Summary Report

East Village South Workshop
Saturday, March 5, 2016
New School of Architecture + Design

On Saturday March 5th 130 people converged at the NewSchool of Architecture + Design to discuss a focus plan for East Village South.  The workshop was the conception of the East Village People, a group of citizens with varying backgrounds and interests, but unified by their shared love of the East Village and downtown San Diego. It was sponsored by Citizens Coordinate for Century III and AIA San Diego.

The workshop was held in response to recent proposals to rezone the area.  These proposals were developed without input from the impacted communities and would rezone the area east of Petco Park for convention and stadium facilities.  Attendees of the workshop represented diverse interests including neighborhood residents, design professionals, property owners, academics and community leaders.  During the workshop portion of the session attendees split up into groups to prioritize their goals and “values” for the area and created conceptual site plans.  At the end of the workshop, each group presented their ideas.

Consensus developed around common themes that any development should:

  1. Create a jobs multiplier effect though the creation of an innovation district – this would encourage high wage job growth ultimately resulting in a more diverse range of technical, skilled and professional jobs
  1. Respect the street grid – words like porous, connectivity, walkability were repeated frequently
  1. Embrace and demonstrate the ideas of authentic, urban, and dense
  1. Encourage a diversity of uses and people – multigenerational, culturally diverse, families, artists, academics, scientists and students were all described
  1. Create a diverse range of housing (including attainable for-sale and for-rent) and office space.
  1. Restore connections to the Barrio and Sherman Heights; the 14th Street Promenade was seen as a critical connector
  1. Incorporate green and open space to enhance view corridors to the water and the livability of the neighborhood. It is generally agreed downtown lacks sufficient parks, open space and civic places.

There was also consensus that large monolithic developments like a stadium that create walls rather than connections are inconsistent with these principles and the currently approved Downtown Community Plan.

Detail on the Broader Discussion

Located in the southwest quadrant of downtown San Diego, adjacent to the new Central Library and across the train tracks from the water and convention center, East Village South represents the last significant piece of privately and publically owned land to be developed. Its location makes important physical connections to the Gaslamp District, to development occurring in East Village North (currently known as the IDEA District) and to the culturally-rich neighborhoods of Barrio Logan and Sherman Heights to the south and east that have been segregated from downtown by development despite their physical proximity.

Why Now?

  1. This workshop, and several more to come, is part of the public process to engage citizens and community leaders to imagine what is possible in this important piece of downtown; especially those most impacted by its development.
  2. The development of a focus plan completes the work started by the Community Planning process that stalled during the downturn.
  3. Plans made public to build a new football stadium and convention center annex being promoted by private interests makes the need for this process urgent.
  4. With the proposed public investment in any new development it’s important for San Diegans to have an honest and open dialogue about the highest and best use for East Village South – who will it benefit and who will be impacted?

Who was invited?

  • Representatives of East Village, Barrio Logan, Sherman Heights and others involved in the downtown community – arts organizations, artists, residents and community groups
  • Design professionals – architects, landscape architects and planners
  • Representatives of the academic community (UCSD, SDSU, City College, New School of Architecture + Design, FIDM, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Urban Discovery Academy)
  • Real estate development community; especially those working in East Village and downtown
  • People representing the stadium and convadium proposals
  • Local political leaders

Workshop Framework

The workshop exceeded expectations.  Participants representing the East Village, Barrio Logan, downtown, academic institutions, students, community leaders and interested residents were engaged, thoughtful, and committed to advancing a plan that truly contributes to the prosperity and vibrancy of downtown and the region.

To kick it off, Dave Malmuth and Rob Quigley gave presentations relating to the principles and precedents for an innovation district, existing urban context, and work done to date. Participants then divided into 13 groups to critique the ideas presented and create their own versions of a Focus Plan. The two questions posed were:  “What values should guide the Focus Plan?” and “What is the highest and best use for the 11 blocks of underutilized land in East Village South?” Each table selected a spokesperson and presented that group’s responses to the larger body.

East Village South Workshop - IDEA DistrictAs would be expected, the results are as much about how the groups envision the lifestyle and sociology of East Village South as the physical plan. With values driving the planning process, it resulted in the expressed desire for a vibrant, mixed-use urban neighborhood. Overall there was a remarkable degree of agreement as well as new and substantial ideas. They are listed below.

All 13 groups of participants ended up endorsing and elaborating on the basic White Paper Vision (link here).  All suggestions and ideas turned out to be consistent with the existing (and approved) Downtown Community Master Plan.

