Tenderline, SF

Location: San Francisco, California
Client: Eleven Magazine (competition)
Dates: April-May, 2016
Team: D. Ouyang, D. Glanz, J. Grinkrug, R. Joyce
Type: Public, Urban




The rich history of the Tenderloin has shaped both its built environment and its social fabric. This historical legacy includes resilient community networks that have inspired vigorous political activism . . . but it also includes serious chronic stresses to the neighborhood’s quality of life. Using geospatial analysis and open data, we identified some important problems:

  • OVERCROWDING. The Tenderloin has a population density of 170 residents per acre, which is 340% greater than the San Francisco average of 50. Along with the historic building stock of predominantly SRO (single room occupancy) units and the influx of Southeast Asian immigrant families in the early 80s, the Tenderloin suffers from overcrowded and overburdened buildings.
  • RENT BURDEN. Residents in the Tenderloin on average spend 42.39% of their household income on housing (Section 8 vouchers would bring that rent burden down to 30%). Overall, 10% of San Francisco residents in poverty live in the Tenderloin.
  • YOUTH AND ELDERLY. 8% of Tenderloin residents are less than 18 years old, and 15% are 65 years or older. For these demographics, lack of open space is a significant stress. A local resident described children playing soccer in his narrow apartment hallway as a common sight.
  • VEHICULAR TRAFFIC. City Planners discontinued cable car lines through the Tenderloin in the 1950’s and introduced one-way roads to speed traffic through the neighborhood. Currently 63% of the average street is devoted to the automobile while 47% of actual Tenderloin residents do not even own a vehicle.

These systemic stresses have led to reductions in productivity, autonomy, and activism in the community. While policymakers and the media continue to target symptoms like homelessness, nonviolent crime, and drug addiction, we conclude from our quantitative and qualitative research that the Tenderloin can benefit more from a reclamation of its own streets. This improvement to the public realm will  increase local open space, enhance connectivity, and promote autonomy throughout the neighborhood. In addition, the Tenderloin’s unique and historic building stock should be protected and upgraded to slow the forces of gentrification.


The Tenderloin community has always thrived on grassroots activism, from early women’s and gay rights movements to contemporary feats of guerrilla urbanism like the Tenderloin National Forest. We now propose an urban framework for the organic growth of the built environment alongside its community.

The TENDERLINE is an ‘activated’ pedestrian route through the neighborhood, with endpoints at City Hall and the Civic Center BART Station. The Tenderline will grow incrementally, block-by-block and step-by-step, by means of the following ‘typologies’ of intervention:

  • POLLEN: Existing and new mobile services will plug into the neighborhood along the Tenderline at regular places and times to deliver much needed amenities like food, hygiene, health care, education, employment, and legal services. Mobile vehicles do not require building permits but can distribute essential resources where and when they are needed. These temporary interventions provide an important spark of life in the absence of commercial and public amenities on Tenderloin streets.
  • SEEDS: The parklet has revolutionized the way we think about the potential of active streets in car-centric cities like San Francisco. In the spirit of tactical urbanism, the Tenderline will employ a variety of modular installations on sidewalks, vacant lots, and in existing parallel parking spaces. These installations will include parklets, cafe seating, playground and exercise equipment, pop up stores, and mobile units for the homeless. Great examples of SEEDS are currently being developed as part of San Francisco’s Market Street Prototyping Festival.
  • ROOTS: The first formal groundbreaking of Tenderline streets will increase the amount of pedestrian space from 37% to 54% along its length by reducing vehicular travel lanes and extending the sidewalk curb edge with a permanent “parklane”, which includes running paths lining pockets of activities and landscaping.
  • PLANTS: Once the Tenderline has been activated with ground activity, vertical structures will grow out of the Tenderline “parklane” and attach to select buildings, providing structural reinforcement where needed and enriching the residents of the Tenderloin with amenities such as additional bathrooms, open space, renewable energy, and vertical farming. Other rooftop structures like gardens or gyms can also be constructed to significantly increase recreation and fitness opportunities for residents.

All the interventions proposed will be born out of community-driven initiatives and a grass-roots design process. Given the incremental nature of these interventions from ‘pollen’ to ‘plants’ and a simple framework to guide the evolution of the neighborhood, individual community projects can move forward without significant red tape and without the reckless abandon of a master architect. An individual cafe can receive a permit to construct seating on the parklane outside its storefront; a landlord can offer vacant commercial units to nonprofits . . . or rent vacant residential units to community stewards at a reasonable subsidy. An entire community of residents in a city-owned SRO building can support a petition for the City to retrofit their building with a vertical farm. The role of professional planners, designers, and engineers becomes that of facilitators in a decentralized and organic ‘archiculture’.


The current social and political challenges of the Tenderloin related to rising costs of living and fears of gentrification are a drop in the bucket compared to the long history of social movements this community has catalyzed. That being said, the massive influence of the tech industry on the revitalization of Mid Market is an unpredictable force guided by external interests. New technologies like social media, virtual reality, and autonomous vehicles may lead us to a digitally saturated future that is perversely unfamiliar: a corporatized ‘TINDERLYFT’? We must preserve and enrich the analog experiences that make urban life sustainable, resilient, and equitable through municipal policies that encourage a more pedestrian-oriented environment and participatory planning process. The TENDERLINE is a grassroots-level community path that connects the Tenderloin to itself . .  and to the City at large. It is the common ground on which democracy can thrive.

(See winning entries)