City Hall

Sunset Chinese Cultural District

By Gordon Mar

During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, I introduced legislation to establish the Sunset Chinese Cultural District, an important new initiative to elevate the unique cultural identity and historic role of Chinese residents, businesses and organizations in the Sunset and Parkside districts. 

The Sunset Chinese Cultural District will foster leadership and collaboration to support the resiliency and ongoing vitality of this unique community in the face of many significant challenges, including housing affordability and gentrification, the struggles of small family-owned businesses and the surge in anti-Asian racism and violence.

Once established, the Sunset Chinese Cultural District will be the City’s ninth officially designated Cultural District — the first on the west side, and the first dedicated to the Chinese community. Cultural Districts are geographic areas within San Francisco that embody unique cultural heritage, include a concentration of community assets, and with a significant portion of residents or people who spend time in the area who are members of a specific ethnic or cultural community group that has historically been discriminated against or displaced.

Cultural Districts create a formalized, collaborative partnership between city government and communities, providing resources to assist in stabilizing vulnerable communities facing, or at risk of, displacement or gentrification. Each Cultural District is led by a community-based group with an executive director and an advisory body, and is expected to maintain a robust community engagement and communication effort.

This important new effort to create the Sunset Chinese Cultural District came out of the broader Sunset Forward community-based planning process that my office initiated a year ago. As we have been getting input on priority community needs through the Sunset Forward process, many identified the importance of increasing support for the Chinese community in the Sunset to address its unique challenges and ensure that this important cultural community is able to thrive into the future.

Since the 1980s, the Chinese community has grown to become more than 50% of the population and an important part of the identity of the Sunset and Parkside districts with a major presence in commercial corridors, faith and school communities and neighborhood institutions. Most Sunset Chinese households are moderate income immigrant families, including a high proportion of foreign-born residents and multi-generational households.

Despite its large presence in the Sunset and Parkside districts, the Chinese community has lacked consistent opportunities to come together district-wide to work collaboratively, and as housing costs have skyrocketed over the past decade, fewer moderate-income Chinese families have been able to afford to buy a home or rent a decent family-sized apartment in the neighborhood. 

In recent years, most Sunset Chinese-owned businesses have also experienced economic challenges made worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many long-standing businesses have permanently closed, and today there are very few remaining Chinese-owned businesses west of Sunset Boulevard. With recent demographic and economic trends already indicating long-term displacement and gentrification of this historic and vibrant community of working-class immigrant families, the Sunset and Parkside Chinese community faces an uncertain future,

The Sunset Chinese Cultural District will be an important new strategy to stabilize this community and support it to address priority needs now and into the future. Over the past several months, my office has worked with more than a dozen community organizations, churches and businesses to develop the vision and plan for the Sunset Chinese Cultural District. Many of the groups worked together to organize a very powerful and, in many ways, historic march against anti-Asian hate on the Great Highway last month. This is an example of the type of community activities that could be organized on a regular basis through the Sunset Chinese Cultural District.

I’d like to acknowledge the very important, groundbreaking research and documentation of the rich history of Chinese in the Sunset District completed by Palma Yu and the Chinese Historical Society of America with support from my predecessor, Katy Tang. This research provides important historical background and a foundation for the cultural district initiative, and the wonderful exhibit that was created will hopefully find a permanent home in the Sunset through the new initiative.

And, finally, I’d also like to acknowledge a new policy report in support of the Sunset Chinese Cultural District completed by San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department graduate students Jacob Lacuesta and Yu Chiao Chang under the supervision of Professor Russell Jeung. The policy report includes analysis of interviews of Chinese residents in the Sunset District and highlights a strong sense of ethnic community, concerns about gentrification, anti-Asian hate and the economic vitality of Chinese businesses. The report highlights the need for community cultural events and more culturally-responsive community services and organizations. This report will inform the next phase of planning and priority-setting for the new cultural district.

We’re incredibly excited to bring this new initiative forward, to support and stabilize the largest cultural community in the Sunset. There’s much more work to be done, and more updates to share on this soon. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact our office to get involved, or with any questions or comments about this effort, or any other neighborhood issues — as always, we’re here to serve you. 

Gordon Mar represents District 4 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He can be reached at (415) 554-7460 or marstaff@sfgov.org.

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