San Francisco neighborhoods have changed faces over two decades 

The latest U.S. census data confirms much of what we knew about already San Francisco. That white hipsters are displacing Hispanics in the Mission. That Asians are now as common as blacks in the Bayview. And that the population in the South of Market area has exploded.

But the numbers also contain surprises. That Chinatown is becoming less Asian. That Treasure Island is the most diverse neighborhood in The City. And that if you count the homeless community in Golden Gate Park as its own neighborhood, it becomes the second-whitest neighborhood in the county.

Click on the photo to the right to see photos from the neighborhoods around San Francisco.

Among the trends highlighted by a San Francisco Examiner analysis of census data by neighborhood for the past 20 years is that Caucasians are concentrating in the center of The City: The Mission district, Haight-Ashbury, Nob Hill, Potrero Hill, Chinatown, Russian Hill and the Western Addition have all seen increases in white populations.

Meanwhile, the neighborhoods on The City’s southern and western periphery are generally getting less white and more Asian and Hispanic. The Outer Mission, Excelsior, Visitacion Valley, the Sunset and Parkside are a few neighborhoods where these trends are prominent.

What’s happening in those neighborhoods is much more typical of California than what is happening in other parts of The City, according to demographer Hans Johnson of the Public Policy Institute of California. The state as a whole is gaining Hispanics and Asians, but less white people. Johnson said the past decade has been a dynamic one for San Francisco.

“This last 10 years has been such an incredible time in terms of very varied economic circumstances within the period,” he said. “We had the dot-com bust, and then we had this tremendous boom that ended around 2007, and now we have the biggest recession since the Great Depression.”

As for what will be found in 2020, it will largely depend on how quickly the American economy recovers, Johnson said.

The speed of recovery will most definitely impact SoMa, where some 7,000 units of new housing are planned but will probably remain on hold until things look rosier, said Amy Neches, planning director for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency.

As those new units come online, the feel of the neighborhood could begin to change. The former industrial area has expanded enormously in 20 years, but lacks a retail heart or center that most other neighborhoods have.

“Retail follows residents,” Neches said.


Neighborhood-by-neighborhood census information

A glace at San Francisco using information from the U.S. Census Bureau.

South of Market

No, that panorama of new high-rises is not a mirage — people live in them.

As we’re defining it, SoMa extends all the way from 10th Street to The Embarcadero, and all the way south past China Basin — a huge swath of land encompassing several minineighborhoods with one thing in common. They were all once industrial, and now they’re all bursting at the seams with homes.

The population nearly doubled between 1990 and 2000, from 11,560 to 20,488, and then, in the last decade, it nearly doubled again. Last year, there were some 40,451 people living in the neighborhood.

“Does that mean we’ll have 80,000 in 10 years?” Amy Neches, planning director for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, jokingly asked. In fact, she said she thinks that is only somewhat exaggerated.

If the economy picks up fairly quickly, the neighborhood could have 7,000 new units in the next decade, which would equate to another 20,000 residents.

Mission district

Last year, the popular blog MissionMission held a contest to determine what the motto of the neighborhood should be. The winning slogan was, “Where Latinos and Hipsters Politely Ignore Each Other’s Existence.”

In truth, however, the “hipsters” have become more difficult to ignore. In 1990, Hispanics made up 52 percent of the population, but today it is 41 percent. Meanwhile, white people increased from 52 to 57 percent.

Even these numbers don’t provide the whole picture because we’re counting some people twice. Many Hispanics are white, and we don’t have a count of non-Hispanic white people for the neighborhood in 2010.

In 1990, non-Hispanic whites made up 30 percent of the Mission’s population; in 2000, it was nearly 40 percent. Suffice it to say, it’s likely to be way up in 2010 again. Another clue: The total population went down in the Mission in the past decade. The hipsters aren’t having kids.

Treasure Island

In stark contrast to the Presidio, Treasure Island — another former military base — has seen a large upswing in diversity.

The island’s housing has largely been used for low-income residents while it all awaits demolition and redevelopment.

So while 10 years ago the island consisted of about 65 percent white people and between 10 and 12 percent black, Hispanic and Asian populations, today it is 35 percent white, 25 percent black, 18 percent Asian and 23 percent Hispanic. That makes it the most diverse neighborhood in San Francisco, and the only one to attract a large number of new black residents.

Some worry that redevelopment will paint yet another picture of the island, making much of its housing out of financial reach for the low-income and culturally diverse communities that now call it home.

