Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Year of Urban Thinking in San Diego


Urbanism seems to have taken hold of San Diego in 2013 .

The trend is marked most noticeably by the arrival of , a nationally celebrated thinker on the importance of sustainable urban development and author of the pre-eminent textbook on California planning.

This fall Fulton was finally given the keys to .

His department's also in charge of one of former Mayor Bob Filner's many surviving ideas -- though it's been slightly scaled back -- called .

The idea is for a nimble, forward thinking A-Team that can identify problems and craft innovative solutions by working between departments that might be otherwise isolated. The project's run by two more nationally renowned urban thinkers, both professors at UC San Diego, Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman.

It sounds an awful lot like a plan by outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's taken his most trusted advisers from City Hall to form , gratis, using their experience running America's largest city.

They've talked about building city-sponsored "fab labs" where entrepreneurs will have space and expensive tools and resources for invention, using the quasi-department to coordinate better with things going on in Tijuana, and drawing up easier ways to expand things like urban gardening and the building of parklets (an urban trend that also ).

And San Diego State this year hired a new professor in its school of public affairs, Bruce Appleyard, another urban planning expert who has championed the value of designing for bike-friendly commutes -- specifically . Appleyard's father pioneered much of urban planning orthodoxy around the importance of a comfortable pedestrian experience in his 1981 book, "Livable Streets," and the younger Appleyard has since collaborated on later editions of that work.

A group of students at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design brought another hot urbanist trend to the city this year (and, again, the concept got legs thanks in part to Filner, who championed it after the students brought it to one of his monthly meet-and-greet events at City Hall) with their proposal for a with the help of shipping containers, like similar projects in Brooklyn and San Francisco.

The project -- called R.A.D. Labs -- was put together by masters students Phillip Auchettl, David Loewnstein and Jason Grauten formed a company for their idea, called Design Tempo. They've been joined by CFO Adam Jubela. They called it an "experiment in flexible temporary urbanism;" it'll fill the 28,000-square-foot lot with shipping containers, to house restaurant and retail tenants, along with dog-friendly open space. Once the vacant lot can be developed with a permanent structure, the temporary park will move elsewhere in the city.

After raising $60,000 on Kickstarter, the project secured another investor to see it through, Andrew Canter of Canter Companies.

They've also secured a bunch of tenants. They've got a catering company to run their beer garden and anchor the project along with Scott Slater, of Slater's 50/50 fame. They're also closing in on an agreement with a coffee shop to come into the space. The project still needs a permit, but could get that as early as the first week of February. It could break ground by March and open by late spring.

There's been other big city-thinking happening too. The released its , the result of months of public outreach throughout the city. And independent architect-developers, many of which came out of Barrio Logan's Woodbury School of Architecture, continued pushing in the city's inner neighborhoods like Golden Hill and North Park.

Maybe none of this will amount to meaningful changes in San Diego. Fulton's planning department hasn't thus far done anything that wasn't under way before he took over; before its approval, plenty feared the Civic and Urban Initiatives Program was silly and ill-defined, and maybe they'll be proven right; Appleyard's an academic without a formal role in regional decisions; RAD Labs is a student project without a permit; Imagine Downtown is a plan on a shelf next to dozens of other plans; and independent developers building projects isn't an entirely new concept.

But maybe the flood of people and ideas that we've come to associate with places like Portland and San Francisco is indicative of a changing city.
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