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Polis Selected As Spotlight Small Business of the Month

San Francisco Office of Small Business Selects Polis as March 2014 "Spotlight Business"

San Francisco Office of Small Business Selects Polis as March 2014 “Spotlight Business”

Polis Founder, Mary Finn

Polis Founder and Director, Mary Finn

San Francisco’s Office of Small Business Selects Polis as Spotlight Business of the Month

March 2014
OSB client Mary Finn recently visited the Office of Small Business for assistance with her business start-up. Mary sits down with us for our March “Client Spotlight”…


Q: What type of business do you own and what makes you unique?

A: Your life is busy, but is it full?  The idea for Polis started with this simple but provocative question.  We believe that a vibrant adult community and an active life of the mind are the ingredients of a life well lived. Yet, it can be difficult for the busy adult to find the time and space to cultivate community and dive deeply into learning something new.

Polis is in the business of intentionally building a thriving adult community in San Francisco through high-quality education experiences designed for the busy adult. We offer seminar style classes focused on a wide variety of works of literature, art, science, history, and philosophy. We seek to make engaging with the liberal arts and sciences fun, easy, and flexible.

Our instructors are experts in their fields but they are, first and foremost, expert teachers and facilitators. All Polis courses meet from 7:00-8:30 PM, our classes are centrally located in the Mission District close to BART and MUNI, and we offer one time classes as well as multi-session courses. Polis courses are inexpensive and accessible to adults from all walks of life and education backgrounds.  Best of all, at Polis there are no tests or papers due!

Q: How was the Office of Small Business involved in assisting you?

A:  I am so fortunate that I found the Office of Small Business just as I was starting Polis.  I have taken advantage of so many of the services that the Office suggested for me as a new small business owner.  Specifically, I have taken courses and sought one- on-one advice from the SF SCORE program, I have consulted the Legal Services for Entrepreneurs, and I was accepted as a client into the SBDC small business coaching program. Through the SBDC coaching program I have the ongoing opportunity to work with a business development coach who has helped me to make decisions about the direction of the business along the way. I have benefitted tremendously from the support I have received and I am so thankful to the Office of Small Business for the advice and recommendations for services.

Q: Top 3 reasons for being a small business owner in SF?

1) Unlimited opportunity for creativity

2) Polis is a community-focused business and as a resident of San Francisco it is important to me that the business be rooted where I live and work.

3) When I created Polis I set out to “scratch an itch”. I could not find a business in San Francisco that was able to fulfill my needs for both in-person community and meaningful, high-quality, accessible learning opportunities in the liberal arts and sciences. I created Polis to build the type of community that I want to be a part of in San Francisco.

Polis courses are held at BART accessible locations throughout San Francisco. The majority of classes are held at the Women’s Building located at 3543 18th St., San Francisco.

(202) 746-8807 |


What Makes a Thriving City?

open book

Do you live in a great city?

5 billion people (60% of the world’s population) live in cities. I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about what makes a city great. The people? The landmarks and cultural institutions? The politics? The ability to get around easily?

You may wonder why we’ve decided on the name Polis for our organization.

When I think about what makes a thriving city (or “the Polis”) some books and historical examples come to mind.

The sociologist and journalist Jane Jacobs wrote in her The Death of American Cities (1961) about what she called the “street ballet” of robust cities: the vibrancy and “choreography” of city streets that are alive with interaction.

If you haven’t read Pericles’ Funeral Oration in a while (or ever!) check it out with the question, “What makes a city?” in mind. I think of this speech as a timeless shout-out to the concept of the city.

In a recent post about what makes a city great (in his case, NYC), author Seth Godin came up with this list:

  • It’s different here (as in not the same)
  • You can find someone to have an argument with, about just about anything
  • There are fringes–cultural, educational, architectural, societal
  • More than 42 languages are spoken at the Queens public library
  • You can get something that’s not the regular kind
  • There are profit-seekers who will happily sell you something, anything
  • There are many who do things for no profit at all and will eagerly entertain, entrance and change you for the better
  • You will find a diversity of religious belief like no other
  • It’s changing
  • The food hasn’t been entirely homogenized
  • People are active
  • A stranger will go out of his way for you, perhaps, and more often than you expect
  • There is more information per minute, per meter and per interaction
  • Neighborhoods are more important than homogeneity, and co-existing is most important

In ancient Greece the idea of the polis was, in large part, meant to provide a space where ideas could be exchanged between people (though, of course not all people at that time) with differing perspectives. The thinking was that if people had a public space where they could appear, speak, and listen then the frailty that exists in human relationships would become that much stronger. Conversation would bleed into other parts of city life and make the city stronger overall. The sociologist Robert Putnam proposed a similar theory about modern American city life in his book Bowling Alone.

The Greeks used a phrase, “Wherever you go, you will be a polis”meaning, in essence, you are the city. 

Many philosophers and writers have grappled with the question, “What makes a city”?  The philosopher Hannah Arendt (mid- 20th century) saw the polis as an absolutely necessary part of what it means to be human. Arendt’s ideas about the polis have fundamentally inspired and shaped the founding of this organization (and we plan to offer a class on Arendt in the future!).

“The polis, properly speaking, is not the city-state in its physical location; it is the organization of the people as it arises out of acting and speaking together, and its true space lies between people living together for this purpose, no matter where they happen to be” (Arendt, The Human Condition, 198)

Arendt believed that the polis is the space and time where people come together, in public, and participate in what she referred to as “acts of disclosure” through a sharing of ideas. The city, according to Arendt, requires the spontaneity and unpredictability that is found in authentic (and sometimes messy) conversation.

At Polis we aim to be just that: A space where the unpredictable in conversation is encouraged. A chance for people with different perspectives to meet and talk about texts and ideas in spontaneous ways. A community that will strengthen the city.

Let’s take a look at the cities where we live. Here are a few questions that I’ve been thinking about and that have been floating around in the media recently. I don’t have answers to these but want to give readers some Friday food for thought and articles to read about the essential question, “What Makes A City?” (by the way, another feature of a Polis class is that we begin each session with an open-ended question as a means of starting the discussion).

What do you think makes a city great?

Join as for a Polis class. Courses start next week and there is still time to register.

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