Marina district

What do the Marina and Golden Gate Park have in common? White people live there.

The Marina remains The City’s whitest neighborhood, its pallid sheen diminishing only slightly over the past 20 years. In 1990, the Marina was 89.5 percent white; today, it’s 84.1 percent white.

Meanwhile, across town, about 83 percent of the 171 homeless people found living in Golden Gate Park last April were white.

That makes the Marina and Golden Gate Park the two whitest “neighborhoods” in San Francisco.

Where else can you find Caucasians? Try Pacific Heights, the Presidio, the Castro and Glen Park.

Outer Mission, Visitacion Valley, Excelsior

While the Mission is becoming whiter, the Outer Mission and its surrounding neighborhoods are not.

Those neighborhoods on the outskirts of San Francisco have become significantly more Asian and Hispanic, and less white and black. In 20 years, the neighborhoods have seen a double-digit decline in white populations and a surge in Asians.

Demographer Hans Johnson noted that these trends are essentially the same ones reshaping California — smaller percentages of whites and blacks, greater percentages of Asians and Hispanics.

Visitacion Valley community organizer Fran Martin, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1993, said that you don’t need to be a demographer to know how things have changed — just walking around will tell you.

“I’m proud of our neighborhood that we’re so diverse,” she said. “And we’re kind of on the forefront of what’s happening in the rest of the country. We’re a microcosm.”


As this former military base takes shape as its own neighborhood, that shape is beginning to resemble nearby Pacific Heights and the Marina.

Twenty years ago, when the Presidio was still owned by the U.S. military, about 4,715 people lived there, about
62 percent of whom were white, 21 percent black, and 10 percent each Asian and Hispanic. A decade later, the population had dropped by more than half as the National Park Service tried to determine how best to use the land and rent out the properties. Now the population is up to 3,235 — 80 percent is white and just 2 percent black.

Ann Ostrander, manager of the national park’s residential program, said she was unaware of those demographics, but that she wasn’t surprised that the Presidio took on the general characteristics of nearby neighborhoods. She said the park has an affordable-housing program, but that it is aimed at people who work in the Presidio.

“It’s definitely a work in progress,” Ostrander said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the demographics evolve over time.”


It’s more crowded in the Tenderloin.

In 1990, the neighborhood more politely known asdowntown-Civic Center had 35,363 people living in it. On
April 1, 2010, 44,237 people were counted.

The neighborhood was once mostly white, but both whites and Asians have decreased in numbers there.

Meanwhile, Hispanics have picked up the slack, climbing from about one-tenth of the population to about one-fifth.

Demographer Hans Johnson said the neighborhood rents are among the lowest in The City, and therefore attract immigrants with limited financial resources. And on average, Asian immigrants tend to have higher levels of education and income than Hispanic immigrants, and are more likely to work in high-paying jobs.

“So when you look at a neighborhood like the Tenderloin where rents are relatively cheap, they’re going to attract people with lower income,” Johnson said.

Bayview, Ocean View, Western Addition

All of San Francisco’s historically black neighborhoods have become considerably less so over the past two decades, but nowhere is this exodus more visible than the Bayview.

In 1990, six out of 10 people in the neighborhood were black. Today, it’s about three of 10. Meanwhile, Asian and Hispanic populations have moved in to take their place. Asians in the Bayview now outnumber blacks, and Hispanics are right behind.

This trend also can be seen in the Fillmore district, Visitacion Valley and Ocean View, all of which had thriving black communities just 20 years ago. The City has made some efforts to understand and stem this trend, but with little success.

Chinatown, Nob Hill, Russian Hill

Virtually every neighborhood in San Francisco saw its Asian population rise in recent decades — except Chinatown.

In 1990, some 92 percent of the neighborhood was Asian. Now, it is at 86.2 percent. Simultaneously, the white population increased from 6.7 to 10 percent. The Asian decline is even more pronounced in neighboring ’hoods Nob Hill and Russian Hill.

As we’re defining the neighborhoods, both hills include parts of Chinatown — and both are seeing their Asian populations plummet.

Nob Hill’s population went from 47.8 to 36.5 percent Asian. Similarly, Russian Hill’s Asian population declined from 48.9 to 40.6 percent. Meanwhile, both neighborhoods saw their white population increase. This is the exact reverse of the trend found in most other parts of San Francisco.

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Katie Worth

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