In and Out and Around

San Francisco

10 September 2019

Healthy communities depend on physical, environmental and social infrastructure to advance and improve lives. In this light, the biotech precinct of Mission Bay, San Francisco, brings together a confluence of people, ideas and assets to create an ecosystem to drive health outcomes for the future.

Once a salt marsh and lagoon, this valuable and vulnerable area transitioned from a habitat for waterfowl and Costanoan people to an industrial district home to shipyards, canneries and warehouses. It’s transformation today to a neighborhood of apartments, hospitals and biotechnology laboratories can be attributed to a collaboration between the City, landowners Catellus and the University of California San Francisco.

Using the University as the anchor, leveraging tax incremental financing, and attracting business through incentives such as tax payroll exemptions this new Digital Health Hub generates some 100,000 jobs per year and contains 8,000 homes.

Unlike other innovation precincts however, jobs and homes are not integrated in the Mission Bay Masterplan. Instead each are allocated distinct and distinctive sections of the Plan in order to cater to the specific internal infrastructure requirements of biotechnology.

Looking outwards from the built form, the precinct has connectivity with an extended light rail and new boulevards to feed what seems to be a continued car dependency, Wide footpaths support walkability and there is a burgeoning use of scooters to get around that first mile- last mile.

Separation of jobs and housing is not the only way this Mission Bay appears to have bucked the trend. Rolling out the stages of development it seems that amenity is being left to last. Casual cafes, co-working spaces and lively public places and eateries are the usual precinct tools embedded upfront to lure the ever-fickle innovation talent. Here retail is yet to make its mark, in the meantime the pop-up food truck yard does its best to keep pace with the latest vegan, gluten free, single origin dining preferences.

The use and relationship with water also seems to be a work in progress for the precinct. The apartments along Mission Creek provide an exclusive vista and egress to the much-improved waterway still peppered with the heritage protected houseboat community. However, no real or natural barrier exists between the creek and home despite predictions of sea level rise. Further, to the east of the precinct lies the San Francisco Bay, this brilliant water expanse almost hugging the entire eastern boundary. Yet within the precinct there is no real sense of water and its proximity with the precinct central green corridor falling short of the water’s edge.

Capturing and balancing the intrinsic and extrinsic people and place requirements are fundamental to the success of a precinct. Mission Bay have prioritized looking inwards to serve bio tech needs and then through a staged approach, turning outwards will seek to connect local community, amenity and environment.

Mission Bay does look to support ways to address the regional challenge of affordable housing with one third of the housing designated affordable housing in perpetuity. According to the San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium, who treat 120,000 people in San Francisco each year, this does go some way to help solve the housing affordability crisis which is pushing more and more people onto the streets. The Consortium complements housing services by providing food, medical and showering services to the homeless in keeping with their mandate to provide support regardless of the persons capacity to pay.

The work of the San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium plays a critical role in the ecosystem and reinforces the adage that for a health innovation precinct to truly succeed it must not only look inwards, it must also look outwards to the regional community and address the health needs of today and the health needs of all tomorrow.

Every precinct is different, yet the common ground is integration with the community.

Katherine O’Regan,

Executive Director, Cities Leadership Institute

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Level 23, 45 Clarence Street

Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia

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