News / USA

San Francisco 'Ambassadors' Welcome Tourists

City ambassador Wayne Alexis helps a tourist find his way in San Francsico, California. (Photo courtesy Union Square BID)City ambassador Wayne Alexis helps a tourist find his way in San Francsico, California. (Photo courtesy Union Square BID)
x
City ambassador Wayne Alexis helps a tourist find his way in San Francsico, California. (Photo courtesy Union Square BID)
City ambassador Wayne Alexis helps a tourist find his way in San Francsico, California. (Photo courtesy Union Square BID)
Faiza Elmasry
When business owners in downtown San Francisco, California, wanted to make their neighborhood safer and more attractive to tourists, one of their first actions was to hire "city ambassadors.”  

Union Square is the heart of San Francisco. It's a vibrant shopping area with dozens of shops, restaurants, theaters, art galleries and hotels, around a large open plaza where visitors can stroll, meet friends and just enjoy the day. Ambassadors spend the day walking around the neighborhood, providing a friendly face and a helping hand.

“They are not security guards in the traditional sense," said Russ Keil, is one of more than 500 business owners who founded the city ambassador team almost 15 years ago. "They are really individuals who are out on the streets, essentially looking for problems but also greeting our visitors.”

And they make a good impression on visitors. Keil recalls a recent encounter with a group of Japanese businessmen who were considering renting retail space in the area.

“We were meeting on a very busy sidewalk," he said. "They were remarking about how clean the sidewalk was and there was no graffiti.  And at that point, one of the ambassadors came walking by and greeted me. This company from Japan was so surprised and said, 'Who was that?'  I said, ‘That’s Wayne, he's one of our ambassadors.’”

Wayne Alexis approaches people who look like they need help: whether they are tourists who can’t find their way or the city’s homeless who sleep on the sidewalks.  Every day, he patrols the 27-block area in his red sweater vest uniform, carrying maps for lost tourists and a cellphone with important numbers on speed dial.

“It’s something that I really get pleasure out of doing," Alexis said. "It also gives me an opportunity to exchange information with people.”

Alexis is one of eight city ambassadors, according to Karen Flood, spokesperson for the Union Square Business Improvement District.

“They welcome tourists," Flood said. "They give directions and inform people about the neighborhood. They serve as the eyes and ears for the police; they are not able to enforce, of course, that's the job of the police, but they do alert the police if there are individuals that are not following the rules and ordinances of the city. They help those in need in our neighborhood, the homeless, and direct them toward social services.”

That’s the part of his job Alexis likes best. He recalls working with a homeless man who continually refused any help.

“One day, he finally told me, ‘Hey man, I’m ready,’ so I connected him with the Homeless Outreach Team," Alexis said. "He went through a substance [abuse] program, took him to job counseling, providing the necessary tools to help him make that transition to better his life. One day he came and [was a] totally different guy than how he was when I met him on the street; he was clean, shaved. He got a job. I was happy for him. I feel good. It’s a very rewarding job.”

San Francisco is not the first city to form an ambassador team. The city modeled its program on a similar one in New York City. Flood says Union Square’s success has inspired other neighborhoods to follow its lead.

“When we started in 1999, we were the only business improvement district hiring these ambassadors," she said. "Now there are 12 other districts in San Francisco and four of them hire these ambassadors to serve the neighborhood. We'd love to see our program expand into other cities.”

Flood says the reason for the program’s success is no secret.  Behind the neat uniform and big smile is a welcoming attitude - and a great city.

You May Like

Sunni-Shi’ite Divide Threatens Middle East Stability

Analysts say ancient dispute that traces back to Islamic Revolution is fueling modern day unrest More

Shifting Demographics Lie Beneath Racial Tensions in Ferguson

As Missouri suburb morphed from majority white to majority black, observers say power structure remained static More

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Restriction is toughest since Soviet era, though critics reject move as patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid