Routes
Create Geary Parkway
Narrow traffic ways (2-3 lanes each direction)
Slow traffic on Geary frontage ramps
A key element in the character of city districts and neighborhoods is the streetscape, which includes the street, sidewalks, plantings, lighting and other materials and elements located in the public right of way between building facades. The buildings which define the street are also an important component of streetscape character by helping to define whether a street is people-friendly or uninteresting to pedestrians.
In many neighborhoods of San Francisco, streetscape is very basic and consists of plain concrete sidewalks, a limited number of street trees, and standard roadway lighting. In some particularly memorable areas, however, special streetscape treatments contribute to a uniquely memorable image. These are particularly successful when the streetscape treatment relates to the unique character of the neighborhood.
Streetscape Design Issues
In Japantown the streetscape does not express the overall framework of Japantown nor does it contribute a special character or image for the district. Among the issues:
Streets are undifferentiated with respect to their purpose and relative importance.
The area lacks a defined hierarchy of streets and streetscape design elements.
Streetscape elements do not express a recognizable image of Japantown, its culture or its history.
The blank walls of Japan Center and its internal focus isolates it from other commercial uses along Post Street and does not contribute to an inviting streetscape.
Buchanan Mall contains some of Japantown's most unique expressions of its cultural heritage. However, empty storefronts, poor maintenance, incongruous planter posts and other stock furnishings detract from this otherwise well-crafted streetscape environment, resulting in a run-down look.
With the exception of the torii and Peace Pagoda, there are very few identifying markers that announce arrival at Japantown.
With the exception of the Buchanan Mall and Peace Plaza, very few locations in Japantown contain plantings reflecting the history or cultural identity of the area.
Planting is poorly maintained.
Inappropriate tree species are used, such as Ficus, whose dense canopies block street lighting and views of storefront signage and do not present a unique image or character.
Outside of the Buchanan Mall and Peace Plaza, existing lighting does not give pedestrian scale or express community identity.
Illuminated signs and storefront lighting on major commercial streets - Post, Fillmore and Geary - are undistinguished.
Graphics and Signage
Signage for retail, restaurants and other commercial establishments provide the strongest image of Japantown. However the quality of this signage is uneven.
In general, signage is random and spotty throughout the study area.
The lack of well-signed parking creates confusion for drivers.
Sites of historical and cultural signficance are not clearly or consistently marked.
Street signs are the city standard and convey nothing unique about Japantown.
With the exception of the Buchanan Mall and newly renovated Peace Plaza, street furnishings consist of stock trash receptacles and newsracks
Stock concrete planters in the Buchanan Mall detract from this well-designed environment.
With the exception of the origami fountains and other elements in the Buchanan Mall and the Peace Plaza, there are few special amenities within Japantown.
Task Force Objective 4.1
Develop a cohesive urban design vision for Japantown by highlighting its center and better defining its edges.
Task Force Objective 4.4
Provide a streetscape that is safe, lively,
pleasant and comfortable.
Corridor-length landscape expression (City-wide).
Streetscape defines edge of Japantown core.
"Main Street" streetscape.
Streetscape links Japantown cultural institutions.
Most symbolic streetscape expression in the community.
Community Core Access Corridors
Streetscape defines approach to Japantown.
Informal localized landscape.
Neighborhood Commercial Streets
Not expressive of Japantown
Exhibit 14 describes the proposed concept for streetscape improvements in Japantown. The concept is based on following key objectives:
Reinforce the urban design framework concept
Re-establish a hierarchy of streetscape expression
Provide unique design expressions on certain streets that reflects the unique role, character or image that the street plays in the community.
The hierarchy of streets and general concepts include:
Geary is one of the great streets of San Francisco that connects several neighborhoods and binds the city together. Comparable streets include Market Street and the Embarcadero. Therefore, design of the Geary streetscape should not be specific to Japantown, but rather should provide a corridor-length expression to signify its role as a street of citywide importance. This would include unifying street trees, street lighting, signage and other elements which express the entire corridor. In the future, when a light rail system is extended along Geary, elements of that system will also help unify the corridor.
The framing streets - Fillmore, Bush and Laguna provide local access, define the edge of Japantown's core and notify passersby of access to Japantown. Streetscape elements should include:
Gateways (or visual cues) on all cross streets
Street trees that differentiate this segment of the street from adjacent street sections
Specialty directional signage
Accent lighting to emphasize gateways.
Post Street between Fillmore and Laguna is the neighborhood commercial core street of Japantown. As such, it should be designed with a unique "main street" streetscape including:
Special paving along the entire length
Unique deciduous tree species that provide open branching to allow visibility of storefronts.
Distinctive, pedestrian-scale street lighting combined with accent and storefront lighting to create a lively and engaging nighttime atmosphere. A white light source (i.e. metal halide) should be used to enhance the appearance of people and features in the area
High quality commercial signage.
In addition, building development along the street should enhance streetscape improvements, including:
Building setbacks to extend the sidewalk and create mini-plazas for street vendors, seating, and special landscape treatments.
Encourage development of entertainment and public attraction uses along Post Street.
Encourage community serving retail uses.
Provide open window displays and street gallery spaces.
Encourage building design that includes transparency and activity. In particular renovate the Japan Center and Japantown Bowl building to provide transparency and multiple access points and encourage active ground floor uses.
Encourage a facade treatment of the Japan Center buildings that reflects a smaller scale streetscape.
Community Cultural Core
Sutter Street is the community cultural core of Japantown. The streetscape on Sutter should be designed to express its role as the area with the highest concentration of community cultural and educational institutions. In contrast with Post, the streetscape should be quiet and contemplative, and contain elements that are designed, produced, and installed by members of the neighborhood and Japanese American community. Such elements might include:
Streetscape to link cultural institutions along Sutter.
Distinctive, pedestrian-scale lighting and accent lighting to illuminate historical and culturally important architecture and places.
A unique tree species.
New cultural and neighborhood uses concentrated along and in proximity to Sutter.
Places which include seating for neighborhood meetings, gatherings, and rest, particularly adjacent to cultural institutions and organizations that serve the elderly.
As Japantown's major civic spaces, the Buchanan Mall and Peace Plaza should continue to be given the most symbolic design expressions in the community.
The river motif, origami fountains, and spiritual gathering place should be preserved.
Develop a comprehensive plan for the continued renovation and upkeep of the Buchanan Mall including:
- coordinate with plans by Sakura Matsuri, Inc. to restore the torii gate and Japanese lantern light standards
- replace the existing concrete planters with custom designed planter pots of the
quality of design and craftsmanship of
Ruth Asawa's benches and origami fountains. Commission local artists.
- establish a maintenance program in cooperation with the city for regular upkeep of the Buchanan Mall and Peace Plaza that ensures community steward ship.
- Use accent lighting at the torii and Peace Pagoda.
Renovate the Japan Center to provide active uses such as retail and restaurants all around the Peace Plaza. Provide space on the Peace Plaza to allow restaurant and retail uses to spill out and activate the Plaza.
Community Access Corridors
As the primary access corridors to the Japantown core, streets should include signage and other streetscape elements to reinforce the main approach to Japantown and access to parking facilities. Like Framework Streets, streetscape elements would include:
Uniform street tree species for the blocks approaching Japantown
Signage and banners as part of the approach or signaling entrance to Japantown.
The surrounding residential streets of Japantown should provide a background with which the special character of the Japantown core is set. They are also an area of cultural diversity that is no longer dominated by Japanese American residents. The residential streets would have an informal localized landscape and can reflect the character of the particular block or adjacent property owner.
Neighborhood Commercial Streets
Outside the Japantown core, the streetscape treatment of neighborhood commercial streets, i.e., upper and lower Fillmore - should not be expressive of Japantown but should reflect the character of upper or lower Fillmore subdistricts.
Today as a result of living with several decades of post-war planning and design theory, it is clear that many of these environments are not desirable urban places and, in many cases, are impossible to sustain. In Japantown, a transition from these post-war planning concepts can be a vital component in achieving long-term success.
Four major opportunities to introduce change in Japantown, in an effort to create a more viable and attractive urban environment are discussed below. These include:
Correcting Planning and Design Errors of the Past
Several of the physical planning and design strategies that were employed in rebuilding Japantown under urban renewal policies from 1950 to 1970 have resulted in an urban environment that is not easily sustainable. During the postwar years, contemporary planning and urban design theory took a noted departure from historic patterns of urban and community development. These new attitudes of urban development were widely applied in urban renewal programs in rebuilding cities around the country. The most important characteristics of these urban development theories included:
Reliance on the automobile for nearly all transportation needs. Existing rail transit lines were removed and a web of major highways and arterials were constructed as the preferred means of transportation, offering unprecedented speed and convenience.
Accommodation of the automobile as a primary factor in the design of the city environment, often to the detriment of pedestrians, residential areas, parks and neighborhood commercial centers. In Japantown, much of the physical environment has been shaped by accommodations to the automobile, including the excessively wide Geary Expressway; the four-lane Webster arterial, and Japan Center, which is designed to promote access directly from the internal parking garage without encouraging use of the street by pedestrians.
It should be noted that the recommendations to correct these post-war era investments are not short term, low cost initiatives. Like the urban renewal programs that created the existing environment, long term planning and investment will be required. However, in recent years it has been shown that major changes to the urban fabric are possible (such as the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway and redesign of the corridor to create a multi-use boulevard.)
It also should be noted that not all of the development that occurred in the Japantown area is inappropriate. There are many well-scaled areas in and near Japantown, such as Buchanan Mall, St. Francis Square, and other housing throughout the area. In addition, the community has had the benefit of the internal creation of certain institutions and uses (public and private) that have generated numerous positive economic, social and cultural contributions to the community, such as JCCCNC and the Japantown Bowl.
Geary Street, in the vicinity of Japantown, is a 8-lane roadway (designated an Expressway) with parking on either side and narrow sidewalks. The total right-of-way width is approximately 165 feet, making it one of the widest streets in San Francisco. As mentioned previously it was conceived in the great road-building era of the 1950's when freeways and expressways were envisioned to speed traffic throughout the city.
Extreme width and high traffic speeds make it difficult for pedestrians to cross, particularly the large numbers of elderly that reside in the area.
Considerable noise results from high traffic speeds and volumes
Walls of the Japan Center and Geary traffic discourage pedestrian activity and increase the lack of security for pedestrians especially at night. It has been the scene of robberies and violent crime
It is an unattractive environment for pedestrians, adjacent residents and businesses.
Further studies are required to determine if the current traffic capacity of the Geary Expressway is needed. However, preliminary review by traffic consultants indicate excess capacity may exist. (The eight-lane section of the Geary Expressway carries less traffic than the six-lane section of the Embarcadero.) If so, major changes to the Geary Expressway would be desirable, similar to corrective measures that are underway to redesign the Embarcadero, the Central Freeway, Doyle Drive and others, and thereby restitch the fabric of the neighborhoods together.
Exhibit 15 illustrates a proposed concept for a revised cross-section of Geary (here renamed the Geary Parkway) which would reallocate the use of space within the right of way. Key features of this redesign include:
A cross-section similar in arrangement to the Embarcadero.
Reduction of eight moving vehicular lanes to four or six.
Wider sidewalks, potentially up to 40 feet
in specific locations.
Opportunity for an exclusive right of way for light rail transit. MUNI has designated Geary as a future rail transit priority corridor.
Parking and loading in parking pockets rather than continuously along its length, including designated parking for tour buses to support the commercial businesses.
Easy pedestrian crossings at every cross street from Fillmore to Octavia, with shorter pedestrian crossing distances and multiple pedestrian sanctuaries in the median.
Wider sidewalk zones providing opportunities for improvements to the Japan Center "wall" along Geary that will enliven the street and improve access to and through the Center. These might include:
- broad, inviting stairways and ramps leading directly into the Peace Plaza and commercial establishments
- restaurants and retail that front the Geary Parkway
Exhibit16 illustrates the possible future
character of Geary at the sidewalk adjacent to
There are many issues related to the Geary Expressway which affect the surrounding neighborhoods of the area:
It appears that Geary is overdesigned with excess capacity (peak period observations show traffic moves freely through the area.)
Traffic speeds are very high. The
differential between posted speeds and actual traffic
speeds are alarming, particularly in the westbound direction as motorists accelerate down
from Cathedral Hill.
Existing Geary Expressway
Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan
Geary Parkway Section
Task Force Objective 4.6
Provide easy access to Japantown for all ages by foot, car, bicycle, and public transportation.
Future Geary Parkway at the Peace Plaza
Webster Street - Existing
Like the Geary Expressway, there is potential to reevaluate the allocation of space along Webster, particularly between Geary and Bush, to the benefit of Japantown. Exhibits 18 and 19 illustrate a concept for the redesign of Webster which could reduce the amount of potentially unneeded automobile space and add improvements which benefit businesses, residents and visitors to Japantown.
Narrow Webster to conform to its standard width and alignment north of Bush Street - two vehicular travel lanes and parking both sides
Recapture unneeded space as a major opportunity area up to 50 feet wide for public improvements such as a public park or garden and a wide sidewalk. The public park could be an integral element for the overall image improvement of Japantown.
Like the Geary Expressway, Webster Street between Grove and Bush is designed as a wide boulevard with planted median, clearly designed for significant vehicular volumes and speeds. However, it appears to have been planned to be extended further north and south, because it does not fuction as a through arterial roadway commensurate with the scale of its design.
While much of Webster appears to be inappropriately wide, it is only the northern-most portion that falls between Geary and Bush that bears the most direct impact upon the character of Japantown. Through this area, Webster Street includes five lanes (four lanes plus left turn pockets), parking, a planted median, and narrow sidewalks. (see Exhibit 17) North of Bush Street, it narrows to a two lane street.
Like Geary, there are many issues related to the design of Webster Street that do not enhance the Japantown neighborhood:
As primarily a local access street, Webster appears to be overdesigned in terms of traffic capacity for its role in the city street network
It seldom, if ever, operates at capacity, with little congestion in the peak hour.
Webster separates east and west portions of the Japantown core, and poses a considerable challenge for pedestrians to cross.
The northbound right lane ends at Bush Street This configuration appears unnecessary in connecting major destinations in this portion of city.
The excessive right-of-way dedicates land
to the automobile, which is potentially useful
for other community-serving purposes .
Webster Street - Proposed
Webster Street Gardens
San Francisco is a city of great neighborhood commercial streets. These streets serve as the "main streets" of their various neighborhoods, providing goods and services, recreation, community identity, transportation access and interesting visitor destinations. Great examples abound: Upper Fillmore, Union, Chestnut, 24th, Sacramento and Clement.
There are common characteristics that make these streets great:
They area generally narrow (2 vehicular travel lanes).
Active ground-floor building uses - such as retail and restaurants - are continuous along their length.
There is a limited amount of passive street level uses such as banks, offices, parking and open space along their length.
The streetscape is well suited to the street and provides important amenities.
Post Street in Japantown has the potential to be one of the best neighborhood commercial streets in the city. However, it is not successful today for several reasons:
Like Geary and Webster is it unnecessarily wide for its traffic-carrying requirements.
Japan Center and Japantown Bowl present blank walls and unattractive facades to the street which do not enhance the sense of activity.
Passive street level uses such as offices and residential uses, which do not actively engage the street, as well as the wide expanse of Webster Street, discourage pedestrian movement along the street.
Like most suburban shopping malls, the Japan Center is designed as a major inward-oriented structure with only a few specific locations for pedestrian access. The design also encourages pedestrian access directly from the below grade parking facility into the internal mall of the center while discouraging access by use of the surrounding streets.
There are several issues related to this design that are not sympathetic with the neighborhood and are out of character with the streets of San Francisco:
Blank walls, particularly along Post Street, do not promote vitality and a sense of activity
The inward orientation of the mall and other uses places all vitality internal to the building rather than on the street
Access from the parking garage (which is public) to the street (which is also public) is very difficult, through two or three narrow and unfriendly stairwells and openings. Garage users are encouraged (indeed, almost forced) to go from the garage directly into the private shopping center. This movement can discourage visitors from visiting other destinations in Japantown which can only be accessed from the public street.
The Center is outdated aesthetically and in need of a thorough renovation and updating.
San Francisco has led the nation in recent
years in efforts to establish guidelines to create
streets and public spaces that are attractive and safe
for all users, with a particular emphasis on the pedestrian environment. The city has set
clear standards for public street design as well as
the design of private development that will
promote attractive streets. The Master Plan of the
City and County of San Francisco and specifically
the San Francisco Urban Design Plan are
important policy documents that guide the way
building development should occur in the city.
The Japan Center violates many of the fundamental principles on which these policy documents are grounded. Like the Geary Expressway and Webster Street, major changes to the Japan Center are warranted in order to bring it in conformance with the principles of current urban design theory and City of San Francisco policy and to address the issues outlined above.
Exhibits 16, 20 and 21 illustrate concepts for the improvement of Japan Center which should be considered as part of a renovation program.
Increase the transparency of walls on both Post Street and Geary to allow the visibility of people and goods inside and to allow attractive light to spill onto the street.
Provide continuous direct pedestrian access to retail and restaurants from Post and Geary.
Bring Japan Center into conformance with today's best retail strategies, improving image and accessibility, providing clear indications of what it includes, and making it a much more visible, street-like environment which welcomes shoppers and diners.
Other improvements not shown would include:
Improved access directly from the lower level parking to the street in all areas.
Create direct access from AMC Kabuki Theaters to Japantown Center's Kinokuniya Mall.
Provide a continuous unified streetscape including elements as described in Section III, Streetscape Definition.
Building setbacks or arcades in new building development to provide additional sidewalk space for retail and restaurant activities.
Corner bulbs at intersections to make pedestrian crossing easier and to provide a location for seating, information, art, and other streetscape enhancements.
A narrower vehicular street - two travel lanes plus parking on both sides. The space gained can be used to widen sidewalks, particularly on the Japan Center side and to provide space for stairs and ramps needed to gain access to shops that are above street level. The wider sidewalk will also provide additional space for sidewalk cafes and public seating.
Renovation and updating of the Japan Center will also greatly improve the character of Post Street.
Exhibits 20 and 21 illustrate concepts for improvements that would enhance the street.
Future Japan Center:
Post Street near the Peace Plaza
Post Street Commercial Core
Task Force Objective 4.2
Improve and upgrade the physical appearance of Japantown's commercial district to ensure continued financial viability of Japantown.
Task Force Strategy 4.2.3
Reinforce Post Street as Japantown's "Main Street" for commercial uses.
Ease pedestrian crossings: corner bulbs, median
refuges. Develop Webster Street Gardens
Post Street Primary Commercial Area Boundary
Gateway to commercial "main street"
Unique "Main Street" streetscape:
unique tree species
Promote transparency in large walls (e.g. Japantown Bowl). Provide active ground floor uses. Building setbacks for "mini-plazas".
The urban landscape, among its many roles, is also something to be seen, to be remembered, and to delight in. Giving visual form to the city is a special kind of design problem.
-Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City
Prior to World War II, the image of Japantown derived primarily from the numbers of Japanese American residents in the neighborhood, the types of businesses located there, and the visual character on the interior of the shops and public buildings. Japantown was primarily an area of Victorian buildings; the most significant exterior physical image of the area was the Kanji lettering on signs on buildings. Otherwise, there was very little Japanese American expression or imagery evident in the physical environment of the neighborhood.
The need for a strong physical image of Japantown was much less important then than it is today since the neighborhood was composed of a high concentration of Japanese American residents and the economic survival of the neighborhood was not dependent upon the ability to attract outside visitors to a unique environmental experience.
Following World War II, the physical character of Japantown changed dramatically. The image was recast to encompass Modernist design ideals with reference to a Japanese design aesthetic. In many ways portions of Japantown today probably have a stronger, more unique physical image than before WWII.
The Challenge Today
The result of post war change has not worn well. Today the image of Japantown has a deteriorated quality, lacking a cohesive identity, both externally as a destination in the city and region, and internally as a special neighborhood within the city of San Francisco.
There is a substantial risk that the area will no longer be unique within the city as a whole. While much of the area is relatively new in comparison with other sections of the city, initial urban design analysis and comments from neighborhood stakeholders indicate that there is a need for a new vision for Japantown's image. Partly this deficiency is attributable to urban renewal policies and design concepts initiated between the 1950's and 1970's that did not result in a lasting image for the area or one that could transcend changing demographics and economic realities. In addition, in recent years, a pattern of benign neglect has further resulted in a loss of identity and a general deterioration of the physical environment of the neighborhood. As the responsibility for policy guidance and initiative shifts from the Redevelopment Agency to the Planning Department, the Department of Public Works, and other city agencies, this condition can be expected to persist.
The challenge today is to forge a strong new image for Japantown that will:
Reinforce its identity as a unique neighborhood in San Francisco.
Serve as a source of pride to local residents and people of the broader Nikkei community.
Provide a memorable destination for visitors.
The JPPDTF has recognized the importance of establishing a unique identity in defining the following objectives:
2.1 Strengthen tourist activity within Japantown.
2.4 Develop and implement a marketing plan to promote Japantown locally, regionally and worldwide.
4.3 Encourage the design of the buildings, plazas, street furniture, ornament, and landscape to reflect the history of Japantown and to contribute to community identity.
Japantown: Regional Image and Local Sense of Place
There are two important considerations in establishing a strong image for Japantown:
Local sense of place. That is, the character of the neighborhood that distinguishes it from others.
Part of the success of Japantown depends upon the ability to attract outside visitors and make it easy for them to find Japantown. As will be discussed in Section IV, in addition to programs for the Japanese American community, marketing programs that promote tourism and first-time visitors will be an important part of a successful economic development program for Japantown.
Various programs utilizing design elements can play an important role in projecting Japantown's image. Among the most important of these are signage and wayfinding systems placed throughout the city that help first time visitors find their way to Japantown. Several San Francisco neighborhoods and visitor destinations have well developed programs of this type including Chinatown, North Beach, Fisherman's Wharf, and Union Square. Sponsored by the SF Visitors and Convention Bureau and the Department of Parking and Traffic, in partnership with the local neighborhood business associations, these programs provide a first glimpse of district identity outside the actual neighborhood itself. While the program may not be necessary for the regional Japanese American community that already knows of Japantown, it can be one important component of an overall visitor attraction strategy.
Such a program exists but is underdeveloped in Japantown. Currently, wayfinding and signage leading to Japantown is very limited. Unlike Chinatown and North Beach, with directional signage located at great distances out into the city and on major approach routes, most Japantown directional signage is only located within a few blocks of Japantown, at locations such as Geary and Steiner.
Exhibit 22 illustrates a concept for an expanded citywide image-enhancing signage and wayfinding program for Japantown. Key strategies include:
Establish a unique signage icon that expresses the image of Japantown. Currently, the icon that is used for the Japantown program prominently features the Peace Pagoda on a blue background. As a first stage, the community, organized through the Plan Implementation Organization described in Section IV, should confirm that the icon is appropriate as the image the community seeks to project. If not, a new icon should be developed that relates to the overall image development program for Japantown.
Locate signage at intersections of major arterials and destinations throughout the city, such as Lombard/Fillmore, Market/Geary, Union Square, and Van Ness/Geary to guide visitors to the vicinity of Japantown.
Also locate signage at major junctions of Japantown Core Access Corridors that lead directly to the Japantown Core. These include Post, Sutter, Buchanan and Webster Streets.
This signage and wayfinding strategy complements the Urban Framework concepts discussed previously in Section III, and reinforces Primary Access Corridors and Gateway Streets that lead directly to the Japantown Core.
In addition to the signage and wayfinding program for Japantown, special consideration should be given to the streetscape character of the Japantown Core Access Corridors as they approach Japantown. These streets should have a unified landscape expression which links the surrounding residential neighborhoods to the commercial core, and should include street tree planting and lighting. Buchanan Street as it approaches from the north and south is a particularly important visual corridor; from several blocks away, the Peace Pagoda is visible as an important feature in the cityscape. Like other important civic monuments, efforts should be made to protect and enhance view corridors to the Peace Pagoda through the design of streetscape improvements.
City-Wide Awareness, Wayfinding
Task Force Objective 2.1
Strengthen tourist activity within Japantown.
Task Force Objective 2.2
Coordinate with local merchants' association to develop and implement a marketing plan to promote Japantown locally, regionally, and nationally.
Task Force Objective 4.1
Develop a cohesive urban design vision for Japantown by highlighting its center and
better defining its edges to make it welcoming and visually unique to its surroundings.
On arrival in Japantown, the physical image and sense-of-place also must be strengthened to provide an identity that reflects the cultural, educational, recreational, entertainment and goods and services that the area has to offer. Japantown is unique in having this cross-section of features that characterize the community; establishing a physical image to express this diversity will also support the health and economic development of the community
Exhibit 8 describes key elements of a proposed urban framework for the core of Japantown. Conceptual locations and a hierarchy of gateways, streetscape, and other elements are shown. However, what is the appropriate physical character or image of these gateways, streetscape and overall physical environment?
During the course of this phase of the community planning process, discussions were held between the consultant team and the Task Force and with the Task Force Environmental Subcommittee, as well as with the larger community at two neighborhood "town hall" forums. The purpose of these sessions was to discuss preferences regarding the nature of design expression that would provide an appropriate image and sense of place for Japantown. Potential alternative design expressions that were discussed included:
1. Traditional Japanese. Most clearly
expressed in the historic buildings and gardens of Japan, generally prior to the Meiji era.
The Japanese Tea Garden of Golden Gate Park and the Hakone Gardens in Saratoga
are local examples. In Japantown, the exterior of the building that houses the
Japanese Community and Cultural Center of Northern California (JCCCNC) is highly derivative
of this design tradition. Traditional design expression is not, however, limited to
direct copies of historic designs. Contemporary design derived from the traditional
aesthetic also falls into this category. The gardens
of Isamu Noguchi and the designs of Ruth
Asawa in the Buchanan Mall are examples. Such designs are highly expressive of the traditional Japanese design aesthetic, albeit with a more contemporary use of materials, forms and surfaces.
2. Contemporary Japanese/Modernist. In many ways it is difficult to distinguish contemporary Japanese building and landscape design from that found throughout the United States and other industrialized nations. Since World War II international design has followed the principles of Modernism or other subsequent trends. The best Japanese examples are the work of architects such as Fumihiko Maki who designed the Center for the Arts in Yerba Buena Gardens. The Japan Center and Miyako Hotel are also generally designed in this contemporary modernist style. However, because such work is so closely related to international trends, it is difficult for most individuals to perceive it as providing an image to an area that is unique from many other areas in the city.
3. Eclectic. Japanese traditional combined with western. This image would include a mix of Japanese traditional design and western elements. Architecture of the Meiji Era in Japan sometimes achieved this mix successfully. However, while such a mix can be interesting from a design perspective, it is difficult to establish a clear image.
The general consensus and conclusion from the various community discussions was that the physical environment of the Japantown core should seek to express the traditional Japanese design aesthetic described in number 1 above.
Such an expressions provides the greatest likelihood of success in giving Japantown a unique and memorable image. However, this does not simply mean that strict reproduction of historic Japanese themes in Japanese landscape and architecture is appropriate for Japantown. Design expression can be both traditional and contemporary but should derive from an underlying traditional Japanese design aesthetic. The intent of this expression is to establish Japantown as a special place in the city of San Francisco that is reflective of, and derives from, its roots in Japanese and Japanese American culture.
This will give Japantown a unique sense of place as:
A home for Japanese American cultural and educational institutions.
A place to rekindle spiritual connections for the broader Japanese American community
A unique experience for citywide residents and tourists.
Exhibit 23 illustrates examples, some from Japantown, of the kind of character both highly traditional and contemporary that might establish the image of Japantown.
One of the best and least costly opportunities to improve the image of Japantown and create a people-friendly environment lies in upgrading the spaces, large and small, enclosed and open, that lie between buildings. These include spaces of all shapes and sizes including streets, courtyards, building entries, parking areas, and large interior spaces such as atriums and lobbies. Throughout Japantown today, these spaces are an ill-defined and uncared-for mix that actually degrades the image of Japantown rather than enhancing it.
These spaces present the opportunity to develop a network of gardens that will create a more hospitable neighborhood unlike any other in the city. The "gardens of Japantown" would be a system of open spaces designed to convey an expression of traditional and contemporary Japanese garden design and an image for Japantown that is beautiful and absolutely unique within the city.
Exhibit 24 illustrates potential major open space opportunities for development of a system of gardens. Although not all the parcels indicated on Exhibit 24 would be required to successfully create the Gardens of Japantown, even small plantings in the network would change the hardscape image of Japantown.
Japantown currently contains many fine landscape and garden examples which can serve as models of design which could be applied in other areas and expanded upon, including:
Nichi Bei Kai entry garden on Sutter Street
Miyako Hotel entry parking area
Miyako Hotel courtyard gardens
Front garden at 1825 Sutter Street
Kabuki Hot Springs entry garden.
Examples of potential opportunity areas and the character of gardens that could be created are illustrated in the photographs in Exhibit 25.
Implementation of an overall framework of gardens and open spaces in Japantown can be one of the fastest and most cost effective methods of improving the overall image of Japantown because:
1. It is cost effective. Landscape improvements are generally less expensive than building renovation programs.
2. Costs can be shared by the public and private sectors. Small, appropriately designed entry gardens can be installed and maintained by business owners and residents. Larger spaces can be implemented as a partnership between the Community Plan Implementation Organization and public agencies.
3. Maintenance can also be shared between business and residential property owners, the Community Plan Implementation Organization, and public agencies.
The potential for reconfiguration and redesign of areas which are currently underutilized or unattractive. Potential sites include the existing Nihomachi Parking Corporation parking lots, space gained through the narrowing of the Webster Street roadway, interior areas of Golden Gate Apartments, and the interior atriums of the Japan Center. On parking lot sites, garden development could be achieved as a community benefit that would be part of redevelopment of these sites with buildings, parking , community open space, and gradens.
A linked system of open spaces and paths, which, when combined with streetscape improvements, will create a pathway similar to the Philosophers Walk in Kyoto, and which could become the Japantown Garden Tour. This pathway could also include interpretive and historic exhibits and ultimately become a nationally recognized resource, similar to the Japanese American National Museum, plaza and garden in Los Angeles.
A variety of design expression, including hardscape (paving and stone similar to the Buchanan Mall) and soft naturalistic spaces.
Design elements would include traditional expression of garden design featuring Japanese plant materials, paving materials, stone, water, and other elements.
A variety of spaces, large and small.
Linked to the gardens can be space for Ikebana exhibits.
The gardens and open spaces can serve as a backdrop and location for facilities desired by the community such as museums, children's play areas, and community meeting facilities.
Design of garden features such as paving, tiles, sculptural elements and interpretive exhibits can be prepared and installed by community based organizations including school art programs and the National Japanese American Historical Society. Japanese American artists in San Francisco and elsewhere can also be involved in the design of permanent or temporary installations.
Open Space Opportunities:
The Gardens of Japantown
Corporation Lot and
Japantown Bowl (potential development opportunity area)
Corporation Lot (potential development opportunity area)
Webster Street Gardens
Japan Center (interior gardens)
Golden Gate Apartments
(see Priority Program #3 in Section IV)
More than 100 strategies, provided in Section V, were designed to address the wide range of community development, cultural needs, business concerns, and physical improvements identified by the community. Community discussions about the strategies highlighted the concern that the implementation work and staffing required to address all the strategies far exceeded the resources and capacity of the Task Force or the community as a whole. As a result, the Task Force endorsed five strategies as priorities, based on the rationale that the following key elements could provide the greatest impact on immediately stabilizing and strengthening Japantown:
Develop organizational capacity to organize the community and raise the funds necessary for successful implementation of the Japantown Community Plan.
