San Francisco Report Reveals Large Discrepancy of Public Spaces Named After Women

Rosa Parks Lane in San Francisco's Mission District. A report by the city's Department on the Status of Women found a large disparity in the number of public spaces named after women. (Eric Fischer/Flickr)

Out of all of San Francisco's parks, buildings, streets and art named after people, just 13 percent are women, according to a report published by the Department on the Status of Women last month.

It's the first time the city has completed a comprehensive analysis of who public spaces are named after and their gender, according to the report's authors, and may lead to increased pressure for lawmakers to reconsider who is named on city property.

"This is not a good ratio," said the department's Public Policy Fellow Micaela Leonarte, who led the research for the study. "[It's] a huge disparity."

Diving Into the Numbers

City streets named after people represent the largest gender gap in the report.

  • Out of 596 streets, only seven percent are named after women. (Leonarte noted that a large majority of women-named streets are clustered in the Bayview-Hunters Point and Lake Merced neighborhoods.)
Out of 596 streets named after people in San Francisco, only seven percent are named after women. (Courtesy of Department on the Status of Women)
  • Next is public art, where out of 68 monuments or memorials, only nine percent are female.
  • Buildings fared slightly better; out of 106 buildings, 14 percent represent women.
  • Parks, which include gardens, playgrounds, golf courses and other spaces, had the highest representation of women. Out of 128 spots, 22 percent are named after women.

Department on the Status of Women Director Emily Murase said that the results of the study are neither good or bad. "I think this report was really bench marking, saying, 'Here are the facts,'" she said. "It's an artifact of old thinking."

Established in 1975, the Department on the Status of Women "promotes equitable treatment and fosters the advancement of women and girls throughout San Francisco through policies, legislation, and programs," according to their website. The department's 2018-19 budget was close to $10 million.

"I wasn't too surprised [with the results]," said Breanna Zwart, who serves as the president of the Department on the Status of Women's commission. "When you look at public spaces, who do we choose to exalt? And who do we not? This report takes a hard look at trying to correct that."

Increasing Representation

The findings of the report are the result of Ordinance 243-18, a piece of legislation passed in Oct. 2018 that required the study and ultimately seeks to increase women's representation in San Francisco's public spaces to 30 percent total.

The ordinance cites research that suggests once the 30 percent number is reached, "voices of the minority group become heard in their own right, rather than simply representing the minority."

Both Leonarte and Murase said they hope that this new report serves as a guide for San Francisco's city supervisors to either create new spaces named after women, or rename existing ones.

"That's always controversial," Murase said, referring to the renaming process. "There is going to be pros and cons to taking someone's name [away]."

City supervisors have the final vote on renaming buildings, streets and art, while a seven-member Parks Department commission votes on renaming parks.

In a statement, the Parks Department said they were "committed to rectifying" the lack of female representation.

"Women's accomplishments must be celebrated and honored in public spaces, just as men's have been recognized throughout history, and we will work with the parks community and City officials to continue to right this wrong," the department said.

A rendering of a proposed monument to Maya Angelou, "Portrait of a Phenomenal Woman," outside San Francisco's main library branch. (Courtesy of Eren Hebert)

Efforts to build new spaces with female representation are already underway in San Francisco.

Part of Ordinance 243-18 calls for a work of public art in front of the city's main library depicting poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, who was the city's first African-American female streetcar conductor in 1944.  There is disagreement, however, between the city's Arts Department and local arts community over how Angelou should be depicted.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who helped author the ordinance, did not provide a comment in time for publication.

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