Village Could Be Civic and Cultural Mecca
Michael Stepner and Lisa Ross
Diegans thought big in 1998. We approved two managed growth plans
along the city's northern edges, a ballpark anchored redevelopment
plan in downtown's East Village, a convention center expansion and
a massive bond to rebuild our crumbling schools. In 1999, we can
ballpark redevelopment project presents an unparalleled opportunity
to find a home for some of our most important civic institutions
by creating a neighborhood in East Village designed around public
buildings and civic spaces
such a comprehensive plan, dreams of significant public buildings
in San Diego will continue to be the stuff of cocktail chatter and
architecture school dissertations. Project by project planning has
left downtown San Diego with an anemic inventory of civic spaces
and enough public hearings to fill C-Span 2's airtime.
sorry history of San Diego's central library is a case in point.
With over a million dollars worth of studies looking for a shelf,
the library project has traveled more miles on paper than Phineas
Fogg's journey around the world with far less effect. The existing
central library, born around the time of Godzilla, was obsolete
on arrival in 1954. Yet, despite the efforts of our smartest and
most dedicated advocates, the library is back on a mule train traveling
to points south.
library is not the only important institution in search of a real
home. The glistening potential of our acclaimed San Diego Opera
is stifled by a civic center auditorium fit for second-tier road
shows and high school graduations. City government functions in
a shabby fire trap that doesn't meet current codes, its bureaucrats
scattered about downtown rent-a-spaces.
Diego's most prominent planning organizations, including the Council
of Design Professionals, Citizens Coordinate for Century III, the
AIA and the East Village Association, are rightly advocating that
the ball park project requires a plan for the entire East Village
rather than just the 26 block ball park redevelopment district.
Centre City Community Plan adopted in 1992 recommends that Centre
City East/East Village be primarily a mixed-use medium density residential
area with an anchor on the southern end, now the ballpark. Residential
areas, primarily apartments, lofts and town houses, would link the
cultural institutions at the north end which currently include San
Diego City College, Symphony Hall, the Newschool of Architecture
and the existing main library.
key element in the East Village cultural neighborhood plan is building
the new central library as part of the redevelopment of the 12th
& C trolley stop adjacent to San Diego City College. In this
location, the library anchors the village to the north with a significant
building, allows public transportation access to the library and
sites two compatible institutions together. This site also lines
up library with Balboa Park museums up the street.
also frees the present central library site and the remainder of
the block bounded by 7th, 8th and Broadway
for a new 3500 seat theater for opera and dance. An opera house
fronting E Street together with the old post office creates a grand
court for the performing arts. E Street would be improved to connect
the opera house with the Lyceum theaters and the Balboa Theater
creating a theatrical alley.
proposed Bay/Park green belt stretching from the water to Balboa
Park serves as an urban axis, a fine place to seat city government,
if for no other reason than to remind those holding office that
a little vision can go a long way.
Big civic projects,
like a grand library or performing arts center, will continue to
inspire luke-warm fuzzies in a 21st century cyberworld
unless they are set in a planned neighborhood context that infuses
them with life. Without such a context, a penny pinching population
thats been deprived so long they dont know what theyre
missing has little reason to cozy up to grand designs.
are ready to grow their city. A comprehensive cultural neighborhood
plan for East Village keeps one foot anchored to our traditions
and carries us forward into the next century. What better way for
our cultural institutions to finally find a home.
Michael Stepner is an Urban Community
Planner and Dean of the Newschool of Architecture. Lisa Ross is
a Carmel Valley Planning Board Member.