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The Tenderloin Shines Brightly at Sunday Streets

A person in pink wig and colorful attire is waving at a lively street fair with people milling around.
Source: James Wyatt for The Standard

This past Sunday afternoon, anyone walking out of Civic Center BART Station was immediately greeted by the bustling Heart of the City Farmers Market, with its more than two dozen vendor tents and hundreds of customers packing United Nations Plaza. Just one block up from there, the colorful Sikh Day Parade rolled up McAllister Street, honoring the culture and legacy of that Indian faith with floats, flags and festivities.

Another block up, the return of Sunday Streets Tenderloin transformed Golden Gate Avenue between Jones and Hyde streets into what felt like a “Tenderloin County Fair.” Organized by the nonprofit Livable City, which strives to improve San Francisco neighborhoods for walking, biking and transit, Sunday Streets is now celebrating its 15th year of bringing car-free open spaces to neighborhoods across the city throughout the summer and fall.

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“I’m really thrilled that we’re here in the Tenderloin today,” state Sen. Scott Wiener told the crowd. “Some of the challenges of this neighborhood have been amplified, without looking at the good and the beauty here. And when I say beauty, I’m talking about the people. It’s an incredibly diverse neighborhood, with people from all walks of life.”

And those people powered plenty of joy into Sunday Streets, with a rock-climbing wall, a jumbo-size chess board and hula hoops galore. The local chapter of Street Soccer USA had turned part of Golden Gate Avenue into a soccer field, the San Francisco Capoeira Academy had a high-energy dance floor with acrobatics and the performance artists of Circus Center let kids and adults try their hand at juggling, spinning plates on sticks and tightrope-walking.

The most popular attraction may have been the dunk tank provided by the Tenderloin’s safety net service center St. Anthony Foundation, which also provided a “build your own potted plant” booth, among other games and activities. 

The foundation also promoted its vision to close one block of Golden Gate Avenue permanently, creating a “green oasis” called the Golden Gate Greenway.

“We’re leading that coalition to advocate for a permanent Slow Street closure here on Golden Gate Avenue between Leavenworth and Jones [streets] so that we can do more activities like this, that are positive and uplifting and family-friendly fun,” said St. Anthony Foundation chief marketing and communications officer Sally Haims. 

Jeffrey Tumlin, the director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said the proposed greenway has the potential for “reinventing this block to serve as critical open space and social space for this neighborhood that has the least open space of almost any other neighborhood in San Francisco.”

The district’s supervisor, Dean Preston, also spoke in support of the greenway.

“This is what our streets should look like, not just when we’re celebrating Sunday Streets here, but every day,” Preston said Sunday. “Here we are, a bunch of human beings, connecting with drummers and jugglers and street art. This is an absolutely beautiful thing.”

The United States of Asian America Festival or the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center hosted the main stage at Jones Street with four hours of local performers, like the Filipino musical ensemble Kultura Kapwa and the teenage rockers of the San Francisco Rock Project, all emceed by the bubblegum-pink-haired drag queen Peipei Ma’Bilz.

There was plenty of health and wellness focus, too, like free vaccines from the mobile health service provider Visit Health

“We do services here in San Francisco with all kinds of vaccines: Covid, flu, MPX,” Visit Health family nurse practitioner Natalia Pitcher explained. “We try to meet people where they need it the most. We come out to the communities that are hit the hardest, and we make sure to do outreach and vaccinate people that are in the most dire need. We’ll even roam the streets and vaccinate people.”

Naturally, the Tenderloin’s well-known service center Glide had a huge presence, with giant Glide Jenga blocks, Glide cornhole and a “Glibrary” full of free books, in addition to offering health services of its own.

“The harm-reduction department brought out some general hygiene and safety supplies,” Glide harm-reduction team’s Liz Oates pointed out. “We’ve got Narcan, CPR shields, fentanyl testing kits, condoms, lubes and feminine products. There’s information on all of our programs, we’ve got lots of people out here with lots of knowledge and resources.”  

There were more free books at a sprawling San Francisco Public Library booth, along with a button-making station, crafts and promotions for its summer reading program Summer Stride

“Summer Stride is our annual summer reading program,” said Tenderloin outreach librarian Mel Reyes. “As kids leave school, we want to prevent what a lot of folks call the ‘summer slide,’ because they’re not in school. So we’re really encouraging a lot of reading.”

Rounding out the scene was an SFMTA Mobile Sales Van selling discounted Muni passes, the taco truck Tacos San Buena and some conspicuously tidy port-a-potties, all showing the Tenderloin at its finest.

Livable City executive director Darin Ow-Wing spelled out why that nonprofit puts so much effort into Sunday Streets Tenderloin. 

“There is research that says that when you have a festival and the people in the community come out and they see themselves putting their best foot forward, they see other people coming in and enjoying the community, that this creates energy,” he told the crowd. “This creates relationships. This creates trust.”

The production coordinator for the outdoor event company Into the Streets Toya Wynn reflected on a long sunny afternoon that drew hundreds. “We had two blocks filled with parties, fun, education and health,” Wynn said. “We got everybody from the community here in the TL to come out.”

The next scheduled Sunday Streets event is Sunday Streets Mission, July 30 on Valencia Street between Duboce Avenue and 26th Street. But if things work out for the Golden Gate Greenway, the Tenderloin may be the future home of a Sunday Streets every day.