Reinvigorate the business community with new Japanese businesses to replace closing shops and create a lively Japanese festival marketplace.
Create mechanisms for community control of land use decisions and preservation of community serving uses as properties are sold and redeveloped.
Create programs, facilities and an overall environment that attract children, youth, families and young adults to Japantown as the essential source of Japantown's revitalization.
Each of the priority projects outlined below include a statement of program need (issues
and opportunities), Community Plan objectives met by the program and key program elements.
The programs are designed with sufficient detail
to enable the Task Force's successor organization
to commence implementation immediately.
Priority Program #1: Creation of a Community Plan Implementation Organization
The creation of a community plan implementation organization to implement the Japantown Community Plan is an essential component of the plan. The organization would be the primary entity responsible for managing, coordinating, monitoring and evaluating the Community Plan's implementation. The organization would use a collaborative model of governance to ensure that Japantown's diverse interests are represented and promoted. The organization's primary goal would be to create the required long-term mechanisms for empowering the community to secure long-term preservation and enhancement of the neighborhood's unique cultural and economic resources. Therefore, the community development organization would be funded for a three-year period and re-evaluated to determine outcomes, impacts and need.
Statement of Program Need: Issues and Opportunities
There are approximately 40 community organization's in Japantown representing
the diverse interests of its constituencies
including youth, seniors, families, businesses,
property owners, etc. The Japantown Planning,
Preservation and Development Task Force is the
only organization that attempts to represent the
diversity of Japantown community interests and
plan for the neighborhood's long-term sustainability.
The Task Force, however, is a temporary organizing body set up by the San Francisco
Redevelopment Agency to address the need for a
long-term plan to ensure the future of San
Francisco's Japantown community. The Task Force
currently operates on short-term funding and is scheduled to dissolve in the next year or
so, creating a significant vacuum for a steward of
neighborhood's long-term preservation. Implementation of the Japantown Community Plan does not fit within any of the existing community organizations' missions or program plans.
The dissolution of the Japantown Planning, Preservation and Development Task Force presents an opportunity to draw upon its organizational capacity and highly qualified members for creating a community development organization. The board of the community development organization would be comprised of 12 to 15 members of the 50-member Task Force. Furthermore, the comprehensive studies, plans and neighborhood information collected by the Task Force could be transferred to the newly established community organization.
Vision and Goals
The proposed community development organization's vision and goals would be adapted from those already formulated and adopted by the Japantown Planning, Preservation and Development Task Force, as follows:
The vision for a community development organization is to preserve and
develop Japantown as a viable neighborhood by revitalizing its commercial and
cultural district into a local, statewide, national
and international resource. The community development organization envisions
strengthening the ethnic diversity of San
Francisco by bringing together the culture and
history of the Nikkei community into the Japantown center for all to share. The organization
seeks to create an atmosphere of safety, beauty
and prosperity for the residents, organizations and businesses residing in the
neighborhood for now and in the future.
Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan
Develop Japantown as a historical center, a cultural capital and a community center for people of Japanese ancestry in America.
Revitalize Japantown as a thriving commercial and retail district.
Preserve and expand Japantown as a neighborhood of residents, community-based organizations and institutions and neighborhood services.
Improve Japantown's physical environment so that it contributes to the cultural, economic and neighborhood vitality and diversity of the community.
Recommended Organizational Structure
The organizational structure recommended to implement the Japantown Community Plan is a non-profit 501(c) 3 Corporation. Based on the overall goals of preserving and developing the historical and cultural diversity of Japantown, as well as the specific objectives identified in the Plan, the new non-profit organization will most likely share common elements with Community Development Corporations (CDC). While there is no specific designation or formula for earning the CDC designation, CDCs are typically used to achieve the following:
Serve a Specific Community of Interest. CDC's typically define and confine their activities to a designated neighborhood, social or ethnic group, or geographic region. As such, this CDC "identity" allows the non-profit corporation's diverse constituents to feel as if they share a "community" of interest.
Include a Locally Controlled
Governing Body. Because a CDC is responsive to
the needs of a specific community of interest, the governing body typically reflects
characteristic. For example, in most CDC governing bodies, a majority of the members and directors come from the "community" that they serve. This body can be selected by direct election, by designation, or by appointment.
Incorporate a Wide Range of Development Strategies. Typically, CDCs are formed to address the comprehensive needs of disenfranchised and low-income neighborhoods (e.g., affordable housing, economic development, human services, etc.) As such, the CDC allows for one entity to address multiple areas of community need.
Based on the above-identified characteristics of a CDC, the consultants recommend a non-profit 501(c) 3 organizational structure for Japantown. However, the same entity (addressing the same vision, goals, and objectives of the Plan) could be formed and named Japantown Economic Development Association or Japantown Local Development Corporation.
The ultimate name "identity" selected makes no difference in the services or structure of the non-profit 501(c)3 organization. The decision regarding the name and structure of the non-profit entity should be based on the scope of services that the agency seeks to provide within the Japantown community and therefore should incorporate the specific goals and program identified in the Plan. Lastly, the identified scope of services will be clearly stated within the Mission Statement and Purposes of the new non-profit's by-laws and Articles of Incorporation.
Based on some preliminary research conducted, the National Economic Development and Law Center (based in Oakland, CA) has expressed interest in assisting the Task Force in developing the legal structure for the new non-profit organization. These services would be provided pro-bono by a lawyer affiliated with the Law Center (510 251-2600).
Range of Services
The following key elements are recommendations for the new community organization's range of services in the long term. Not all of the elements described below will be implemented during the organization's start-up years.
The primary goal of the economic restructuring element is to assist with retaining and strengthening existing businesses in addition to attracting new businesses that promote Japantown's themes and serve the local community. Implementation of Priority Program #2 Small Business Development, Attraction and Retention Program provides the primary focus of the economic restructuring element during the first three years. In addition, the new community organization could offer support to the Japantown Merchants' Association, comprised of approximately 50 percent of the area's businesses, to assist them in ongoing recruitment of new members, outreach to current members and coordination of technical assistance to individual businesses.
Land Use Control
The primary goal of the land use control element is to devise permanent procedures that ensure long-term community control over land use ownership and development. The long-term sustainability of Japantown is inextricably linked to the revitalization, reuse and development of property consistent with the Japantown Community Plan vision. The Land use control issues could be addressed using a variety of tools including developer incentives, Developer and Owner-Participation Agreements, CC&Rs, Land Trust, zoning, and monitoring property sales and transfers. Implementation of Priority Program #3 _ Community Benefit Land Use and Development Incentives _ provides the primary focus of the land use control element.
The primary goals of the community organizing element include expanding and strengthening community and cultural institutions, ensuring multi-cultural and multi-generational inclusiveness, promoting community control and influence in land use decisions, establishing a community participation and implementation process, and promoting activism. Implementation of Priority Program #4 provides the primary focus of the community organizing element.
The community development organization will be responsible for coordinating and monitoring implementation of the Japantown Community Plan's urban design recommendations. The organization will function as a catalyst to bring together the public agencies and property owners responsible for recommended improvements.
Communications, Promotion and Marketing
Formulation of a communications, promotion and marketing plan for Japantown as a whole, in addition to each of the priority programs, will be an important component of the community organization's work plan. The completion of the Japantown identity concept, prepared for the Community Plan, will provide the framework for building a promotion and marketing campaign. In addition, the communications function will include providing a clearinghouse for activities and development issues impacting Japantown, establishing communications forums and community consensus on key issues, coordinating advocacy and lobbying efforts within city, state and federal governmental agencies, and acting as a liaison between city departments and private entities.
Fundraising will become a major activity of the community organization to support the implementation of the Japantown Community Plan. The fundraising activities will include researching funding opportunities, brokering capital investments and loans and managing the collection and expenditure of funds. The management of a Business Improvement District (BID) could become a major function of the community development organization. BID management would involve identifying neighborhood capital improvement and maintenance projects, contracting and monitoring work performance and managing funds. Other fundraising and funds management services would include preparing proposals for foundation, corporate and public grant monies. In addition, funding activities could include linking property owners or developers with potential financial incentives for preserving Japantown such as Developer and Owner-Participation Agreements, historic rehabilitation tax credits, air rights development, etc.
Staffing: Roles and Responsibilities
The following are suggestions for staffing the new community development organization.
The executive director is the chief administrator of the community development organization. The major areas of responsibility include Community Plan implementation; board and committee support; organizational management; communications, promotion and marketing; and fundraising.
Community Plan Implementation
Coordinate staff, board, city departments, partnership organizations and property owners' roles in the Community Plan's implementation;
Provide oversight and direction to implement the priority projects; and
Develop a detailed annual work plan based on the Community Plan.
Board and Committee Support
Coordinate board and committee meetings;
Implement board policy decisions;
Attend all board and committee meetings;
Provide communication and coordination.
Create and manage annual budget;
Provide oversight on financial management systems;
Prepare programmatic and contractual reports;
Hire, supervise and review staff performance; and
Manage office systems.
Communications, Promotion and Marketing
Represent organization and Community Plan in public forums;
Inform and educate public about mission, strategies and programs of community organization;
Communicate with community based organizations;
Network with other communities;
Lobby governmental agencies;
Provide multi-lingual services; and
Provide outreach to potential community participants.
Research funding opportunities
Prepare grant proposals;
Manage funds received.
Economic Development Manager
The economic development manager is responsible for assisting with designing and managing the economic development programs outlined in the Community Plan. The manager will plan, organize, coordinate, manage and evaluate the implementation of the priority programs. In addition, the economic development manager will be responsible for managing the economic restructuring, land use controls, physical design, marketing, promotion and communications program elements. The economic development manager would report directly to the executive director.
The administrative assistant is responsible for providing administration support to the executive director and economic development manager. In addition, the administrative assistant is responsible for the bookkeeping, phones, report and board packet production, office file systems, etc.
Board Composition and Committees
The Board of Directors will be comprised of approximately 15 members elected or appointed from the Task Force. The Board will be representative of the Task Force's diverse constituencies including residents, property owners, business owners, senior citizens, youth, social services and educational organizations, religious entities, etc. In addition, the Board will include individuals with expertise in real estate development and land use, finance, communications and marketing, historic preservation and environmental issues.
In addition, the volunteer-driven committees created within the new non-profit will include representatives from this diverse group of key stakeholders. In total, four to six committees may be developed that may include five to eight members per committee. However, the size of a committee and the frequency of committee meetings will vary based on the identified workload.
The California Main Street Program (administered through the State of California Trade and Commerce Agency) is the statewide program providing technical assistance, training, and resources to "certified" entities (typically 501(c)3 non-profits) to assist in implementing commercial district revitalization efforts. The Main Street Program goal is to ensure the district's place as a vital economic, social and cultural center. These efforts are typically based on a defined geographic area (e.g., neighborhood or citywide). The California Main Street program is part of the larger National Main Street Center, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The highly structured and comprehensive Main Street Program is based on four key points:
Organization. Building an effective volunteer-driven management organization, guided by professional staff with broad-based public and private support.
Promotion. Creating a unified, quality image and developing promotion strategies that bring people to the district.
Design. Enhancing the design and appearance of the district through historic preservation.
Economic Restructuring. Retaining and strengthening existing businesses, recruiting appropriate new businesses and developing appropriate economic restructuring strategies to sustain the economic vitality of the district.
Based on preliminary research conducted, the California Main Street Program represents
a viable model and strong potential partner for implementation of Japantown's Community Plan.
Given Main Streets emphasis on the four key points, the internal structure of Main Street
consistent with Japantown's overall vision and goals as identified within the Community Plan. In addition, the proposed Japantown board size and committee structure format is consistent with the required structure for certified Main Street locations.
According to representatives of California Main Street, certification and acceptance into the program is offered only once a year and requires a full year to achieve certification. While not a competitive process, the certification process requires the following steps and document preparation:
Graduate from the California Main Street Training Institute;
Create a Board member Manual for the District;
Participate in an on-site review by a Certification Review Panel;
Completion of Certification Criteria including:
- Demonstration of broad-based public and private support
- Identify an existing organization or establish a new non-profit organization
- Create organizational vision and mission statements relevant to community conditions and goals
- Develop an operating budget with a diversified funding plan
- Attend ongoing training and education programs offered by Main Street
- Clear historic preservation ethic
- Develop a comprehensive Main Street work plan with active standing committees on the four points
- Hire a full-time Main Street Executive Director
- Collect, assess, and report to California Main Street baseline economic data necessary to evaluate market conditions and position.
- Annual membership in the National Main Street Center.
Finally, California Main Street has expressed strong interest to work with Japantown in becoming a certified Main Street neighborhood commercial district. According to a California Main Street representative, there is State legislation currently pending that would provide funding for ethnic commercial districts in California.
Program Costs and Funding Plan
Year 1 Budget
Executive Director $65,000
Economic Development Manager $45,000
Administrative Assistant $30,000
Total Salaries $140,000
Payroll Taxes and Benefits $ 28,000
Program Costs (consultants, legal, accounting, materials) $ 30,000
Office Expenses $ 27,000
Total Operating Budget $225,000
Sources of Funds
Funding for the new organization may include the following sources: San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, program revenues (e.g., special events, fundraisers, service fees and promotions), assessment district fees (BID), membership fees, donations and grants from foundations, corporations, public agencies, property owners and private individuals.
Based on a 1997 survey of California Main Street funding sources, the organizational revenue source breakdown is as follows:
City Contributions 37%
Program Revenues 24%
Business District Fees 25%
Membership Fees 4%
Organizational Development Schedule
The following organizational development schedule includes the detailed steps required to incorporate as a nonprofit organization.
Select Initial Board of Directors and extend contract for current Task Force Executive Director to function as interim and/or permanent Executive Director of community development organization.
Request pro bono assistance from the National Economic Development Law Center to assist with preparation of 501 (c) 3 incorporation documents for the State of California, Secretary of State.
Reserve organizational name with Secretary of State
Prepare and file Articles of Incorporation
Call meeting of Initial Directors to adopt bylaws and transact other business.
Complete necessary employee documents for IRS and EDD.
Complete 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt status documents and send to the IRS and the State of California, Secretary of State.
Description of proposed activities
Estimated two-year budget
List of directors and officers
Employer identification number (EIN)
Prepare State Tax Exemption Application.
Widely advertise Executive Director and other staff positions.
Seek permanent office space.
Hire Executive Director. Board and Executive Director hires staff.
The purpose of the Japantown Small Business Development, Attraction and Retention Pilot Program is to test the viability of revitalizing the Japantown business sector through intensive attraction and development, training, financial assistance and mentoring of existing and new entrepreneurs. The primary program goals are to intensify Japantown's retail district by filling vacant or underutilized retail and business spaces, finding replacements for the rapid closures of Japantown businesses that provide essential Japanese products or services to the local and regional Pan-Asian community and marketing the revitalized area throughout the region.
Statement of Program Need: Issues and Opportunities
Anticipated Business and Property Turnover. An analysis of business data provided by Dun & Bradstreet suggest that Japantown is vulnerable to a rapid change in the neighborhood's business character due to the aging of current business owners. Data on the age of existing businesses indicate that Japantown has a remarkably high number of old family businesses. Approximately 28 percent of businesses in Japantown were established before 1975 and 57 percent were established before 1985. Families who are expecting to sell their shop and retire soon reportedly own these businesses. These observations are corroborated by documentation that approximately 5 percent of Japantown's businesses closed in 1999 due to older business owners retiring and many property owners are also planning to sell. If the established businesses are not able to sell their successful going concerns or property owners are unable to find buyers who are interested in preserving Japantown, the retail spaces will most likely be leased to non-Japanese or non-community serving businesses. This type of trend would have a rapid domino effect and could potentially result in the total disappearance of Japantown within 10 to 15 years.
