San Francisco, one of the last bastions
of Japanese culture in US.

At the heart of a huge urban zone made of  several metropolis (Oakland and San Jose), including areas like the Silicon Valley or national parks and equiped with a colossal transport network, San Francisco is the cultural, financial and historical centre of the megalopolis.

Land of immigration since the Gold Rush, people flows, coming from all around the world, have made city population grow. Ethnic minorities (Asian, Afro and Hispanic) came together to form communities called « Town » within the San Francisco urban space.

Located in the « Western addition » neighborhood, « Japantown » was, at the beginning of the XXth century, a dynamic urban area with local ferment, many retailers and nearness services.

Japan’s position, during World War II, forced american authorities to protect the national citizens, thousands of Japanese residents were put in jail.

When american govenrment released them, three years later, they came back to their neighborhood. While they were missing, an Afro community settled down. In the end, both communities got along.

The different San Francisco municipality’s master plans changed the urban setting deeply. « Western addition » district was split in two by a highway linking the economic centre of San Francisco to the residential area of Richmond.

« Japantown » slowly got smaller loosing, by the way, a part of its ferment and identity.

Aware of changes brought in « japantown » inhabitants’ living conditions, the municipality of San Francisco decided, in 2002, to establish a planning program “the Better Neighborhoods 2002 program” in order to improve living conditions in three main areas of San Francisco.

Based on area’s identities, this program has to redefine the essential functions of this neighborough in the city general running.

Japantown by night

Japantown by night (photo par Laurent Sansonetti)

« Western addition » is one of the three neighboroughs included in this program. The planning-project focuses on the attractiveness of Japantown.

Being one of the last bastions of japanese culture in US, it was essential to preserve this historical and cultural heritage for the future.

This urban space attracts inhabitants from the city but also from the Bay. As a central place for japanese culture, people enjoy attending to events, finding japanese retailers and eating japan meals.

Consequently, it’s vital to encourage new coming and upkeeping retailers. Institutions and services established have to promote Japan’s culture and image within the megalopolis.

Not to make this neighborough only a work zone, the city wants to give people access to affordable pricing housing.

Some planning-project are already in-process as the revitalization of the Japan center, symbol of the japanese settlement in « Western addition ».

Mall filled in with japanese goods, it will be made up of many retailers open up to the district. Cosy and welcoming placen it will galvanise commercial and community activity.

Throught this urban program, the example of « Japantown » showed us how the municipality of San Francisco used a settled local indentity to revitalize an urban area and give it back its past attractiveness.

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