On a Mission

Dec 03, 2012 at 6am

As a photographer who has shot for many media outlets around the city, I knew the building at 5th and Mission well. It’s home to the largest newspaper in Northern California, the San Francisco Chronicle. But there's a lot more going on with this hunk of real estate – and its surrounding intersection – than most people realize.

Today the Chronicle only takes up the third floor of its old space. The remaining floors are occupied by many different arts- and socially-minded groups, including The Hub, Intersection of the Arts, Universal Giving, Bamboo Finance, Exponent Partners, Mercy Corps, B Labs, and several others. And thanks to the 5M Project, a real estate development by Forest City, these disparate organizations are being connected into a larger local network.

The 5M Project has set out to transform the underutilized four-acre property on the block of 5th and Mission Streets into a vibrant place for community and innovation. With around 2,000 creative organizations linked together at 5M through their partners – TechShop, Hub, SoMa Central, SFMade, Intersection for the Arts, Off the Grid, SF Chronicle and SOCAP, among others – the goal of the project is to support a multi-phase, mixed-use development hub. The people behind 5M liken their approach to the complex infrastructure of the Internet: layers upon layers of networks able to reach across normal business development boundaries to share resources, programs, and connections.

5M aims to turn its patch of SOMA into a 1.8 million sq. ft. mix of low-, mid-, and high-rise buildings for living, working, and enjoyment. In other words, the scope of the project is massive. But the three cornerstones holding it all together include the Hub, which encourages entrepreneurs with start-up office services; TechShop, which offers nonprofessionals access to fabrication tools and work spaces; and Intersection for the Arts, a nonprofit artists collective. With this network behind the 5M Project, their vision of a modern utopian community seems very obtainable, with the tools and people available to make it happen.

When I visited the Hub at 901 Mission, the level of activity happening there blew me away. People were connecting and networking left and right, and by the time I left I had two requests for headshots. The space, the art, and the level of professionalism going on in such a casual atmosphere inspired me.

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I stopped by the 5M campus on a recent Wednesday and caught up with a few of the people who are involved with bringing this project to life.

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SFMade: Kate Sofis, Executive Director

With a mission to build and support a vibrant manufacturing sector in San Francisco, SFMade helps sustain companies that create locally made products while encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation.

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Off the Grid: Matt Cohen, Founder

Off the Grid hosts an amazing array of menu options provided by a variety of food trucks. Most days you can find trucks set up at a number of locations around San Francisco. Check them out in Civic Center in Friday’s, UN Plaza on Tuesday and Thursdays, and in North Beach on Wednesdays – one of their newer markets. 

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Hub Bay Area: Timothy Nichols, Managing Director

The Hub is an international organization that creates places for purpose-driven types to connect and build solutions together. With a rapidly growing network, the Hub is providing curated workspaces, events, and business tools that help people work more efficiently. 

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Intersection for the Arts: Deborah Cullinan, Executive Director

As the oldest alternative nonprofit art space in San Francisco (est. 1965), Intersection for the Arts presents programs in experimental literature, theater, music, and the visual arts. 

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PlaceWorks: Lucia Hicks-Williams, Managing Director

5MPlaceWorks is a collaboration led by Intersection for the Arts. The group integrates creative opportunities and economic development programs at the 5M Project. 

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5M Project: Alex Michel, Director  

The 5M Project is a creative development designed to support an increasingly interconnected economy and urban culture.

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Do It Yourself 

Want to learn more about how you can connect to this community? Check out the 5M Project website.

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