Survey Program 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 whether a building, structure, object, district, or site is a historic resource?
- How are buildings, structures, objects, districts, and sites evaluated?
- Does the Planning Department nominate buildings for formal designation?
- How will San Francisco’s communities benefit from SF Survey?
What are cultural resources?
Cultural resources are buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts that are culturally, historically, and architecturally important to our communities and the city.
In the past, historic preservation efforts have been focused on “tangible cultural resources” – buildings, sites, objects, etc. Discriminatory policies and programs, and a narrow approach to preservation have resulted in a shared built environment that is more likely to exclude the accomplishments and narratives of American Indian, Black, and other communities of color. Locally (and globally) efforts to center preservation in racial and social equity are aligning with a growing need to foster and sustain other manifestations of culture, including oral traditions and expressions; performing arts; social practices; rituals and festivals; and traditional crafts. SF Survey will partner with community-based cultural organizations to collectively honor, share, and celebrate the living qualities of heritage and the intangible aspects of our past that inform important spaces in our city.
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.
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.
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. 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 historic preservation peers, community groups, and community members – or culture bearers – who have worked to document traditions and cultural practices, such as language, storytelling, creative and culinary expression, otherwise known as intangible 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 whether a building, structure, object, district, or site is a historic resource?
Department staff will rely on community-based historians or culture-bearers to provide information on cultural resources within their communities. The Planning Department’s team of preservation planners and consultants who all meet the required Secretary 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?
Buildings, structures, objects, districts, and sites are evaluated for significance based on criteria outlined by the National Register of Historic Places, which is administered by the National Park Service. The California Register criteria for evaluating significance are very similar to the National Register. National Register criteria are also used to evaluate and designate local Article 10 Landmarks and Historic Districts.
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 in Article 10 or 11. Official designations may only be initiated by the Historic Preservation Commission, the Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, or the Arts Commission. Property owners and community members can also apply for official designation or nominate properties at their own discretion.
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.