The City of San Diego at 1.3 million and counting according to 2014 data, and notably the 8th largest city in the country, is unique at best and honestly still a small town. Planners, politicians and policy makers to name just a few, are in constant pursuit of definition for this city and our region. Ironically, this pursuit has been going on for the past 100 years with the first Panama-California Exposition in 1915.
As the story goes, arguably one of San Diego’s most notable architects, Irving Gill was originally selected as the assistant architect of record. The prime architect selected was New York firm, Bertram Goodhue. Shortly into the endeavor Gill resigned. Apparently he was pushing for a style that he felt exemplified Spanish-influenced, progressive California. The New York team had in mind a temporary version of the then-popular Spanish Colonial style.
Over and over again, the question has been asked, what makes this city unique, what can we truly call ours? For many, it’s what we are not. San Diego is not L.A. and I have seen some cringe when we are compared, by outsiders, to Orange County. A good friend once said that we are so focused on what we do not want to be (Orange County/LA) that that is what we have become. I’m not sure I agree, but I think it’s a thought we should consider.
Instead however, I’d like to propose that San Diego, while still a small town in many ways, is culturally significant and definably unique to the rest of the world. I am writing this blog post from Paris and as I ponder the idea, I realize that San Diego needs to stop trying to compete with or assimilate to other larger more prominent cities.
So then what is San Diego?
A place of borders, almost like an island but these borders are 50% man made: Camp Pendleton to the north, an international border to the south. Natural borders comprise 50% – the ocean to the west and the mountains and desert to the east. Demographically, San Diego is 43% white, with a large Hispanic minority of 30%, 17% Asian, 6% black, and 4% other. It is a region built almost entirely around the automobile, with some of the most expensive freeway infrastructure in the world. These are just a few key points about what San Diego is.
This is all readily available information, but one observation that I have that I feel is worth discussing and the primary reason for this post, is as follows:
Like other notable cities, San Diego does have a unique character. I believe that those who have been here for a prolonged period of time can take this for granted. Like a similar sensation to living adjacent to a beautiful view, over the years, it’s common to lose appreciation for what is right there in front of you. And, often if the scenery is too monochromatic, it becomes boring and lacking of character. I believe that diversity is equivalent to character and diversity cannot be created. It has to happen organically or it’s ingenuous. I believe it happens over many years. So, the longer a community has to evolve typically the richer it is.
This all leads me to my point. Character and identity in San Diego is here, we don’t need to reach outside our borders to find it. I believe planners and policy makers should take a second look at the things we may have missed. Like or dislike them, we should build upon them and definitely try our best to preserve or make them better. Most importantly, never destroy them for “progress.” We should encourage diversity, on all fronts. The richness of a great city is truly in it’s diversity. We need to embrace this. We should stop over-planning and let our society evolve naturally and organically. We need to remember that diversity is not just an aesthetic, it’s evolution over time. It’s new and old, black and white. It’s dilapidated and perfectly orderly. It’s clean and dirty. It’s liberal and conservative. Without this, it’s (and forgive my analogy) Orange County…ouch, I know…
The often-forgotten San Diego.
Photo by author.