Disinvestment. Much of the disinvestment
in Japantown can be attributable to market
barriers and inefficiencies. A wide array of failures in
the marketplace are endemic to many ethnic inner city retail districts, and especially
commercial areas proximate to a high proportion of
low-income residents similar to Japantown. Examples of these barriers include the
following: banks and small business lending institutions
are often inaccessible to inner city entrepreneurs (due to language barriers; conventional
credit requirements or redlining); property owners
are not connected to effective marketing channels;
business owners seeking to sell their businesses are not linked to regional markets; and entrepreneurs have not attained adequate business training and skills.
Strong Business Environment. The existing Japantown businesses are achieving exceptionally high sales volume as reported by Dun & Bradstreet business data. For example, the average sales per square foot estimate for the Japan Center is $440, comparable to specialty retail centers. The small retailers within the neighborhood are achieving sales of approximately $375 per square foot, an exceptionally high sales volume for small businesses.
These exceptional business performance statistics confirm the strong demand for Japanese products and services. Furthermore, based on a recent survey, Japantown has been very successful in attracting patrons with high expenditure patterns. According to the survey, 17 percent of the respondents spent or planned to spend more than $100 in a single visit, 23 percent spent or planned to spend up to $50, and 28 percent spent or planned to spend between $11 and $25 during their visit. Moreover, one-quarter of the visitors shopped weekly at Japantown and one-third shopped monthly.
Regional Attraction. Japanese and other Asian residents within the larger Bay Area region depend upon Japantown for essential Japanese products and services. There is a clear cultural and economic need for the preservation and enhancement of Japantown as only one of three Japantowns remaining in the United States.
Influx of Japanese Nationals.
The recent major influx of Japanese nationals to the Bay
Area presents an excellent opportunity to
reinvigorate Japantown with young entrepreneurs and
offshore capital. In 1997, approximately 10,600 Japanese immigrated to San Francisco, and
an additional 10,300 immigrated to Silicon Valley.
These immigrants include both visitors staying
more than three months and new residents with green cards. This significant immigration resulted in Japanese newcomers and extended visitors representing 50 percent of the total Japanese populations in San Francisco. In total, there are approximately 100,000 Japanese residents in the Bay Area, providing an excellent source of new entrepreneur participants for the proposed Business Development, Attraction and Retention Pilot Program.
Cluster of Japanese and Japanesque Interior Design Shops. There is a unique opportunity to potentially create a cluster and identity for Japanese and Asian interior design shops in Japantown including furniture, upholstery, fabrics, lighting fixtures, florists, etc. In addition to the existing design businesses in Japantown, there have been a significant number of new Japanese design businesses in the upper Fillmore shopping district and the larger market area. Japanese design has become a highly sought design motif in interiors and housewares. Additional market research would be warranted to assess the potential for concentrating this retail sector in Japantown.
Cluster of Evening Entertainment and Cultural Venues. Japantown and its environs already boasts a strong evening entertainment environment with the AMC Kabuki theaters, karoke bars, jazz and blues venues and restaurant attractions. If the Fillmore Jazz District is successful, the larger area from lower Fillmore to upper Fillmore including Japantown ("The Fillmore T") could become a magnet for evening entertainment and cultural venues. Assuming that many of the clubs in the South of Market Area (SOMA) will eventually be priced out of the area by dot-com companies, the Fillmore T area could accommodate the clubs in currently underutilized and vacant space.
Specific Business Opportunities. A survey conducted by Asian Neighborhood Design and Chinatown Community Housing Corporation (report compiled 9/26/99) provides a summary of
High Volume of Japanese Affiliated Companies in Northern California. Based on data compiled by the Commercial Section of the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco, there are 549 Japanese Affiliated Companies in Northern California. These include a wide spectrum of businesses such as retail, wholesale, distribution, education, finance, media, product development, restaurant, hotel, etc. The organized data and high volume of businesses provides an excellent resource for identifying businesses appropriate for attraction to Japantown.
The Japantown Small Business Development, Attraction and Retention Pilot Program meets the following objectives of the Japantown Community Plan.
2.3: Attract and promote new businesses and investment, especially those businesses that promote products and services unique to the Japanese culture.
2.3A: Develop a diverse mix of businesses to serve a broader clientele, including attracting young adults and youth.
3.3: Encourage neighborhood-serving businesses (e.g., laundry, bakery, professional services, cafes, etc.).
Priority to participate in the program will be provided to existing businesses and new entrepreneurs who are able to demonstrate their ability to contribute to achievement of the above objectives.
The following proposed pilot program seeks to address the market barriers and inefficiencies for the creation of a vibrant business community in Japantown. Based on the successful outcomes of the pilot program, the Small Business Development, Attraction and Retention Pilot Program would continue to be offered by the proposed Japantown community development organization and Renaissance as needed. Measurement of the program's success would be based on the number of new business start-ups in Japantown. The goal for new start-ups would be approximately 20 businesses over the first three-year period.
Key Program Elements
The following program outline addresses the implementation tasks for the proposed Japantown community development organization focusing on these key program elements:
Retail Leasing Space
Kiosk Leasing Program
Type of Businesses
1. Retail Leasing Space: Maintain current database of existing business sales/closures, vacant storefronts and leasing opportunities. Prior to launching the pilot program, create a system to track business sales and closures, in addition to inventory vacant storefront and leasing opportunities. Business sales, closures and potential leasing opportunities could be identified through a survey to all current business owners using Duns Marketing Data information for neighborhood businesses. The survey could be positioned as a marketing piece alerting business owners that the pilot program would attempt to identify and match a new entrepreneur to purchase their closing business, in addition to querying about their interest in mentoring a new entrepreneur. A separate communication and marketing piece could be administered to property owners to query about potential future leasing opportunities and existing vacant space. Responses would be summarized into a database of current and potential future business opportunities.
2. Kiosk Leasing Program. Research on the market for kiosks and Retail Mobile Units (RMUs), which are smaller than stationary kiosks, reveals that the addition of these retail opportunities could enhance the vibrancy of the area. Kiosks and RMUs could create a festival marketplace theme if they were incorporated into a more comprehensive strategy for improving the Japan Center and Japantown as a whole. In addition, kiosks and RMUs provide an excellent low barrier to entrance business opportunity for young entrepreneurs, requiring minimal investment.
The creation of new retail leasing opportunities through indoor and outdoor kiosks could also be an important component of the program. The program managers could work collaboratively with the Japan Center owners and the Nihonmachi Parking Corporation (NPC) regarding the Buchanan Mall's outdoor space to evaluate purchasing kiosks for leasing. In addition, the koban could be integrated into the program as a training opportunity for youth, managed by an existing youth organization. The pilot retail kiosk program would provide the Japan Center owners and NPC with the opportunity to test the market for kiosks with highly supported entrepreneurs for potentially instituting a larger kiosk leasing program to address their underutilized spaces. Underperforming retail centers have started with "weekend programs" for RMUs and kiosks.
New kiosks and RMUs cost between $10,000 to $12,000, although companies such as Carriage Units sell used RMUs for less. The former San Francisco Police Department koban could also be leased as a kiosk retail opportunity. Property owners lease RMUs for a flat fee rent plus
The success of RMUs and kiosks depends on securing high foot traffic locations, operating in heavy traffic times such as weekends, and selling a core product that matches the space and customers. Core product tenants that are successful include jewelry, Pokemon, and pagers/cellular phones.
An important element in ensuring the success of vendors operating in the Kinokuniya Mall would be the opening of the wall between the AMC theaters and the mall to capture hundreds of additional potential consumers daily.
3. Type of Businesses: Create an inventory of business opportunities. An inventory of the type of business demand in Japantown would be created as a means to assist new entrepreneurs who are considering participation in the pilot program and to attract existing successful Japanese or Asian businesses to Japantown. The inventory could be created through the following sources: (a) survey of local and regional Japantown patrons; (b) analysis of successful business mix in the Los Angeles and San Jose Japantowns; (c) list of successful existing family businesses in Japantown planning to close due to retirement; and (d) potential for business clusters such as interior design and evening entertainment.
4. Marketing: Conduct statewide and
regional marketing effort to identify and attract
potential entrepreneurs. Contract with the
Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center to assist with
planning an intensive marketing campaign to advertise
the leasing and business opportunities, in addition
specialized business training workshops. Utilize formal and informal networking systems for the Japanese American and Japanese National communities. The marketing program would include preparation of a Japantown business environment package including profiles of the customer base disaggregated by residents and visitors, number and type of existing businesses, average sales volume, and area commercial rental rates. Conduct targeted marketing to specific local or regional successful Japanese businesses about relocating or opening a new store in Japantown.
5. Training: Create training and technical assistance modules. Based on the response to the marketing campaign, interview and screen potential entrepreneurs to determine the demand for training and technical assistance. In addition, utilize the merchants associations to survey existing businesses about their training and technical assistance needs focusing on unique issues faced by Japantown businesses. The results will provide information about the type and number of training modules needed to meet the needs of new and existing businesses. The proposed Japantown community development organization would contract with the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center to develop unique workshops to supplement their existing 14-week Business Planning class. For example, the specialized workshops may include topics such as current business and leasing opportunities in Japantown, addressing the multi-lingual needs of customers, sources for Japanese products and supplies, marketing to the regional Japanese and Pan-Asian community, etc. Many of the existing Japantown businesses could assist with planning and teaching these workshops.
6. Financing: Secure service and funding commitments from private and public
financing sources. The Japantown community
development organization could establish a variety
financing options with private and public financing sources to meet the diverse financing needs of existing and new businesses. The organization could consult with the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center's Financing Resource Center to develop a Revolving Loan Fund for businesses participating in the training program. The Financing Resource Center "provides a conduit for traditional lenders to lend under somewhat non-traditional circumstances or in specific markets such as minority, women, low-to-moderate income, geographically designated business enterprises."
In addition, the community development organization could establish collaborative relationships with other community lending organizations for loan packaging and low-interest loans, respectively. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency could be approached to fund a reverse business incubator in which the agency subsidizes rent during the initial years of business start-ups.
7. Mentoring: Develop mentoring and follow-up procedures. Contract with the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center to provide ongoing consultations, technical assistance and regular workshops for the newly trained entrepreneurs and existing businesses. Develop a mentoring program with existing successful Japantown businesses to provide support and guidance to the new businesses.
Key Partners and Roles
Japantown Planning, Development and Preservation Task Force (or proposed Japantown Community Plan Implementation Organization). Program manager including contracting with key partners, preparing grant applications, implementing marketing program, administering survey instruments, representing program to public and media, monitoring contracting assignments and coordinating mentors.
Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center. Primary consultant responsible for designing program and training modules, designing marketing plan, providing training courses, identifying potential lenders, providing financial and marketing coaching to entrepreneurs, assisting with lease negotiations, and providing ongoing coaching and technical assistance.
San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and Mayor's Office of Community Development. Assist with program funding including reverse incubator concept.
Foundations. Assist with program funding. Use San Francisco Foundation's Women's Technology Cluster as program model for funding rent, working capital and other business financing needs. Target San Francisco Foundation, Goldman Fund, Haas Jr. Fund and Ford Foundation.
Banks. Assist with program funding and business financing. Target neighborhood banks and Renaissance Center funders including Union Bank, Wells Fargo and California Bank and Trust.
Program Costs, Financing and Funding Plan
The primary program cost is retaining the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center on a consulting basis to assist with the program planning, marketing, training and technical assistance during a two-year period. Renaissance's preliminary first-year budget is a total of $35,000, excluding expenses. The time and materials to manage the program is included in the budget for the proposed Japantown Community Plan Implementation Organization. The budget does not include purchasing the kiosks or RMUs, which would be the responsibility of the property owners. In addition, the budget does not include costs associated with marketing the program or implementing the business and property owner surveys.
The purpose of the Community Benefit Land Use and Development Incentives program is to maximize community control of the land uses in Japantown. The urgent need for the program is based on the premise that unless the community intervenes and influences land use decisions, market forces in this heated real estate market will result in the demise of Japantown. As long-time Japanese property owners begin to sell property, new buyers and uses will most likely not be consistent with the vision and goals of the Japantown Planning, Preservation and Development Task Force. Residential market pressures in San Francisco may result in the conversion of major Japantown commercial properties, such as the Japan Center, into new housing development. If smaller retail property owners can not attract Japanese businesses, they will ultimately rent to businesses that do not serve the Japanese or Pan-Asian community. This program attempts to address these urgent needs.
Statement of Program Need: Issues and Opportunities
Survival of Japantown. Japantown's identity is currently characterized predominantly by the retail, cultural and religious buildings that are the remnants of the area's rich history as a mixed-use Japanese neighborhood. Japanese and Japanese Americans comprise approximately 10 percent of the greater Japantown residential neighborhood. Therefore, the preservation of these nonresidential uses for Japanese goods and services is critical for the neighborhood's survival. Although individuals with identifiable Japanese surnames own approximately one-third of the properties in Japantown, absentee Japanese owners own the primary large commercial properties.
Major blocks of Japantown's key commercial properties are reportedly on the market or will soon be placed on the market. A change of these parcels' use to non-community serving would have an irreversible negative impact on the effort to preserve Japantown.
Japan Center. The Japan Center is the primary defining icon of Japantown due to the size and prominence of the property and as such sets the standards for the quality, type and condition of retailing in Japantown as a whole. Although the Japan Center's economic performance is relatively strong, as measured by sales volume and occupancy rates, the Center's physical condition is less than optimal relative to competitive retail centers.
It can be assumed that if Japan Center is not improved soon to 21st century standards for shopping centers, the Center could generate a domino effect of disinvestment in the neighborhood. The continuing deterioration of Japan Center could eventually result in the sale and demolition of the property for its highest and best use. The highest and best use may not include a Japanese-oriented retail center.
Existing Ownership Pattern. The existing property ownership pattern provides a strong base of community control for the preservation of Japantown. For example, religious institutions or associations own 20 parcels within the Japantown project area and nonprofit organizations own 12 parcels. As cited above, approximately one-third of the properties in the project area are owned by individuals with Japanese surnames. Furthermore, according to a Dun & Bradstreet business inventory, individuals with a Japanese surname currently own almost all of the businesses in Japantown. These data indicate the viability of long-term preservation of Japantown with innovative controls and protection for transfer, sale and reuse of properties.
Historic Sites. Japantown is a neighborhood rich with historical structures that embody and symbolize Japanese Americans' lives from the pre-WWII vibrant community and institutional building, to the devastating WWII internment camps and post WWII reaarticulation of Japantown as a cultural center and neighborhood. Preservation of the historically significant buildings provides an important tool for preserving and educating future generations about Japantown's cultural and spiritual history.
Japan Center CC&Rs. Reportedly there are CC&Rs on the Japan Center properties that specify the use, maintenance and preservation of the Center as a unique Japanese-serving cultural and retail center.
Redevelopment. The A-2 project area, comprising the majority of land area in Japantown, will remain in effect until January 2009. The current zoning within the neighborhood allows predominantly 40 to 50 feet in height limitations. Any increase in height would require a variance and public process.
Transfer of Area to Planning
Department. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency is in
the process of transferring the A-2 project area to
San Francisco Planning Department due to the closure of the project area. The transfer presents an excellent opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the current zoning and land use designations in Japantown. Specifically, the zoning and land use designations should be evaluated in the context of whether they are sufficient land use controls to preserve Japantown as a unique cultural, religious and retail center serving the Japanese and Japanese American community. Other more proactive approaches could be considered such as creating a Special Use District to preserve the unique qualities of Japantown.
