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‘Phoenix Day’ to Celebrate the Revival of San Francisco’s Streets

This past was originally published at Here/Say Media. It is reprinted with permission.

For Katy Birnbaum, who heads programming for San Francisco’s beloved Sunday Streets festivals, the arrival of the novel coronavirus in March of 2020 was a tough blow.

She’d already secured the numerous city permits, the dozens of corporate sponsors, and the array of community partners needed for the first event of the season, expected to draw 20,00 people. Just two days before kick-off, she got the dreaded phone call from the health department that Sunday Streets 2020 would have to be cancelled.

“It brought this level of stress and hardship that the organization has never gone through,” said Birnbaum, associate director of Livable City, the non-profit behind the event.  “There was definitely some grief and the immediate need for a transition that at the time we were not prepared for.”

Now, after an 18-month hiatus and in the spirit of building community, Livable City will host their first-ever citywide open streets event, called Phoenix Day. It will feature the classic Sunday Streets routes, which connect neighborhoods with car-free streets, as well as a 20-plus mile bike ride, community-organized block parties and sidewalk sales organized by local business owners. The event will take place this Sunday, Oct. 17, from 12 p.m.- 5 p.m.

Originally inspired by the Ciclovía open-streets festival in in Bogotá, Colombia, San Francisco’s Sunday Streets transforms one to four miles of streets into car-free community spaces across various neighborhoods such as the Western Addition, the Sunset, SoMA, Mission, Excelsior, Dogpatch, Bayview and Tenderloin districts. It has run seasonally from March to October since 2008, typically drawing over 100,000 attendees.

Routes were traditionally chosen in part to link underserved neighborhoods that lack access to green space and recreational activities. The events feature a series of activity hubs, each with unique themes ranging from art to bike repair, and also seek to help businesses  better connect with their communities.

During the pandemic, Livable City pivoted to supporting local restaurants, helping with things like the buildout of parklets in neighborhoods that were part of Sunday Streets. As shelter in place orders were lifted, Livable City led a marketing campaign called “What’s Open SF,” which became both a guide and a call to action for residents to shop local.

A ‘What’s Open SF’ Sign in a cafe.| Photo courtesy of Livable City
A ‘What’s Open SF’ Sign in a cafe.| Photo courtesy of Livable City
A ‘What’s Open SF’ Sign in a cafe.| Photo courtesy of Livable City

“The pandemic has opened up new ways to support the communities that we’ve always shown up for,” Birbaim said. “Instead of bringing our usual family-friendly activities, we shifted our focus to businesses and helped them open during the pandemic, so that was a pretty amazing pivot and transition.”

Livable City also hired 30 community organizers spread throughout these districts so that they could keep their ears to the ground. “It was a great way to support people who needed money in their pocket, but added value by helping the organization build capacity,” said Birnbaum. “It felt wonderful to be able to keep people employed.”

Now the Livable City team has been pounding the pavement citywide and working alongside other NGOs to prepare for Phoenix Day by hosting satellite versions of block parties.

Katy Birnbaum playing hopscotch during SoMa’s Slow Streets.| Photo courtesy of Livable City
Katy Birnbaum playing hopscotch during SoMa’s Slow Streets.| Photo courtesy of Livable City
Katy Birnbaum playing hopscotch during SoMa’s Slow Streets.| Photo courtesy of Livable City

City officials praised the Phoenix day effort and what it could contribute to the city’s re-opening.

“Opportunities for exercise and fresh air are essential,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “We’re grateful that Livable City pivoted the Sunday Streets program to provide safe and fun opportunities for our most impacted communities.:

“Phoenix Day is an opportunity for us to come together and celebrate the city’s opening and recovery while activating our streets and our neighborhoods,” said Kate Sofis, the Director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development in a statement.

“The big thing about Phoenix Day is that we are creating a gigantic and open space with free recreational and community building activities, so it doesn’t matter if you’re a millionaire, experiencing homelessness, or struggling financially and looking for employment,” said Birnbaum.

Here are some highlights of what attendees can expect at Phoenix Day:

The Mission District

Dancers of SF Carnival prepare to perform.| Photo courtesy of Livable City

Enjoy car-free fun on Valencia from 16th St. to 24th St., with restaurant and merchant specials along the way. Carnival San Francisco will enliven the route with live music and dance performances.

The Tenderloin

A shot of the Tenderloin’s Play Streets program.| Photo courtesy of Livable City

Hosted by the Tenderloin Merchants Association, the Tenderloin party will offer a wide range of family-friendly activities and merchants specials, including a flea market. In addition, foodies can stop by La Cocina’s newest dining hall run by women, and St. Anthony’s Foundation will give you a sneak peek of the soon-to-be Golden Gate Avenue Greenway prototype. It will all take place on Larkin Street between O’Farrell and  McAllister Streets, with more programming on Golden Gate Avenue between Polk and Jones Streets.

The Bayview District & Sunnydale

A shot of the Bayview’s Juneteenth celebration in Gilman Park.| Photo courtesy of Livable City

Hop on the T-train and make your way through the Bayview, starting with a block party featuring free BBQ on Sam Jordans Way. Continue down 3rd Street to Oakdale Avenue for another block party and then head to Mendell Plaza for the family-fun zone hosted by BMAGIC. If you are into live jazz and wine, then be sure to make a stop on Lane Street for the Merchants of Butchertown’s Jazz Fest redux. There will also be a professional hub hosted by 100% College Prep and Young Community Developers on Yosemite Avenue. The festivities continue to Sunnydale, where there will be free activities for all ages.


The youth of LionDanceMe practicing at Chinatown Walkway Weekends.| Photo by Chloe Jackman

In partnership with the San Francisco Chinatown Merchants, this activation will build on ongoing weekly Chinatown Walkway Weekends and bring the delight of free recreation and sports activities. Expect music, dancing, youth presentations, performances, and cultural exhibits. The festivities start on Grant Avenue and will continue to Willy Woo Park.

The Excelsior

A shot of the ONON Street Festival & Art Walk.| Photo courtesy of Livable City

Co-hosted by Excelsior Action Group and Excelsior Outer Mission Merchants, the block activations will commence on Onondaga Street (between Alemany and Mission Streets) and London Street at Geneva Avenue.  Start the day off by joining a community cleanup on Mission led by Together SF and Refuse Refuse. Then treat yourself to a day of fun with art, live entertainment, and merchant specials.

Across the town

A map of the Cross City Connector bike route. | Image by Livable City

Grab your set of wheels and head to Chan Kajaal Park by noon. Powered by PODER y Bicis Del Pueblo, the Cross City Connector Bike Route & Community Bike Ride will cover 20+ miles of San Francisco’s streets. Consider the route a tour of San Francisco’s Slow Streets networks, including car-free Great Highway and Golden Gate Park, and Better Market Street. With multiple rest stations along the way sponsored by Spare the Air to fuel up, Sunday Streets fans are also encouraged to choose their own adventure along the route anytime on Phoenix Day.

Despite all the frustration and difficulties that come with producing and coordinating tens of thousands of people across the city,  it has always an inspiration to see how much deep and committed love there actually still is in every corner of San Francisco,” said Birnbaum. “And it’s an honor to engage daily with that part of humanity.”

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