‘Kapwa Gardens’ grows solidarity in empty SF city lot

‘Kapwa Gardens’ grows solidarity in empty SF city lot

/ 10:45 AM April 08, 2021
Aerial view of Kapwa Gardens. CONTRIBUTED

Aerial view of Kapwa Gardens. CONTRIBUTED

SAN FRANCISCO – A year after the pandemic’s first shelter-in-place order, the non-profit economic development group Kultivate Labs is bringing “art, wellness, and economic opportunity” to SOMA Pilipinas, Filipino Cultural Heritage District, with its latest project, Kapwa Gardens.

Kapwa Gardens is filled with plants native to the San Bruno Mountains, as well as dragonfruit, and calamansi trees from the Philippines.


It is conceived as “a safe space to gather and a healing space for the whole community, to help recover from the devastating mental, physical, and economic effects of COVID-19,”

Located at 967 Mission Street, Kapwa Gardens will be open to the public for free on April 14, 2021, Wednesdays to Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.


It will host a series of by invitation only opening receptions starting with a Community Opening Reception on Friday, April 9 and Saturday, April 10 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and Bloom, a VIP opening reception, on April 9 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. There will also be a volunteer opening reception, Give Thanks, on Sunday, April 4 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“We will find new ways to bring life to vacant storefronts and reimagine how we develop commercial corridors going forward. The pandemic may have slowed us down, but it hasn’t stopped us from persevering,” says Desi Danganan, executive director of Kultivate Labs.

Empty lot on 967 Mission Street before Kapwa Gardens construction. CONTRIBUTED

Empty lot on 967 Mission Street before Kapwa Gardens construction. CONTRIBUTED

Kapwa Gardens will feature weekly programming hosted by local businesses and figures that will cover self-care, wellness, and self-expression. It will also function as a creative space for local artists.

In collaboration with Balay Kreative, it is hosting the Kapwa Gardens Mural Residency program and providing an outdoor performance space for Bindlestiff Studio, the only permanent, community-based performing arts venue in the nation dedicated to showcasing emerging Filipino American and Filipino artists.

The gardens will also be a COVID-19 testing site. Every first and third Wednesday of the month starting in April, there will be a free, no-appointment, and no ID necessary COVID testing plus yoga classes every hour with their COVID Test and Stretch program.

Testing is available for all ages and participants should bring their own yoga mats. The COVID Test and Stretch program is courtesy of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health & Planning Department, the Latino Task Force, and United Playaz.

Kultivate Labs  Executive Director Desi Danganan. CONTRIBUTED

Kultivate Labs Executive Director Desi Danganan. CONTRIBUTED

People can sponsor Kapwa Gardens by adopting parts of the space. For their contributions, donors will earn plaques that will be displayed at the garden.


Over 300 volunteers in the Bay Area have come to help build Kapwa Gardens. With the safety of the community being a top priority, all workers and volunteers were provided with proper personal protective equipment.

Kapwa Gardens was designed for a COVID-19 world. All guests will be temperature checked, must fill-out a contact-tracing app, and will be required to wear masks and have their hands sanitized.

“Unlike other public spaces, we have designed Kapwa Gardens from the ground-up for social distancing. Floor murals will give visual cues to guests to keep proper distancing. We have designed the placement of food trucks and architectural elements to ensure that the flow of activity is properly socially distanced,” explains Danganan.

District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney (center) with Kapwa Gardens crew and volunteers. 

District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney (center) with Kapwa Gardens crew and volunteers. CONTRIBUTED

Spanning 9,000 square feet, 967 Mission was a parking lot for decades. The city gained possession of the parking lot with the start of the 5M real estate development nearby. A Request for Proposal was issued in the fall of 2019 to activate the space with the long-term goal of developing senior housing on site.

A result of four years of planning by Kultivate Labs in creating a commercial corridor in SOMA Pilipinas, Kapwa Gardens is a space conceived around the Filipino concept called kapwa (interconnectedness).

“Kapwa is a recognition of a shared identity, an inner self, shared with others. Kapwa is an extension of deep empathy. We imagined creating a space that would be a cultural asset for SOMA Pilipinas that would connect all of the different residents, students, and workers in the area showcasing activities that heal the mind and body and expands our consciousness and raises the level of empathy in a downtrodden area of SF,”.Danganan says.


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TAGS: Kultivate Labs, nonprofits, urban gardens
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