The Community Benefit Land Use and Development IncentivesProgram meets the following objectives of the Japantown Community Plan.
1.1: Expand and strengthen cultural institutions, including religious and social groups.
1.2: Encourage and promote location of Japanese/Asian arts, history, culture and entertainment within Japantown.
2.3: Attract and promote new businesses and investment, especially those businesses that promote products and services unique to the Japanese culture.
4.3: Encourage the design of the buildings, plazas, street furniture, ornament, and landscape to reflect the history of Japantown and to contribute to community identity.
The following program outline addresses the implementation tasks for the proposed Japantown property sales and transfer program, focusing on five key program elements designed to maximize community control of real estate use and development:
1. Development Agreements and Owner-Participation Agreements
2. Federal and State Historic Preservation Tax Incentives
3. Community Land Trust for Nonprofit Service, Cultural and Religious Uses
4. Ongoing Monitoring of Property Listings, Sales, and Transfer Activities
5. Creation of a Japantown Neighborhood Commercial District
1. Development Agreements and Owner-Participation Agreements
In the process of developing property, owners who seek to intensify development beyond what is allowed by the local zoning code often enter into Development Agreements (DA) with municipalities or Owner-Participation Agreements (OPA) with redevelopment agencies, as the case may be. These agreements are negotiated documents that are legally binding for a specified term, usually 20 to 30 years; however, Development Agreements for complicated, large-scale developments can have a longer term. In return for this land use intensification, developers usually provide some quid pro quo benefits to the adjacent community. The community benefits can take many forms, such as landscaped open space, contributions toward or actual provision of community facilities such as youth programs or community centers, or contributions towards the operations of community organizations. In the case of Japantown, it could include ensuring Japanese-serving ground floor commercial and community uses, providing start-up capital to fund a Community Development Corporation or funding another service or function designed to preserve and expand Japantown's unique culture and heritage. Both the DA and OPA specify standards for development, rehabilitation and use in conformity with a plan. The Owner-Participation Agreement is the appropriate tool in the A-2 redevelopment area until expiration of the plan in 2004; and the Development Agreement is the appropriate tool for the Japan Center, which is now under the jurisdiction of the Planning Department, and the A-2 area after transfer to the Planning Department.
In this context, the DA and OPA are proposed as a community negotiations tool, with the Japantown community offering to support property intensification in the public forum in return for community-serving land uses, etc. Property owners seeking such property intensification must engage in a public process, which provides an opportunity for organized community leverage.
To promote this approach toward land use control, the community could strategically identify prospective property owners and developers for properties being actively marketed, using the DA and OPA as an incentive for them to purchase and develop property in Japantown. The approach will be especially effective if other area property owners become very involved in the negotiation process. In this manner, the community becomes a third party beneficiary of the DA or OPA. A property owner's motivation would be the potential increased revenue generated by the intensified land uses, such as housing or office space developed over retail space. Other methods effective in increasing property value through intensification include increases in height limitations and floor area ratios.
A Development Agreement must be consistent with the City's Master Plan and an area's Specific Plan. An Owner-Participation Agreement must be compatible with the purpose of a redevelopment area plan and appropriate redevelopment of the project.
This approach toward community control of land use in Japantown should focus on developer rewards as a means to attract developers interested in working with the community to ensure the successful implementation of the community vision. The community would delineate and offer incentives that encourage property owners and developers to choose this approach toward property development. Land use controls that are not structured as financial incentives, such as property restrictions imposed in Special Use Districts, typically backfire and result in neighborhood disinvestment due to onerous and non-market driven development requirements. Offering realistic financial incentives are particularly important with the DA and OPA approach given the high costs for the developer who is responsible for all expenses associated with formulating a Specific Plan if needed, creating a DA or OPA, and conducting an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The benefits to a developer, however, are significant. These include the following:
Long-term certainty with regard to the development entitlement of their property;
Added value through land use intensification;
Vested property rights (i.e., legally protected).
Thus there are strong motivations for property owners to enter into DA or OPA. This is demonstrated by the widespread use of Development Agreements in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area to provide developers with an opportunity to develop unique projects that are financially rewarding while simultaneously providing valuable community benefits.
Development Opportunity Areas in Japantown
It should be noted that in addition to providing economic benefits to the city and neighborhood, a DA or OPA must also result in development that is physically desirable and compatible with its surroundings. In the case of Japantown, initial urban design study suggests that there are various locations where potential increased development intensity may be appropriate to the physical context of the neighborhood. Exhibits 26 and 27 illustrate, in a conceptual way, potential opportunity areas for increased development as the result of an ODA or DA, depending on location. The constraints and opportunities of each of the locations varies, depending upon agency jurisdiction, zoning, redevelopment agency policies, and technical constraints. Therefore, the concepts described herein should not be considered as final recommendations, but rather a point of departure for community discussions. The following is a summary of these potential opportunities.
The concept is based on the observation that the Geary corridor and, to a lesser extent, the Post Street corridor would be suitable locations for increased development beyond the height and FAR limits allowed by current zoning or thecurrent redevelopment plan.
Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan
Former Japantown Bowl and Nihonmachi Parking Corporation West site
Nihonmachi Parking Corporation East site
In the case of Geary, which is currently zoned NC-3, the FAR is 1.2:1 and the height limit is 50X (50 feet). From observation, it is clear that many parcels along the Geary corridor exceed 50 feet including the 12 story Miyako Hotel, Sequoia Towers, Webster Tower, and the Fillmore Center. Geary is clearly a high rise corridor. From an urban design perspective, appropriate additional development along the corridor that exceeds the 50-foot height limit would be appropriate to the context of the corridor. These types of changes, however, would require a Plan Amendment to the A-2 Western Addition Redevelopment Plan for sites in the A-2 area.
There are many impacts to consider when suggesting increases in density, but typically two are most important:
1. Relationship to surrounding lower density residential areas. With the exception of St. Francis Square, there are no lower density residential areas on Geary in the vicinity of Japantown. Appropriately sited high density development would likely have little or no direct adjacency impacts .
2. Traffic Generation. The importance of Geary as a transit corridor makes Geary one of the best locations in the city for increasing the density of development, both because of its capacity to handle additional traffic and, more importantly, long term plans for improved transit service.
Urban design theory suggests that buildings should be at least one-half of the width of the adjacent right-of-way in height in order to create a defined urban street wall. Based on the 165 foot right-of-way of Geary, this would suggest an allowable building height of 82 feet. Additional height is appropriate to mark intersections, gateways, or provide a setting for special urban features.
Various sites along the Geary corridor are shown in Exhibits 26 and 27 as examples of locations of increased development density as part of a Development Agreement with the City Planning Department.
It is not suggested that all of these locations be developed to increased densities as shown. Depending on technical feasibility, owner willingness, community acceptance, and other issues, perhaps only one or two of the sites would be appropriate. As mentioned previously, in each case, in exchange for the opportunity for increased development, the landowner / developer would be required to provide certain pre-determined community benefits such as urban improvements to Japan Center, guaranteed ground floor space for tenants providing Japanese retail, restaurants, goods and services, or other benefits determined by the community. The economic value of these community investments is typically determined through a financial feasibility analysis that calculates the increased revenue associated with increased density.
Design considerations for the suggested location of each of the sites shown along the Geary corridor varies. Following are a few of the key considerations.
Peace Plaza (Buildings 1 and 2)
Stepped profile to avoid conflict with views of the Peace Pagoda and shadows on the Plaza.
Technical feasibility may be constrained due to its location over the Japan Center parking structure.
If Building 1 or 2 parcels are designated for residential, they are well located to provide increased day and night activity on the plaza
Located above Kinokuniya Mall, it may be easier to develop at this location since the building contains no below grade parking structure.
Located on the west side of Fillmore Street between Geary and Post.
Well suited to provide gateway benefits to the Japantown portion of Fillmore Street.
Currently very low intensity development on this site. It is underutilized given its location on a crossroads of two major transit corridors.
Post Street and Nihonmachi Area
Like the Geary corridor, two areas of the Nihonmachi redevelopment area also appear to present opportunities for increased development. In this case an Owner Participation Agreement would be the appropriate tool since the area remains under the jurisdiction of the Redevelopment Agency until the year 2009 (Western Addition Redevelopment Area A-2).
1790 Post Street (Former Japantown Bowl ) and Nihonmachi Parking Lot
Perhaps the most important of the opportunity areas illustrated is Exhibits 26 and 27 illustrate the site of the former Japantown Bowl. According to the Western Addition A-2 Plan, existing zoning is similar to that along Geary (FAR of 1.2:1, height 50X).
The adjacent Nihonmachi Parking Corporation lot, a site of considerable size, could potentially be assembled with the Japantown Bowl site for redevelopment. Given the considerable right-of-way width of Webster Street and its location on a corner intersection, an increase of building height over 50 feet, to perhaps 75 feet would be appropriate. The combined redevelopment of these sites could include the following benefits as part of an OPA:
Replacement of the formerJapantown Bowl building with a more pedestrian- friendly building containing ground floor uses and transparency.
Increased parking provided below the entire building development site.
Provision of desired community ameni ties within the development, such as a new community bowling facility, gardens other public facilities, or youth and cultural programs.
This development opportunity could be an immediate priority project for the community, in partnership with the Redevelopment Agency and the new landowner/developer.
However, while the time may be optimal for the redevelopment of these two properties, it is unlikely that the best possible combination of community benefits can be achieved without added developer incentives. Thus, support by the community for a height and FAR increase that is compatible with the neighborhood could be a win-win for all parties.
Nihonmachi Parking Corporation (east lot)
Exhibits 26 and 27 also illustrates a potential development opportunity area on the Nihonmachi Parking Corporation lot east of the Buchanan Mall. Also located in Western Addition Redevelopment Area A-2, it is subject to the same density restrictions as the Japantown Bowl site. Increased development up to 75 feet in height could be appropriate in this location as part of an OPA and subject to specific design considerations.
Minimize impact on adjacent residential uses fronting on Sutter Street.
Development height set back from Buchanan Mall. Maintain existing pedestrian scale on the Buchanan Mall.
Maintain existing quantities of parking below grade.
Provide gardens and other community amenities.
Other incentives are described in the following pages.
Federal and State historic preservation tax incentives could provide effective tools to encourage the preservation of Japantown's unique cultural and historical resources.
These programs could be especially useful for aggressively preserving the existing stock of buildings housing community-based non-profit services throughout Japantown with special emphasis on the Sutter Street area.
The federal program provides a 20% tax credit to property owners for the certified rehabilitation of certified historic structures. The federal program also provides a 10% tax credit for the rehabilitation of non-historic, non-residential buildings built before 1936. The California Mills Act assists owners of historic property with restoration and maintenance by providing a reduction in property taxes on historic properties.
The federal government also provides significant tax incentives to protect historic, archeological or cultural resources for future generations through an historic preservation easement program. An easement is a voluntary legal agreement through which the owner of a significant resource donates a portion of property rights to a charitable or governmental agency, including the proposed Japantown Community Plan Implementation Organization. In return, the owner receives the assurance that the resource will be protected through subsequent ownership and, potentially, receives a Federal income tax deduction equal to the value of the donated property rights. A donor may deduct the value of the easement from Federal taxes for up to 30% of the taxpayer's adjusted gross income. Any excess value can be spread over the next five years.
The rehabilitation tax credit may be an
effective tool for organizations and situations
comparable to the current effort by Nihonmachi Little
Friends to purchase the YWCA. A private
corporation could provide significant equity for the project
return for the tax credits. These tax incentive tools could provide an effective method to preserve the historic and cultural values of Japantown, in addition to potentially transferring ownership and control of historically significant property to the new Community Plan Implementation Organization through the Federal Historic Preservation Easement The first step required is to identify and certify buildings, sites and easements that the community considers significant historic structures. Certified historic structures are buildings listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places or located in a certified national, state or local historic district. The San Francisco Landmarks Commission will be an important resource to assist with identifying potential buildings for local certification. In addition, these programs should be marketed to key property owners who may be planning rehabilitation or property sales.
3. Community Land Trust: Community purchase of land for nonprofit service, cultural, and religious uses.
By creating a Community Land Trust targeted to acquire Japantown properties as they become available, the community can directly control the disposition and development of property to support the community's service, cultural, and religious needs. At the neighborhood or community level, a Community Land Trust offers a unique means for communities to maintain control over their physical assets. Community Land Trusts are local groups comprised of local neighborhood activists, business persons, and relevant professionals (planners, architects, finance, and real estate brokers).
Community Land Trusts typically acquire property through a loan, gift, city reconveyance,
or purchase. Given the nature of the market for
real estate in Japantown, it is likely that the
recommended Land Trust would acquire land through purchase from private property owners. The
Land Trust could then lease or sell the property
to service, cultural, or religious organizations
support Japanese heritage and culture. The downside of this strategy is that Land Trusts require substantial capital. Potential sources of funds for property acquisition and preparation include national, state, or local capital programs, Community Reinvestment Act funds, program-related investments of foundations and intermediary institutions.
While a Community Land Trust would provide the Japantown community with the opportunity to directly control property acquisition and disposition, it would require the organization to tie up capital in real estate, that might otherwise be used for more programmatic or dynamic purposes. Instead, revenues might be better spent to attract other private capital into the community through Development Agreements.
Further research and analysis is required to evaluate the viability of a Community Land Trust. In addition, it is highly recommended that potential funders are contacted to test the viability of the land trust concept.
4. Ongoing Monitoring of Property Listings, Sales, and Transfer Activities.
To maximize community awareness of imminent real estate transactions, and to maximize opportunities for intervention, there should be ongoing monitoring of property listings, sales, and transfers. This program could include periodic surveys of property owners to provide an early warning system of upcoming property sales. In this manner, the community could proactively work with property owners to market the property by identifying prospective buyers or users supportive of the community's vision.
This activity could be a task of the proposed
new Community Plan Implementation Organization or the Community Land Trust. There should be
strong linkages between the two to ensure that the
land bank becomes aware of prospective property acquisitions as early in the process as
possible, preferably before properties are openly
marketed. In addition, these activities are fundamental
keeping the community apprised of properties that may be appropriate for the basis of community intervention through the Development Agreement process.
5. Creation of a Japantown Special Use District.
San Francisco has many districts zoned Neighborhood Commercial with additional very localized zoning controls that support that district's respective orientation (e.g., Inner and Outer Clement Street and North Beach). This approach toward land use control could be promoted by the community, focusing on creating a Special Use District for Japantown that restricts certain types of properties to Japanese-oriented retail, cultural institutions, or other Japanese-oriented land uses. While this type of land use control might appear to support the community's goals, however, it might ultimately serve as a deterrent to property development or redevelopment if property owners perceive the zoning as too restrictive, and limit their ability to market the property.
Japantown Planning, Preservation and Development Task Force or Successor Organization. One organization will need to be appointed to represent the community, identify "community benefits" associated with Development Agreements and Owner-Participation Agreements, mobilize the community for public meetings, represent the community in negotiations, and represent the community in raising capital for a potential Community Land Trust. In like manner, an organized community group will need to be responsible for engaging in the property listings, sales, and tracking activities. (See Priority Program #1)
City of San Francisco Planning Department and San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. To be successful in implementing planning changes for the community, a strong working relationship will need to be cultivated with the City planning staff most involved and interested in Japantown. The Planning Department is responsible for all zoning and development entitlements for the Japan Center properties. In addition, until the A-2 Redevelopment Area expires, the SFRA is responsible for all land use controls in Japantown.
