SF Survey FAQs
The San Francisco Citywide Cultural Resources Survey (SF Survey) is a multi-year effort to identify and document places and resources of cultural, historical, and architectural importance to San Francisco’s diverse communities.
- What are cultural resources?
- Why are we doing SF Survey? Why does this matter?
- Where and when are we doing SF Survey
- How are we doing SF Survey?
- What is included in SF Survey?
- Who decides what is a cultural resource?
- How are buildings, structures, objects, districts, and sites evaluated?
- Does the Planning Department nominate buildings for formal designation?
- What is the result of SF Survey?
- How will San Francisco’s communities benefit from SF Survey?
What are cultural resources?
Cultural resources generally refer to features of the physical environment that support an understanding of human history through historical, social, cultural, aesthetic/design, or construction qualities. Cultural resources can be the tangible aspects of our environment, such as buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts, as well as intangible aspects, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, festivals, and traditional crafts. Cultural resources include historic(al) resources, which are considered in environmental laws like the California Environmental Quality Act.
Why are we doing SF Survey? Why does this matter?
Cultural Empowerment. San Francisco is a culturally layered and dynamic place. The transmission of knowledge across generations brings continuity to the way of life and culture of communities. A deeper understanding of our histories and the contributions of those who came before us enhances our collective sense of belonging and agency in our communities. By bringing people together through community events and programming, SF Survey will contribute to sustaining San Francisco’s diverse cultures.
Standardizing Review. The findings of SF Survey will help guide the Planning Department’s work on future landmark designations, heritage-based incentives, environmental review, new development projects, area plans, and building permit applications. Find out more about the Planning Department’s Preservation Programs.
Where and when are we doing SF Survey?
Staff from the San Francisco Planning Department has been gathering information throughout the city since 2020 and will continue over the next several years.
How are we doing SF Survey?
SF Survey will be completed through five interrelated components: Community Engagement; Citywide Historic Context Statement; Field Survey, Research, and Evaluation; Findings and Adoption at the Historic Preservation Commission; and the culminating Cultural Resources Inventory. For the Field Survey, our staff will be looking at the outside of buildings from the public right-of-way (such as streets and sidewalks) and will be wearing identifying gear. We will not ring your doorbell or ask to see the interior of your home.
What is included in SF Survey?
Generally, the Planning Department will survey buildings, structures, objects, districts, and sites that were constructed more than 45 years ago (age-eligible). Landscapes, archeological resources, public works of art, or flora such as trees are other examples of what may be included. Importantly, the survey will rely on input and knowledge from community groups, community members, historic preservation peers, and culture bearers who have worked to document the intangible qualities of cultural heritage. These resources are sometimes tied directly to buildings or sites and are important cultural signifiers that help tell the story of San Francisco’s many diverse communities.
Who decides what is a cultural resource?
Department staff will rely on research and community-based historians and knowledge bearers to provide information on cultural resources within their communities. The Planning Department’s team of preservation planners and consultants who all meet the requiredSecretary of the Interior’s Historic Preservation Professional Qualifications Standards make the determination as to a building's historic resource status. Survey results will also be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission.
How are buildings, structures, objects, districts, and sites evaluated?
The Department is creating a Citywide Historic Context Statement, which includes an evaluative framework for each topic. Buildings, structures, objects, districts, and sites are evaluated for significance based on criteria outlined in the context statement, which is informed by the procedures for the National Register of Historic Places, administered by the National Park Service. They are also evaluated using California Register of Historical Resources criteria, which are very similar to the National Register.
Does the Planning Department nominate buildings for formal designation?
No. The Planning Department conducts historic and cultural resource surveys to identify significant properties, but the Planning Code does not allow the Planning Department to initiate official designation of resources for listing as a local landmark. Official designations may primarily be initiated by the Historic Preservation Commission or the Board of Supervisors. Property owners and community members can also apply for official designation or nominate properties at their own discretion.
What is the result of SF Survey?
SF Survey will result in a Cultural Resources Inventory which will make findings regarding historic resource status for every age-eligible property in San Francisco. These findings will help guide the Planning Department’s work on future landmark designations, heritage-based initiatives, environmental review, new development projects, area plans, and building permit applications.
How will San Francisco’s communities benefit from SF Survey?
Inclusion within SF Survey will provide recognition for communities and neighborhoods within San Francisco. The findings of SF Survey will result in clearer environmental and project review and provide the foundation for future cultural heritage strategies. Properties determined as eligible for listing on local, state, and federal historic registers may qualify to apply for preservation incentives.
Please check the SF Survey webpage for more information and updates!