Summary Results:

There was virtually complete agreement on the following items:

  • Any plan should be authentic and unique to East Village. “Embrace the urban lifestyle” and promote diversity. As one group put it, “Local feel. Authentic. Border Town.” And indeed East Village South, unlike other parts of downtown, borders culturally diverse neighbohoods more initimately.
  • Respect fine grain development and the urban street grid. Everyone recognized the need for buildings of different scale – high-rise, mid-rise and historic (like the Wonder Bread building) to provide the variety and density needed for a vibrant neighborhood.

In fact, this group welcomed density, a mix of uses and the idea of the 18-hour city (active throughout the day and evening).

  • Restoring a strong and vibrant connections to the Barrio and Sherman Heights. The 14th Street Promenade and freeway cover and street grid are critically important.
  • Many words were used to describe who should be considered in the planning process: multigenerational, culturally diverse, families, artists, academics, scientists and students. Concerns about gentrification and social justice were discussed, but the idea of a jobs-multiplier offering both high-paying and living wage jobs was something they felt was worth pursuing.

Being inclusive is about “listening” not dictating.

  • The concept of an innovation district which would create high paying jobs (professional and skilled) anchored by an academic complex would need room for complementary businesses to incubate and grow. Healthcare was also mentioned as another possible anchor use.
  • Build on the existing “Academic Armature” of East Village – meaning the multiple academic institutions already inhabiting East Village.
  • Public-private partnerships – the groups recognized that this cannot be accomplished through private development alone, but will take cooperation, incentives and political leadership to prompt the right catalysts to invest.
  • The 14th street Promenade Green Street is our Main Street” and primary north-south connector. It naturally extends all the way to Chicano Park and should be emphasized.
  • No stadium or giant (inward-focused) buildings. Keep the community “porous” – views toward the water and street corridors punctuated with open space. However, the concept of convention/conference center was viewed favorably especially as a civic space to be shared with the community and nearby academic institutions.
  • Create a memorable and major public open space or series of open spaces to anchor an innovation district”. Like buildings, these should be of varying scale, more pocket parks, linear walkways and bike paths.
  • Cover the freeway as per the Community Plan.
  • Create affordable housing and affordable small business places.
  • There was much discussion about the homeless. With an eye toward creating a more equitable place there needs to be innovative ways to address the homeless. It was agreed pushing them into the surrounding communities was not a solution.

Well Received Ideas

The following ideas were suggested by one or more groups and seemed to have resonance with the larger group:

East Village South Workshop Map - IDEA District

“Team Tributary” imagined the streets like the tributaries of a river flowing toward the water.

  • Make a strong urban statement at the “knuckle” where 14th turns in to Logan Ave.   (This could be an obelisk or major art piece authored by Barrio artists.)
  • Include local health and medical facilities. The area does not have them at a walkable distance
  • Break down the existing super blocks by replacing the missing streets.
  • Find a way to embrace the homeless issue. Don’t separate Father Joe.
  • Less special event noise.
  • More art and making the ability for artists to remain in the area more feasible.
  • Celebrate the historic African American heritage of the area.
  • The idea that for this plan to work does not require one big academic anchor. Building on what is already occurring in East Village, institutions could come together to collaborate and leverage off shared research, experimentation and resources centered on STEAM learning. As one group put it, “Couldn’t we be the first BIG City that has an agglomeration of smaller educational entities to form the “BIG Campus”?
  • Multiple forms of transportation in and out of the neighborhood were discussed – the trolley, ingress and egress issues, parking, bikes, and safe pedestrian corridors.
East Village South Workshop Notes and Map - IDEA District

East Village South as Catalyst

Non Consensus Items:

  • Some wanted less with people first, others wanted more.
  • Homelessness: Everyone agreed that it is the elephant in the room but it is a much larger issue than the community plan alone can address.

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Next Steps:

  1. Based on the results of this workshop a group of volunteer professional planners and architects representing some of San Diego top firms will meet to create the beginnings of a focus plan.
  2. This will be followed by a second workshop (tentatively planned for April 2, 2016) to present to encourage more participation and feedback. The goal is to quickly create alternate design/plan scenarios based on the values identified by residents, community leaders, business and property owners, nearby neighborhood groups and associations.

We thank you for your participation and invaluable ideas about a highest and best use scenario for downtown’s last piece of significant property: East Village South.

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