National Trust for Historic Preservation (415 956-0610). The National Trust's Western Regional Office, located in San Francisco, offers technical assistance and grants to nonprofit organizations seeking assistance with the preservation of historic buildings and districts. The Trust's Preservation Services Fund provides matching grants up to $5,000 to support consultants with professional expertise in areas such as architecture, law, planning, economics and graphic design. The Trust's Johanna Favrot Fund provides grants up to $25,000 to support projects that "contribute to the preservation or recapture of an authentic sense of place." Grants may be used for professional consultation assistance. The Trust also provides below market rate loans up to $150,000 for preservation activities.
Institute for Community Economics; Springfield, Massachusetts (413-746-8660). The Institute is an excellent resource to provide technical assistance for evaluating, creating or implementing a Community Land Trust.
Foundations, governmental capital programs, etc. Foundations and governmental loan programs will be instrumental partners in the capitalization of a Community Land Trust.
Program Costs, Financing and Funding Plan
The programs outlined above should be integrated into the role of the proposed nonprofit Community Plan Implementation Organization. The direct costs associated with Development Agreements will be primarily borne by the property owner/developer; however, it is highly recommended that the community organization retain an attorney to represent the community's needs and interests. Additional consulting services would be required from an historic preservation specialist and economist to identify opportunities for utilizing the historic preservation tax incentives as a tool for the preservation of Japantown. Costs can not be determined at this point.
Note: Federal and State historic preservation tax incentive information was excerpted from the California Preservation Foundation's Information Brief (October 1998).
Traditional organized religion in the U.S. has significantlt declined, particularly in urban centers. In the Japanese American community, churches no longer hold the same central purpose in the lives of a community which is no longer feels marginalized in the larger society. Churches and temples were once the community's social core, providing not only spiritual services, but also fulfilling social and social service needs. Today, there are specific social service organizations that more effectively serve specific needs, and increasingly, Japanese Americans fulfill their social needs outside the community. As congregations age or move beyond city limits, which may mean a transfer to another church, they are not being replaced within the Japanese American community and there has been reluctance to engage in broadening the base congregation to include other ethnic groups. Three Buddhist temples, three Christian churches and a new religion temple (Konko Kyo) are located with the geographic boundary of Japantown. Their property serves to pin boundary corners; they have also made their facilities available to the general community for meetings and events use.
Beyond the fact of land ownership in the community, there is the additional concern that once centers of organizing and gathering have closed they will have no replacement, and this contribution to a solid community core will diminish further.
The traditional Japanese arts are still studied
and practiced. There are schools of classical
dance, music and other arts but they are not
necessarily present in Japantown, except when exhibiting
presenting recitals. Japantown, therefore, is seen less and less as a place where cultural activies, if sought, might be found. Many such organizations are dominated by non-Japanese/Japanese Americans which removes their participation in the geographic core yet another step. Also, there are two physical institutions in Japantown whose missions are to serve those needs, at least in part: Nichibei Kai and the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC), both located on Sutter Street. One threat to these institutions is a perceived lack of inclusion or participation, which threatens not only financial survival but also the capability to stretch in order to serve the needs of a changing community. While both rely on private funding or endowments, it becomes increasingly difficult in the current non-profit funding climate to defend any organization that serves a shrinking demographic base.
Beyond traditional arts and culture, Japanese American participation in the creative arts
has flourished historically in San Francisco. San Francisco's Japantown has given birth to its
share of the creative writers, visual artists,
musicians, composers, and theater and film producers
and presenters who helped to build the Asian American arts movement, beginning began in
the 1970s. Japantown Art and Media (JAM) was a seminal organization responsible for many of
the visual tools for organizing the community; it
also served as a focal point for the community's creative expression of its identity. It is
currently inactive. While, the JCCCNC currently
houses the Asian American Theatre Company and
Asian American Dance Performances, two pan-Asian arts groups, it must also struggle in trying
to maintain space to house these activities as available staff and other program
demands increase. At present there are no
dedicated performing arts venues in Japantown.
available space for activities, then, draws artists and supporters away from Japantown to other neighborhoods.
Thirty years ago, members of the Japanese American community organized to create
direct access for Japanese Americans and the
Japanese-speaking population to social services. Currently, several organizations own property
in Japantown, including: Japanese Community Youth Council (JCYC), Kimochi, Inc. and
the Japanese American Religious Federation (JARF).
Organizations that rent space in Japantown include the Japanese Benevolent
Society, Nihonmachi Little Friends (NLF) and
Japanese Newcomer Services (Nobirukai). However,
with rental space at maximum occupancy and as rental prices rise throughout San Francisco,
there is little or no room for expansions, and Organizations who rent are in danger of
losing the space they have to severe rent increases.
One case in point is Nihonmachi Legal Outreach (NLO), which had to move beyond the outer
edge of the core community. In the case of the National Japanese American Historical Society,
it plans to remain in Japantown, but needs affordable space big enough to house
expanding archives, offices and exhibits, as well as
to conduct special activities.
Priority Program #4 Community Organizing Strategy
(This Section prepared by the JPPDTF)
Unlike typical neighborhood preservation/revitalization efforts, a broad and widespread range of stakeholders must be engaged in order for appropriate constituencies to participate fully in any such effort for Japantown. Despite a decrease in the Japanese American resident base since the redevelopment process began, Japantown continues to be the geographical, and consequently, the emotional core for a dispersed Japanese American community. It is home to organizations and institutions that serve the religious, cultural and social needs of the community spread throughout the city and the Bay Area. This community also finds a sense of place in the culture and history present in Japantown's physical environment.
Communication and Outreach
One critical issue, given the nature of the community which identifies with Japantown, is the difficulty in providing outreach to individuals not affiliated with any local organization, and, in some cases, individuals who expand the identity of "Japanese American" beyond the narrow definition applied in the past. In trying to represent consensus and gain support, any previous "communitywide" effort may actually only involve a certain subset of the community at large. Many more individuals than those that participate in organized activities may be invested in the future of Japantown but without an effective means of communication, remain at best on the periphery.
As it is, there is currently no formal means of communication among existing organizations. This is a consequence of the transition from Japantown's identity as a resident community to what it is today. In the past, informal communication was effective; today it is sorely inadequate. The community has two bilingual dailies: The Nichibei Times and The Hokubei Mainichi, which share the bulk of the responsibility to transmit current information, but their space is limited and their circulation, while broad, is not absolute. Japanese-language media (TV, radio), reflecting a Japanese-national perspective, are not oriented to serving as a vehicle for community-organizing.
Community non-profits are often put in a state of constant competition with each other for funds. Individual funders are a common pool; foundations sometimes choose to serve an entire community by funding only one organization (and may make no distinction between social service, education or arts, in terms of need); government funds based on population size and population growth demand more inclusion than these organizations have capacity to serve. Given the hand-to-mouth nature of life in non-profit social service, there is also no capacity for collaboration or to avoid competition when cooperation would be more effective.
There is also a false perception, for which the community has taken some responsibility, that the Japanese American and Japanese-speaking populations of San Francisco have no needs that must be served by the government.
More community-based organizations are looking at acquiring property when it becomes available, whereas in the past there has been no capacity to manage a capital campaign.
A Maturing, Participating Population.
There is a level of sophistication possible among the community-based organizations (CBO's), which includes direct participation in civic government, long-time relationships with funders and government officials, field expertise and accessible professional resources. This includes an understanding of land values and property acquisition, an opportunity to engage those community members who are interested in retiring from participation, and a psychological change from oppression to empowerment.
Infusion of New Energy.
Though there was a great infusion of interest and participation by Japanese Americans in the future of their community in the 1960's and 70's, through the 80's and into the 90's there was a stagnation of the participant pool, again something reflected in other non-profit milieu. There has been in the last five years a new infusion of young people, not only demanding a place at the table but also participating in CBO's, bringing not only energy but also a changing perspective on definitions of "community" that reflect the world around them. They will do most to create the inclusion _ multi-racial, pan-Asian, gender/sexuality, international _ that must be fostered in order to keep the community alive.
Families with young children, including a steady, though small, stream of young families from Japan, are also turning to Japantown as a source of cultural transmission and identity, taking advantage of educational institutions, shops and recreational activities.
Artists in the community are organizing to create venues and research resources to bring live music and performance to Japantown. A survey recently conducted by the JCCCNC indicated that the community also wants visual arts space: studios, workshops and galleries. The arts can play a large role, not only in strengthening community identity, but also in supporting the vitality of the business community and communicating spirit of activism. Historically, arts activities serve communities not only to draw consumers for local merchants and service providers, but also to bring people to a neighborhood after dark which creates a sense of activity and safety.
Models of Community Organization
Other communities have/continue to create models of community organization. It is possible now to participate in support networks that will help Japantown to build its community participation in an organized fashion. It is possible to look at successful models for sharing operations: spaces, basic operating staff, websites, newsletters, etc. Japantown can build relationships with the two other remaining historical Japantowns: Los Angeles' Little Tokyo and San Jose Japantown, toward future stability and growth. Seattle's International District and Boston Chinatown are other models of communities mobilizing to secure their place in the face of urban change.
Trends in Fundraising
With community organizing, it may become more possible to foster collaborations. This will be critical as funders change their patterns of giving, supporting more community-wide concerns versus individual organizations. Greater communication could support greater clarity in approaching funders, which may result in greater return. Coordinated individual fundraising might also prove more effective than demanding that individuals choose to support only one organization at the expense of another.
The Community Organizing strategy meets the following objectives of the draft Japantown Community Plan.
1.1 Expand and strengthen cultural institutions, including religious and social groups.
1.2 Encourage and promote locatoin of Japanese/Japanese American traditional and contemporary arts, history, culture and entertainment within Japantown.
1.3 Ensure inclusiveness of the ideas and values of the community's multi-generational, multi-cultural, biracial, and bilingual or monolingual Japanese speaking members.
3.2 Develop strategies and mechanisms for community control or influence of changes in land use, property, and business ownership within Japantown to promote changes that would benefit the community and to ensure that changes would have positive impact on the community.
3.5 Sustain, strengthen, and expand existing community-based organizations and institutions, and systems of social support and services to reach a regional audience beyond Japantown.
3.6 Establish a community participation and implementation process for those who live, work, own properties/businesses, socialize in and are concerned about Japantown.
3.7 Promote the idea of community activism to reach out to youth and other interested community members.
Key Program Elements
Workgroups must come together to develop creative and effective ways to meet the community's needs:
Communication among community based organizations
Outreach to "unincorporated" stakeholders
Networking with other communities
Lobbying government, particularly city and state (in conjunction with L.A. and San Jose Japantowns)
Advocacy with funding agencies
Supporting land acquisition by CBO's
Key Partners and Roles
A Community Plan Implementation Agency _ creating/coordinating/maintaining communication and PR
All Japantown CBO's _ participating
Japanese/Japanese American Media (newspapers, radio shows, TV)
Japanese Communities in California _ partners and models
Japanese Chamber of Commerce
Members of Nikkei community _ support
SFRA _ transition support from redevelopment area to independent community
Haas Jr. Fund
Further Elaboration of Priority Program #4 will be prepared in Phase 3 of the Japantown Community Plan preparation process.
The younger members of the community represent its future and must be at the forefront of any plan to strengthen the community. This population, which includes children, youth, families and young adults, is significantly under-represented in various segments of the community (churches, small business, non-profits, etc.). Without a concerted effort to increasingly attract younger members of the community as both consumers of goods/entertainment and participants in culture, service and social activities, Japantown will eventually evolve into primarily a commercial tourism area.
Socialization of Post World War II Generations
The board of directors and staff of the Japanese Community Youth Council have evaluated several demographic changes and historical factors that have and will continue to significantly influence the larger Japanese American community.
"Unlike many other Asian groups that came to the United States primarily after immigration laws eased in 1965, Japanese immigration peaked between 1901 and 1910. Since that time, a diminishing number of new arrivals have immigrated to the U.S. As a result, many Japanese American families are now in their fourth and fifth generation in this country with few if any ties to Japan.
. . . In addition to significant demographic changes, the World War II internment of Japanese Americans also continues to have lingering effects on many young families. For many, a sense of shame resulting from the internment and the subsequent racism that confronted Japanese American families immediately following the war prompted them to discourage the retention of the Japanese culture."
Feelings of low self-esteem, the pressure to assimilate, an accelerated loss of the Japanese culture and language, not to mention intuiting the unexpressed pain of their parents, also affected some Sansei, perhaps beginning for many a disenfranchisement from the concept of a Japanese American community as embodied in Japantown.
A Culture of Convenience
Japantown originated as a neighborhood that served its Japanese American residents. Post-war opportunity enabled some, as redevelopment forced others, to move to other parts of San Francisco, the Bay Area and beyond. The San Francisco Unified School District reports that only one percent (1%) of the City's student population is Japanese American. For families and youth, therefore, increases both in distance and in other available options have decreased the use of neighborhood-based services and participation in neighborhood-based activities.
Disenfranchisement Within an Historically Homogenous Community
The face of Japanese America is changing.
"The Japanese American community has also become more multicultural than any other Asian American ethnic group in the United States. In 1979, the rate of Japanese Americans marrying non-Japanese American in Los Angeles was 61% and in 1989, Japanese-Caucasian births exceeded Japanese-Japanese births by 39%. Sharon Lee, an associate professor at Portland State University, found that between 1980 and 1990 Japanese inter-ethnic marriage (one partner is Japanese the other is of another Asian ethnicity) increased from 11.9 % to 20.3 %. Furthermore, intermarriage between Japanese and Latinos grew from 1.9 % in 1980 to 8.7 % in 1990."
Though multi-racial Japanese may identify with their Japanese heritage, they may not feel a part of the Japantown community. This leads some families and individuals to build their social networks elsewhere.
Attracting Young Families and Young Adults
Many young families and young adults come to Japantown only as consumers and find only a few attractions geared toward their interests. While some participate in organized activities (churches, social service organizations, classes), many others have difficulty finding a point of entry into community activities. Since many families do not live in the neighborhood, there is a perception of inconvenience in considering participation in Japantown-based activities (sports, Scouting, churches, etc.). Many existing organizations and businesses do little in the way of outreach to these constituencies, relying instead on the assumption of continued support based in existing generational populations. According to the study conducted by Porat Consulting, the closure of Japantown Bowl will have a "particularly adverse impact on the cultural and social life of youth." Therefore, it is critical that the Japantown community support alternative economic development ventures that would be attractive and affordable for youth.
Though redevelopment and the desire for upward mobility physically removed most Japanese Americans from Japantown, for many there has remained an emotional and cultural tie to the neighborhood. As the post-World War II generation raises its own children there is a renewed interest in cultivating a sense of heritage grounded in a sense of place. Along with young immigrant Japanese families, new generations of Japanese Americans could become vital stakeholders as participants in Japantown-based cultural and social service institutions, such as Nihonmachi Little Friends and the Japanese Community and Cultural Center. This renewed interest in heritage and cultural identification has also attracted the interest of students and young adults in finding a sense of place in Japantown.
Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan
1.1: Expand and strengthen cultural institutions, including religious and social groups.
1.2: Encourage and promote location of Japanese/Japanese American traditional and contemporary arts, history, culture and entertainment within Japantown.
1.3: Ensure inclusiveness of the ideas and values of the community's multi-generational, multi-cultural, bi-racial and bilingual or multilingual members.
2.1: Strengthen visitor/tourist activity within Japantown.
2.3: Attract and promote new businesses and investment, especially those businesses that promote products and services unique to the Japanese culture.
2.4: Attract and promote businesses and investment, especially those businesses that promote products and services unique and desirable to the Japanese American culture.
2.6: Expand market support for retailing in Japantown, including securing a high foot-traffic, retail demand generator replacement strategy in the event of AMC Kabuki's closure.
3.5: Sustain, strengthen, and expand existing community-based organizations and institutions, and systems of social support and services.
4.5: Provide sufficient open space and playgrounds for residents and visitors.
4.6: Provide easy access to Japantown for all ages¾by foot, car, bicycle, and public transportation.
