Resetting San Francisco One Corner at a Time

With unemployment in San Francisco still stubbornly high, we need to look at every resource available to put our neighbors back to work. And with the city’s budget deficit projected to be nearly $400 million next year alone, solutions need to be both creative and affordable.

As the San Francisco Chronicle’s John King smartly pointed out a while back – we might not need to look further than what’s right in front of us to help at least 60 San Francisco families get back into this economy – by tapping into this city’s entrepreneurial spirit.

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King wrote about the 110 green kiosks dotting our city. Originally supplied by French company JCDecaux as advertising kiosks, 60 of these 19-foot tubes were engineered as newsstands. They have counters for displays and doors that open, inviting pedestrians to see inside. King reported that as he walked on “Market Street from Fifth to the Embarcadero,” he noticed that 16 of the 17 kiosks were empty. City wide, the ratio is much the same. 

King suggested some possible uses and reuses. Here’s another suggestion in keeping with the entrepreneurial spirit that is the core of San Francisco’s economic strength.

With our unemployment rate hitting 9.7%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, let’s take these unused city resources and use empty kiosks to put San Franciscans back to work by turning them into spaces for “pop-up start-ups.”

We know that in the past, small businesses have led our city, state and nation in job creation. Nationally, small businesses created nearly two thirds of all new jobs in the past 15 years. We certainly know that our start-up culture is what has made our city so economically vibrant in the past decade. And we know that our cluster of small locally-owned businesses and lively streetscapes make the city a better and safer place to live as well as attract visitors who spend money and boost our local economy.

By taking these dead spaces on the urban landscape and turning them into 60 start-up businesses, we can create new jobs, new revenues and new urban experiences – all without spending a single cent of scarce city funds.

Since these are public resources, let’s make sure to reap the maximum public benefit. For example, we should provide these spaces to San Franciscans first, look to companies that provide the kind of services and products that are sustainable and look to make sure that every community is represented in this opportunity.

We could even offer the best 60 ideas for new small businesses a deal – we’ll give you space rent-free for two years in exchange for small city equity in the new companies. All it takes is a new idea like, say, Twitter to make that a smart investment for the future. But that’s just a potential fringe benefit for taking what is now an urban blight and turning it into a small but powerful economic engine.

We’ve already smartly invested city resources into a local micro loan program to help put San Franciscans back to work by promoting the launch or expansion of small businesses. But here’s a companion program that would promote economic vitality by giving space instead of money.

This might seem small – unless you are one of the 60 people who get back to work in your own business, one of the untold San Franciscans who might eventually find work in one of those new businesses or one of the 800,000 San Franciscans who could walk down a street with an interesting new business rather than a dead urban space.

Sure, it’s small. But this is exactly the kind of creative thinking we need to solve the very big challenge of our stagnant economy in the face of very big government deficits.

 

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