<- back

Kapwa Gardens

A Healing Space for the Community

Kultivate Labs

San Francisco, CA

Kapwa: a Filipino spiritual belief of interconnectedness. Kapwa is a recognition of a shared identity, an inner self, shared with others. Kapwa is an extension of deep empathy.

Kapwa Gardens is a healing space for the community built by the community. In the relatively new Filipino Cultural District of San Francisco known as SOMA Pilipinas, this former parking lot has been transformed twice since 2019 by Kultivate Labs. With the help of over 220 volunteers to date, Kapwa Gardens – scheduled to open March 2021 – will be a longer-term community space than its predecessor, the 2-month pop-up UNDSCRD Court from 2019.

“We love seeing Filipinx volunteers from all over the Bay Area! We get volunteers of all ages, especially families. It’s beautiful to see parents teach their children about the importance of community service but also how to grow and nurture the plants in our garden.” –

Joana Salem

Marketing Associate for Kapwa Gardens

In 2016, SOMA Pilipinas was established by the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors. Kultivate Labs was founded to make the vision for this cultural district a reality, which included piloting a pop-up known as the UNDSCVRD (Undiscovered) Court. Built by 70 volunteers in the Fall of 2019, this pop-up included a half court basketball court, space for dance classes and food truck stop. It quickly demonstrated what was possible on this former vacant parking lot.

The success of the UNDSCVRD Court led to Kultivate Labs being awarded site control over the City-owned parcel for a longer-term interim use project before the site permanently would be turned into affordable housing. This new space would be Kapwa Gardens – an art and wellness community space on Mission Street between 5th and 6th Street that will support the mental, physical and economic healing of its residents.

Its name is even more fitting in light of the challenges presented by COVID-19. The local residents are in need of accessible green space to safely be in community, and physically and mentally heal more than ever.

“Kapwa means family and getting back to my roots. Volunteering and giving back to the community was really big for my grandparents, and so as I’m here with my family volunteering it makes me feel proud that we could do this together.”

Abby D.


“What [Kapwa] means is community. It’s this interconnectedness between ourselves, our community, our ancestors, and our future. It’s not just our family, it’s our extended family. It’s also taking effort, doing something, getting involved.”

Andre D.


The project concept was adjusted in light of the pandemic as they realized they needed to more directly address the mental health of local SRO residents who were in need of access to green space while sheltering in place. It is now designed to host socially distanced exercise classes specifically for residents 65+, like Zumba Yoga, and a unique floor mural that will guide a limited number of guests through the space with 6 ft. distancing while they order food, exercise or enjoy the garden and citrus trees.

“We see it as a healing space for residents – in terms of mental illness, physical wellness, and economic recovery. We want to create a healing space for the community to gather safely again during COVID-19.One-bedroom apartments often have multiple families living in them. Living in cramped quarters can potentially present mental health problems during the stay at home order when there isn’t much space around.”

Desi Danganan
Executive Director
Kultivate Labs


  • Create a cultural asset for SOMA Pilipinas
  • Connect residents, students, and workers in the area
  • Promote mental and physical wellness through a safe, healing space for the community to gather during COVID-19.
  • Jump-start economic development and recovery via space for food businesses + health/wellness practitioners to re-open


  • We learned the importance of building political relationships: Supervisor Matt Haney’s office protected the site – twice!
  • Even so, one arm of the City may help you up while another pushes you down.
  • Publicly owned land is an opportunity for partnership with the City and can lead to funding that is only available for city-owned property.
  • Keep looking forward. Continue to lay groundwork and leverage previous work with an eye towards future development.