Key Program Elements
· Convene a workgroup of constituents to develop strategies that serve the objectives.
· Establish Japantown as a regional draw for children and youth groups who want to learn more about the history of Japanese Americans.
· Increase the involvement of young adults who become displaced by college or have relocated to the Bay Area by establishing an easily identifiable process by which to re-engage with the community.
· Establish a children and youth services facility/complex that could house multiple services/organizations (child care, after-school activities, Japanese language, summer camp, music, etc.).
· Establish a regional network among faith, cultural, athletic and community-based children and youth programs, high school and university students groups, and parent groups.
· Identify meaningful roles for youth and young adults within the community by establishing structured opportunities to become active with existing community groups and other community efforts (internships, mentorships, volunteer opportunities, etc.).
· Identify resources to attract young Japan- and Japanese America-oriented entrepreneurs to Japantown to begin a new generation of small, community-based businesses and owners as economic stakeholders.
· Encourage new business interests in the community that attract/serve these constituencies.
· Educate existing institutions,
and businesses toward including these constituencies in their overall planning to increase their client/customer/volunteer bases.
Key Partners and Roles
Japanese Community Youth Council
Nihonmachi Little Friends
Japanese Community and Cultural Center of Northern California
Golden Gate Optimists Club (sponsor of organized sports leagues)
(Boy and Girl Scout troops)
Nihonmachi Merchants Association
Further Elaboration of Priority Program #5 will be prepared in Phase 3 of the Japantown Community Plan preparation process.
This section provides the complete listing of goals, objectives and strategies adopted by the Japantown Planning Preservation and Development Task Force to provide the strategic direction for the long-term revitalization of Japantown. The goals and objectives were proposed by the JPPDTF during Phase 1 of the Community Plan process. Working with the Task Force , the consultant team identified strategies to meet the goals and objectives. The strategies are based on in-depth interviews, focus groups, market research, physical design assessments, discussions with public officials and review of public documents.
Develop Japantown as an Historic Center, a Cultural Capital, and a Community Center for People of Japanese Ancestry in America.
Expand and strengthen cultural institutions, including religious and social groups.
1.1.1 Assist with strengthening the organizational staying power of the social, religious and cultural institutions by ensuring that such groups have a stable physical location in Japantown.
1.1.2. Use the Peace Plaza as a destination location for regular and frequent cultural and spiritual festivals and celebrations by coordinating with existing organizations to sponsor and organize.
Encourage and promote location of Japanese/Japanese American traditional and
contemporary arts, history, culture and entertainment
1.2.1. Feature and enhance existing Japantown arts, culture and historical organizations.
1.2.2. Identify sites in Japantown, from vacant storefronts to booths in the Japan Center, to house exhibit space for various purposes such as:
A. Secondary exhibits and related events of the National Park Service's planned Golden Gateway Center for the Migration/Immigration of People to the Pacific Coast
B. Display of local Pan Asian community artists
C. Support creation of art by community
D. Promote youth and family cultural heritage awareness by providing hands-on genealogy workshops and kiosks which link to historical resources, e.g., JANM remote terminal of existing relocation/camp project
E. House satellite exhibits for the Asian Art Museum
F. Create site of learning and reflection at Japantown Peace Pagoda
G. Establish or link visitor kiosks which post daily listings of public activities and programs sponsored by cultural CBOs in Japantown.
1.2.3. Create a Japantown historic and cultural walking tour that highlights key landmarks.
1.2.4. Transform Japan Center into a festival marketplace by programming cultural and traditional arts (Taiko Dojo, traditional music, martial arts, ikebana, tea ceremony, arts demonstrations, etc.) throughout the year.
1.2.5. Support the establishment of a permanent cultural performance facility in which community cultural groups as well as contemporary artists can create, perform and gather.
1.2.6. Encourage the public presence of the National Japanese American Historical Society, the Japanese American National Library, and the Japanese American Archives within Japantown.
Ensure inclusiveness of the ideas and values of the community's multigenerational, multi-cultural, bi-racial and bilingual or multilingual members.
1.3.1. Encourage community communication (notices, signage, meetings) be made available in English, Japanese and Korean.
1.3.2. Enhance access to/for above communities with through focused outreach.
1.3.3. Enhance availability of family-related activities.
1.3.4. Create point of contact/entry for anyone interested accessing the community: to obtain information, find ways to participate, and/or access or provide resources.
V. Detailed Summary of Japantown Community
Plan Goals, Objectives and Strategies
Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan
Goal 2: Revitalization Japantown as Thriving Commercial and Retail District
Strengthen visitor/tourist activity within Japantown.
2.1.1. Enhance the cultural identity and historic significance of Japantown through highly visible and artistic identifier signage.
2.1.2. Market Japantown through traditional regional, national and international tourism channels including the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, hotels, bus tour companies, tour guide publishers, travel agencies, etc.
2.1.3. Create an audio headset program for self-guided walking tours and walking tour maps, in addition to training volunteer docents for guided walking tours.
2.1.4. Identify and publicize cultural events, activities and festivals located at landmark cultural institutions (like churches and temples) that are open to the public.
2.1.5. Help sponsoring agencies to publicize and revitalize existing community festivals: Cherry Blossom Festival, Nihonmachi Streetfair, Aki Matsuri (Autumn Festival), and Tanabata.
2.1.6. Place public street maps and bulletin boards (electronic or non-) at key intersections in Japantown highlighting points of interest.
Expand and strengthen participation in existing merchants group.
2.2.1. Hire a part-time multilingual staff person to support the existing Nihonmachi Merchants Association.
2.2.2. Develop regular and frequent group marketing and promotional activities in local and regional Japanese and tourism media sources.
2.2.3. Promote consistent business hours during peak business demand hours.
2.2.4. Coordinate a business assistance program for ongoing members and a neighborhood business district orientation for new merchants.
Attract and promote new businesses and investment, especially those businesses that promote products and services unique to the Japanese culture.
2.3.1. Provide specialized workshops in starting a business venture for new entrepreneurs, including a recruitment program for attracting Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals interested in operating a business in Japantown.
2.3.2. Create or identify a mentorship program to support new entrepreneurs and businesses in Japantown and to retain existing businesses at risk of closure.
2.3.3. Provide incentives to property owners to aggressively market vacant storefronts to Japanese/Japanese-American-oriented businesses.
2.3.4. Attract a high-quality Japanese retailer to anchor the Japantown retail theme and attract more customers to support the existing businesses.
2.3.5. Work with the Japan Center mall owners to initiate retail carts and kiosk opportunities for small business start-ups.
2.3.6. Leverage the competitive advantages of Japanese and Bay Area
high-technology companies by institutionalizing the
"gray" tech market in Japantown, and
high-tech products, services and/or showrooms.
2.3.7. Investigate consumable needs of transient Japanese student/youth population.
Attract and promote businesses and investment, especially those businesses that promote products and services unique and desirable to the Japanese American culture.
2.4.1. Explore attracting good/services that reflect Hawaiian culture.
2.4.2. Attract businesses like coffee shops or art spaces that become destination places to meet/gather.
2.4.3. Encourage Japanese/Asian Pacific Islander American professionals (e.g., dentists, optometrists, M.D.) to relocate/locate their practices in Japantown.
A. Outreach to Japanese/Asian Pacific Islander American professionals to investigate their needs.
B. Encourage development/availability of above-ground-floor office space to support client-based practices.
C. Create a co-operative opportunity for professionals to invest in the creation of a building/location.
Coordinate with local merchants association to develop and implement a marketing plan to promote Japantown locally, regionally and worldwide.
2.5.1. Create diverse marketing icons to identify the spectrum of Japantown's cultural, historical, spiritual and commercial resources.
2.5.2. Utilize Japantown's marketing icons to create high-quality commercial and
tional products for marketing, visitor information and revenue-generation.
2.5.3. Disseminate tourist information packages to tour guide publishers, bus tour companies and Japanese cultural organizations regionally, nationally and internationally.
2.5.4. Create an outreach campaign specifically targeted toward Japanese Americans.
2.5.5. Establish and maintain a Japantown web site for tourist information, local events schedule and e-commerce.
Expand market support for retailing in Japantown, including securing a high foot-traffic, retail demand generator replacement strategy in the event of AMC Kabuki's closure.
2.6.1. Open direct communication with AMC Corporate to determine their commitment to AMC Kabuki.
2.6.2. Update existing movie theater with state of the art accommodations.
2.6.3. Investigate other movie and cultural (music, live theater, performing arts, etc.) interest in establishment and expansion at the Kabuki Center.
2.6.4. Investigate feasibility of providing small active uses along the Fillmore Street frontage.
2.6.5. Develop relationships with existing places to meet, eat, and have coffee nearby.
2.6.6. Find ways to meet needs of youth and families who have utilized Kabuki for entertainment, gathering place, etc., with API children's programming as a means of bringing API families to the neighborhood
2.6.7. Investigate expanded use of unused areas of AMC Kabuki (e.g., 3rd floor office and unused office space). Use one theater space for regular API movies or events.
Expand, intensify and broaden the residential market in Japantown as a means to generate greater support for and diversify the retail base, neighborhood services and cultural institutions.
3.1.1. Identify and promote in-fill residential sites for market rate housing development.
3.1.2. Assess feasibility of residential development addition to Japan Center
3.1.3. Support the efforts of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency to preserve the Namiki Apartments, Sutter Apartments and Golden Gate Apartments as long-term affordable housing.
Develop strategies and mechanisms for community control or influence of changes in land use, property, and business ownership within Japantown to promote changes that would benefit the community and to ensure that changes would have positive impact on the community.
3.2.1. Create, strengthen, or incorporate a community economic development organization to engage the business and residential community in on-going planning and community building.
3.2.2. Create and advocate adoption of specific and relevant zoning code overlays for key Japantown parcels, including the AMC theater and Japan Center properties in addition to future in-fill sites.
3.2.3. Explore creation of community-based land trust.
Encourage neighborhood-serving businesses (e.g., laundry, bakery, professional services, cafes, etc.).
3.3.1. Develop a monthly Farmers' and/or Flower Market in an open space, e.g., the Buchanan Mall.
3.3.2. Attract high-quality Japanese dry goods, household products or general stores.
3.3.3. Convert the koban into a neighborhood- and visitor-serving retail and information booth such as international newsstand, flower shop or espresso stand with neighborhood/tourism information booth.
3.3.4. Open Japan Center walls at Post Street to encourage more pedestrian-friendly retail, including open cafes, sidewalk activities, etc.
Promote neighborhood safety at all hours of the day.
3.4.1. Identify a better location and use of the koban.
3.4.2. Utilize landscaping to improve security.
3.4.3. Provide adequate telephones in strategic locations for people to contact the police.
3.4.4. Enhance street lighting.
3.4.5. Trim existing trees to create safe open space for pedestrians.
3.4.6. Work with Nihonmachi Merchants Association paid security and San Francisco Police Department to ensure coordination and effectiveness of security enforcement.
Sustain, strengthen, and expand existing community-based organizations and institutions, and systems of social support and services.
3.5.1. Enhance communication/coordination among community-based organizations and institutions.
A. Create community-planning calendar to allow coordination of activities scheduling among community-based organizations and institutions.
B. Establish communications network/mechanism for mutual support.
C. Research possibilities for collaborative funds development.
3.5.2. Establish a community participation and implementation process for those who live, work, own Properties/businesses, socialize in and are concerned about Japantown.
3.5.3. Promote the idea of community activism to reach out to youth and other interested community members.
A. Support/work with existing youth organizations encouraging greater participation in the community.
B. Create mentorship program to provide entrée to participation in community-based organizations.
C. Outreach to schools and institutions outside the community to promote participation in Japantown through internships and volunteer programs.
3.5.4. Promote outreach to a regional Japanese American community.
A. Coordinate/communicate with other Japanese American communities regionally and nationally through established print and electronic media.
B. Encourage participation in regional interest groups.
Develop a cohesive urban design vision for Japantown by highlighting its center and better defining its edges so that the place is welcoming and visually unique to its surroundings.
4.1.1. Reinforce Post Street as Japantown `s "main street" for commercial uses.
4.1.2. Reinforce Sutter as the "community street"a place for meeting and interaction including:
A. Concentrate cultural and neighborhood uses along Sutter;
B. Create places for neighborhood meetings, gatherings, and rest, particularly adjacent to cultural institutions;
C. Develop a streetscape vocabulary that expresses the cultural/institutional role of the street.
4.1.3. Improve access and visibility along Geary Street.
4.1.4. Give Japantown a positive "face" along Fillmore Street.
4.1.5. Strengthen entry points and key corners that define the community's boundaries and that draw people in and welcome them to Japantown.
4.1.6. Encourage future uses for the Goodwill Building at Post and Fillmore to house Japanese-related business and/or service as a gateway into Japantown.
4.1.7. Utilize center islands on Webster Street between Bush and Geary for public art or landscaping that reinforces Japantown identity.
Improve and upgrade the physical appearance of Japantown's commercial district to ensure continued financial viability of Japantown.
4.2.1. Renovate and update Japan Center to 21st Century retail standards including:
A. Create a lively, cheerful, "full of light" atmosphere within the Kinokuniya Mall, Miyako Mall and Kintetsu Mall that feels connected to the outer community.
B. Enhance interior environment of Kinokuniya Mall as destination point.
C. Encourage a facade treatment of the mall buildings that reflects a smaller scale streetscape;
D. Investigate the feasibility of directly connecting the AMC theater to the Kinokuniya Mall building;
E. Develop access and visibility along Geary;
F. Strengthen visual and physical connections between the Peace Plaza and the Kinokuniya and Kintetsu malls.
4.2.2. Enhance the Buchanan Mall as the heart and center of the community both for every day use and special gatherings including:
A. Strengthen the commercial viability of the Buchanan Mall;
B. Renovate/update the physical environment to make it more inviting;
C. Create a festival marketplace experience as a means to draw residents and visitors to the mall.
D. Strengthen the connection between the mall and the Peace Plaza;
E. Strengthen the approach and entry into the mall along Buchanan Street from the north and south.
F. Establish/identify maintenance program for regular upkeep that enforces community stewardship of the mall.
4.2.3. Reinforce Post Street as Japantown `s "main street" for commercial uses including:
A. Encourage development of entertainment and public attraction uses;
B. Encourage community-serving retail uses;
C. Improve facades and overall streetscape (e.g., provide displays or street gallery spaces);
D. Encourage building design that conveys transparency and activity;
E. Develop a streetscape vocabulary that unifies Post Street as the commercial corridor.
4.2.4. Give Japantown a positive "face" along Fillmore Street including:
A. Improve facades and overall streetscape along Fillmore in Japantown (i.e., Bush to Geary);
B. Encourage future uses for the Goodwill Building at Post and Fillmore to house Japanese-related business and/or service as a gateway into Japantown;
C. Improve the facade treatment of the AMC theater (e.g., use displays or kiosks) consistent with plans for the Fillmore Jazz District;
D. Coordinate with planned improvements for the Geary/Fillmore Street Bridge and the Fillmore/O'Farrell Street Plaza.
Encourage the design of the buildings, plazas, street furniture, ornament, and landscape to reflect the history of Japantown and to contribute to community identity.
4.3.1. Incorporate Japanese motifs into building design.
4.3.2. Plant authentic Japanese trees such as cherry, maple, plum, ginkgo, bamboo, etc. in the Peace Plaza, Buchanan Mall, and along other streets.
4.3.3. Use streetlights and signage that enhance the cultural identity and historical significance of Japantown.
4.3.4. Use window displays along exterior walls to reflect and give visibility to the community's culture and history (traditional/contemporary motifs; theme-oriented displays). Involve local/young artists.
4.3.5. Provide better space and visibility for cultural institutions.
4.3.6. Conduct an historic preservation study of significant buildings (e.g., the YWCA) to determine their eligibility for landmark status.
