Shared Spaces are Here to Stay

London Breed
4 min readDec 8, 2021
Parklets and outdoor dining have brought new life to our neighborhoods

We started the Shared Spaces program during the pandemic to allow outdoor dining and parklets so that businesses and restaurants could operate outdoors and continue serving their customers. The results speak for themselves–neighborhoods throughout the City are more vibrant, many of those businesses have a completely new operating model that has not only allowed them to survive and keep employees but also grow, and there is widespread agreement that the program should continue.

San Francisco is in the process of transitioning from a program that was created as an emergency to one that is permanent, and that’s going to take some work. We’re one of the first cities in the country to be making this transition, and it’s incredibly exciting for the future of our city.

Here’s the situation: in the long-run, we need to implement guidelines so that structures don’t pose a fire hazard, block Muni stops, or violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. We allowed for a lot of flexibility during the pandemic because we were in an unprecedented situation, and now we’re working with businesses to notify them of changes that need to be made and slowly bring them into compliance.

Recent reporting on this has made it seem like the program is in danger or that 90% of businesses will need to close their parklets, or that City guidelines are impossible to follow, and I want to be very clear that this is not even close to the truth.

First, businesses have until March to submit a plan to correct any changes that need to be made and they have until June to actually make the changes. No one is being fined or forced to change their parklet right now, except in a small handful of extreme cases for significant life safety or disability access issues. We’re working with businesses to notify them of changes that need to be made and providing educational resources and grants for how to make that happen.

I am absolutely committed to this program, and I’ve directed my staff to work directly with businesses that find significant challenges with these guidelines. We will work to find accommodations, if ones can be found. To be clear — this program is a partnership with our businesses. It’s an unprecedented opportunity to make lasting change in our neighborhood corridors, which is something we all want, and we should all be working together towards.

That’s why I am introducing legislation that would push back the compliance date from June 2022 to March 2023 because we heard from our business community that they needed more time.

And while there’s a lot of talk of 60 pages of regulations, it’s worth taking a look at the guidelines. These aren’t 60 pages of fine print — they are basically the same guidelines we’ve had since last spring, just with more graphic design, diagrams, and examples to better understand how it all works. You can see the guidelines here. Our website also has a simple explanation of the what, why, and when of guidelines for safety and accessibility.

But again, with these guidelines, we want to work with businesses. We’ve got time. We will be accommodating, but we also have to meet basic life safety and accessibility standards.

Some of these situations are simple and some are more complicated. For example, some parklets currently take up the curb space in front of the business that operates it and the business next to it. If the business next door wants to open a Shared Space, that business has the right to do so and the original parklet will need to be modified. However, if the next door business does not want to open a shared space, there’s no need for any changes to the current setup. We’re taking these on a case-by-case basis to try to allow for the most flexibility we can.

This fall we hosted a series of webinars, and we will be hosting more soon that outline these guidelines for business owners and let them ask questions. We have staff available to answer any individual specific questions they have. We have six months to make changes that are needed.

We’re building the Shared Spaces program to last for decades to come, and despite the short-term challenges that we may face in this transition, we’re committed to making it work. I led the charge to make this program permanent and I am 100% committed to it. We’re going to keep working with our business owners and City agencies to make it a part of our city for a long time to come.