It’s no surprise that downtown’s Horton Plaza Park has become a hub for some of the neighborhood’s booming homeless population. Just about every urban park in San Diego serves as a resting place for people living on the streets.
But Horton Plaza Park was supposed to come with a built-in solution – the plaza was designed to be programmed with lots of events meant to keep the space busy and alive while also keeping the homeless at bay.
That idea, though, hasn’t worked out as planned.
Homeless people have the right to hang out in public parks as long as they’re not breaking any laws, but when a park starts looking like a full-time homeless encampment, that’s when the rest of the public tend to stay away.
One popular solution to balancing an urban park’s population is programming it with public events that draw crowds. That’s why the city struck a private-public partnership deal with Westfield, the company that owns Horton Plaza mall.
The city owns the property, but Westfield is required to pay for the park’s operations, maintenance and programming for the next 25 years. In turn, Westfield is allowed to recoup costs by leasing out three kiosks on the space and charging for some of the events held at the park.
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Why do so many civic plans go awry in San Diego? The Horton Plaza situation is but one, but it's a good example of what always seems like either poor planning or equally poor follow through.
As for planning, those who came up with the new plaza clearly didn't know anything about the caveats laid out by noted planner/architect Jane Jacobs decades ago regarding the failings of such spaces in a city. As for follow through, if there's an agreement to program events, why isn't it being followed instead of so easily allowed to lapse into nothing?
It's discouraging to live in a place where this behavior seems to be the norm and not the occasional.
Horton Plaza is a done deal - nobody's going to rip up the place now and plant something else, but the programming for the place can be improved with good management and a sensible budget. If the current programmers are not doing their job, get rid of them and find somebody who can. Art shows, farmer's markets, musical events, programs for families...the list goes on. Other cities do these things well. Why not San Diego?
As for the homeless...it's their city, too. As long as San Diego continues to play the same game - lots of plans and no follow through on homelessness - they have every right to be there. If downtown San Diegans don't like that, then get off the dime and fix the problem...homes for the homeless and programs for Horton Plaza. These are not huge tasks. They both just take commitment, something San Diego seems lacking for anything but sports and conventions.
Regarding Horton Plaza: maybe when Westfield does its makeover of the center they will convert the park to condos. Otherwise can they build a soccer stadium there?