4.3.7. Provide a comprehensive map of the community, with locations of community facilities and services, as well as businesses placed strategically on the street. Translate to in-hand maps.
Provide a streetscape that is safe, lively, pleasant, and comfortable.
4.4.1. Use a family of light fixtures including both pedestrian- as well as vehicular- scale lights.
4.4.3. Use uniform signage that identifies and creates unity throughout Japantown and facilitates wayfinding.
4.4.4. Use street trees whose height and canopy do not block lighting or storefront signage.
4.4.5. Use irrigation and planting methods that encourage deep rooting.
4.4.6. Prune/replace Ficus trees on Sutter.
4.4.7. Repair/replace heaved sidewalks.
4.4.8. Place newsracks in an aesthetic and logical arrangement.
4.4.9. Plant street trees and provide cohesive signage along Geary.
4.4.10. Clarify the form and image of Webster Street and improve signage in the median.
4.4.11. Re-design cobblestone "river" through Buchanan Mall to provide a safer and more inviting walking surface.
Provide sufficient open space and playgrounds for residents and visitors.
4.5.1. Strengthening visual and physical connections between the Peace Plaza and the interior of the Japantown Center Mall (i.e., the Kinokuniya and Kintetsu malls).
4.5.2. Strengthening the physical and visual connection between the Peace Plaza and the Buchanan Mall.
4.5.3. Renovate the Buchanan Mall.
4.5.4. Identify opportunities for additional open space.
Provide easy access to Japantown for all ages by foot, car, bicycle, and public transportation.
4.6.1. Create a clear and continuous pedestrian corridor along Buchanan between Sutter and Geary.
4.6.2. Improve the safety and visibility of the crossing of Post Street at Buchanan through the use of curb extensions, pedestrian paving in the crosswalk, a highly-visible traffic signal.
4.6.3. Use trees, banners, and other elements to create a pedestrian scale on Geary between Laguna and Webster.
4.6.4. Consider an at-grade pedestrian crossing mid-block on Webster between Geary and Post.
4.6.5. Improve visual cues on Geary (e.g., in the tunnel) and Sutter Street to signal the approach and arrival at Japantown
4.6.6. Use signage and other cues to identify Geary Street as the primary entry into the Japan Center parking garage.
4.6.7. Slow traffic on the Geary Street frontage road.
4.6.8. Slow traffic on Post through traffic calming measures.
4.6.9. Improve signage to off-street parking facilities on Post.
4.6.10. Increase signage and other visual cues at Buchanan on Geary, Post and Sutter to draw and direct transit riders into Japantown.
Japanese-Oriented Anchor Retailer Research
The Japan Center retail mall, located in the heart of San Francisco's Japantown district, is a relatively vibrant retail center, but lacks the presence of strong anchor tenants. The consulting team is evaluating the potential to attract an anchor Japanese retailer to Japan Center as a means of attracting shoppers to the neighborhood and enhancing the commercial district. Accordingly, Sedway Group has performed a search of larger Japanese-owned and -oriented retailers in order to determine the viability of attracting a major Japanese retail tenant. Sedway Group identified appropriate retailers, and evaluated their plans for expansion and potential interest in the San Francisco Japantown location. The investigation focused on retailers established in the United States, although it also included retailers located outside of the U.S. market as well.
Overview of Japanese Retailers
Japanese anchor retailers in the United States generally fall into one of three categories:
· Specialty retail and department stores;
· Supermarkets specializing in Asian foods and gifts; and
The specialty retail and department stores typically cater to Japanese tour groups, and may
or may not be located in a "Japantown" area.
Many of the department stores have Japanese parent companies that are suffering the effects of
the prolonged economic recession in their home country. As a result, some stores are
either closing (Matsuzakaya in Los Angeles) or are
on the verge of being sold (Shirokiya in Hawaii).
In addition, because of the Japanese recession, there have been reduced levels of
tourists in the U.S. Those who do visit increasingly come with budget tour operators who often do not visit "Japantown" areas, such as Little Tokyo in Los Angeles or Japantown in San Francisco. An additional result of the Japanese recession is that the likelihood of a Japanese retailer expanding to the U.S. market at this time is very slim.
Supermarkets like Marukai, Mitsuwa Marketplace, Uwajimaya, and Nijiya Market who sell specialty Asian foods, deli and sushi goods, and Asian-oriented gifts appear to be the strongest performing retail anchors at this time. Larger operations such as Mitsuwa Marketplace and Uwajimaya typically incorporate restaurants into a small retail complex and other smaller retailers to create a synergistic retail mix catering to Japanese and other Asian shoppers.
Small Shop Retailers
There are numerous smaller, Japanese-owned and -oriented specialty retailers with multiple Western U.S. stores. The goods sold by such retailers include toys, clothes, pottery, and gifts. Two of these small specialty retailers indicated an interest in the Japan Center location _ Trendy Toy Stores and Utsuwa-No-Yakata (Japanese pottery).
The Japantown Planning, Preservation, and Development Taskforce
The Sedway Group,
Real Estate Economics
October 1, 2000
Because Asian supermarkets/specialty foods stores are the most successful Japanese retailers at the current time, Exhibit 28 summarizes Sedway Group's investigation of this retail category. Exhibit 29 lists all of the remaining Japanese retailers identified by Sedway Group and includes information relative to each retailer's plans for expansion and interest in Japantown. Five established and successful Japanese-oriented retailers are detailed below.
Marukai is a membership-only wholesale grocer that offers a large selection of Oriental foods, a sushi bar, fish counter, sundries, liquors, and everything from T-shirts to vacuum cleaners. Marukai has four store locations, two in the Los Angeles area, and two in Hawaii. They recently opened a store in West Covina and Mr. Frank Oda _ broker at Seven Star Realty and property manager for Marukai _ believed the next store will be opened somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego. The opening of the following store could be in the San Francisco-San Jose region. The retailer requires a minimum of 30,000 square feet of space.
Previously, the owners of the Miyako Hotel initiated discussions with the Marukai ownership in regards to opening a store in Japantown in conjunction with planned expansion or changes at Japan Center. Mr. Oda did not elaborate on the details, but apparently the Marukai representatives had little interest. There is clearly a negative perception of Japan Center on the part of both the Marukai management and Mr. Oda, who indicated that he had not heard good things about Japantown and the shopping center as a location for retailers.
Mr. Oda has relationships with several Japanese retailers, including Marukai, Kinokuniya, and a restaurant chain called Todai. He indicated an interest in receiving information on the Japantown area's demographics, site plans, plans for development and timeline, and a description of the surrounding business area.
Uwajimaya is the largest Asian grocery and gift market in the Pacific Northwest, offering
products from many Asian countries. Since its inception,
the store has evolved from providing basic grocery staples into a tourist and destination store
known for its premium Asian gifts, groceries,
produce, seafood, meat/poultry, and deli. The Seattle
store includes a delicatessen, extensive fresh
market with live fish tanks, meat and produce sections, kitchenware and gift arcade featuring fine artwork, books, records, clothing, cosmetics, fabrics, and the already popular Uwajimaya Cooking School.
The store has three locations in Seattle and Bellevue, Washington, and Beaverton, Oregon. Currently, the company is developing the Uwajimaya Village in the Seattle International District, which includes an expanded store, an Asian food court, banking and residential units. Mr. Phil Combs, real estate manager at Uwajimaya, indicated that this project is occupying a substantial portion of the company's financial resources in the short term. Their current store size is 25,000 square feet and the company prefers to own, rather than rent commercial space. Last year the Seattle store generated one million transactions, which equates roughly to two million people entering the store.
The company has discussed opening a retail store in California, but Japantown was not one of the locations considered. Mr. Combs believes Uwajimaya has a well-established name and would do well in Northern California. However, he expressed concern at the cost of doing business in San Francisco, particularly in terms of real estate prices and rents, and the cost of parking. Mr. Combs did not identify specific demographic or quantitative area requirements for selecting a store site. However, some of the general aspects that are important in a new site location are the following:
· Parking: Adequate parking is crucial to the success of the store, due to the high volume purchasing of customers. Uwajimaya's parking requirements are similar to a typical grocery store. Mr. Combs expressed concern that the price of paying for customer parking through a validation program at the garage on Post Street would be extremely expensive for the company.
· Maintenance/Physical Condition of Store Area: Uwajimaya looks for a well-maintained, attractive building and shopping center environment.
· Pedestrian Traffic: They prefer a site with high pedestrian walk-by counts.
· Area Demographics: They prefer to locate in an area with large Asian populations of households with above average incomes.
· Retail Mix: Uwajimaya likes its stores to be located in areas with many restaurants. In addition, they especially like to be near the Kinokuniya retailer.
Uwajimaya also uses a risk assessment company called CAP Index, Inc. to guide its decision-making regarding store locations. The firm provides reports assessing a specific location's risk of crime in comparison to national, state, and county levels.
Nijiya Market is a supermarket that sells specialty Japanese foods, take-out foods, and some non-tourist-oriented gifts and includes a sushi bar as well. The company currently has six stores in five cities (Mountain View, San Diego, W. Los Angeles, Torrance, City of Industry). The store relies on Japanese customers from surrounding neighborhoods for 70 to 80 percent of its business. The owner, Mr. Hiroki Imaizumi, indicated that he looked at opening a store in Japantown in February 1999, but decided the timing was not right. He believes he will open a new Northern California store some time in 2001. While he will perform market research on the entire Bay Area to identify a location, he has already identified two potential sites _ downtown San Francisco (including Japantown) and San Mateo.
All of the existing Nijiya Markets are located in open malls, but Mr. Imaizumi has expressed that a San Francisco store would have to be different. The markets generally range from 7,000 to 10,000 square feet, and lease rates range from $1.75 per square foot in Torrance to $3.00 per square foot in West Los Angeles. Mr. Imaizumi indicated he is not too particular about adjacent retail tenants, but does like the fact that Kinokuniya is located in Japan Center.
Mitsuwa Marketplace is a chain of small retail centers anchored by a supermarket/specialty foods store. The center typically includes smaller retailers such as Utsuwa-No-Yakata (Japanese pottery), Asahiya Bookstores, and Trendy Toy Stores (toys, animation). Currently, there are nine Mitsuwa Marketplaces, including locations in San Jose, Los Angeles (Little Tokyo), and San Diego. The company has no current plans for expansion to a new market area.
Muji (Mujirushi Ryohdin)
Muji is a Japan-based retail chain that designs, manufactures, and sells a range of apparel, household goods, and foods. It can be roughly equated with The Gap lifestyle retail stores concept. The first international Muji store opened in London in 1991. Currently, there are approximately 20 locations in England and France. Expectations are to continue expansion in Europe at approximately 30 to 50 percent annually over the next five years. The company has developed a trial website, being updated this year, in order to gauge the United States market. Muji has identified the United States market as an area for expansion, but Mr. Ewan Douglas (real estate manager in the London corporate office) believes this move is at least a couple of years away. The expansion would be initiated by the corporate office in Japan.
Stores are typically in the range of 5,000 square feet and are located (in Europe) along busy pedestrian streets. Muji stores are located on the main shopping streets (rather than "boutique" retail areas) in the main cities (e.g., London, Paris). They prefer areas with a high level of young, affluent, stylish people. The Muji stores in Europe do not target Asian customers. In fact, Muji management has deliberately chosen not to locate in Japantown-like, Japanese-oriented locations.
Japanese Supermarket/Specialty Food Retailers
Outlook for Attracting a Major Japanese Retailer
As stated previously, the most successful larger Japanese-oriented retailers at this point in time are supermarkets selling specialty Asian foods and gifts. As a result, such a retailer would be the most likely retailer interested in opening a new store location, and therefore serving as a potential anchor tenant for the Japan Center. Four stores have been identified in the Asian-supermarket retail category. They are listed below in order of greatest to least potential for locating a new store in Japantown:
1. Nijiya Market
3. Mitsuwa Marketplace
Sedway Group believes that such a specialty food retailer would be an excellent tenant at
Japan Center, creating a synergy with the restaurants and bookstore that could act as a draw for both local residents and visitors to Japantown.
Interest in the Japan Center location varied from positive (Nijiya Market) to negative (Marukai). Three of the four companies foresee an expansion to the San Francisco area within the next couple of years, though only Nijiya Market indicated they would seriously consider Japantown. A variety of concerns were expressed, including the cost of doing business in San Francisco, the current performance of retailers at Japan Center, the current physical state of the shopping center, and the cost of parking. Conversely, the nearby presence of restaurants and Kinokuniya Bookstore, especially, is very attractive to most of these retailers.
In general, the retailers did not appear to
have hard and fast locational criteria (e.g.,
density, incomes, etc.) for determining new store sites. What was more important was physical quality, heavy pedestrian activity, automobile access and parking, and a large Japanese and Asian population with above average incomes. Japan Center currently does or could potentially possess each of these characteristics.
Overall, few large Japanese-owned and oriented retailers were identified that could serve as anchor tenants. Among those that were identified, interest in the Japan Center location was mild at best. Successfully attracting such an anchor tenant will likely require proactively marketing future Japantown and Japan Center design and improvements to the retailer, as well as incorporating their comments about what would make the area a more attractive location for their store.
Other Japanese Retailers
JPPDTF Standing Committees
Communications and Marketing Committee
Chair: Chris Hirano
Vice Chair: Seiko Fujimoto
Hats Aizawa Steve Doi Tak Matsuba Tak Onishi Kenji Taguma J.K. Yamamoto
Chair: Colin Gomez
Vice Chair: Kaz Naganuma
San Francisco Redevlopment Agency
Economic and Community Development Committee
Chair: Caryl Ito
Vice Chair:Min Paek
Tak Onishi Paul Osaki Neal Taniguchi Pamela Wu
Real Estate and Land Use Committee
Vice Chair: Doug Dawkins David Ishida
Jeff Mori Allen Okamoto
Jon Osaki Paul Osaki
George Yamasaki, Jr.
Shirley Wysinger David Habert
Rev. Tim Dupre
Rev. Masato Kawahatsu
Dr. Kyo D. Lee
George Yamasaki, Jr.
San Francisco Department of City Planning
BMS Design Group - Planning and Urban Design
Michael Smiley, Partner in Charge
Porat Consulting - Real Estate Economics
Sedway Group - Economic Analysis
The Duffey Company - Transportation Consultants
Nobuho Nagasawa - Artist Consultant
Jim Leritz - illustrator
Selected Data Mapping
Ben Pease, cartographer
Sedway Group has made extensive efforts to confirm the accuracy and timeliness of the information contained in this study. Such information was compiled from a variety of sources, including interviews with government officials, review of City and County documents, and other third parties deemed to be reliable. Although Sedway Group believes all information in this study is correct, it does not warrant the accuracy of such information and assumes no responsibility for inaccuracies in the information by third parties. We have no responsibility to update this report for events and circumstances occurring after the date of this report. Further, no guarantee is made as to the possible effect on development of present or future federal, state or local legislation, including any regarding environmental or ecological matters.
The accompanying projections and analyses are based on estimates and assumptions developed in connection with the study. In turn, these assumptions, and their relation to the projections, were developed using currently available economic data and other relevant information. It is the nature of forecasting, however, that some assumptions may not materialize, and unanticipated events and circumstances may occur. Therefore, actual results achieved during the projection period will likely vary from the projections, and some of the variations may be material to the conclusions of the analysis.
Contractual obligations do not include access to or ownership transfer of any electronic data processing files, programs or models completed directly for or as by-products of this research effort, unless explicitly so agreed as part of the contract.
This report may not be used for any purpose other than that for which it is prepared. Neither all nor any part of the contents of this study shall be disseminated to the public through publication advertising media, public relations, news media, sales media, or any other public means of communication without prior written consent and approval of Sedway Group.