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I Made It in San Diego: A Place Maker Builds a Business

ilisa goldman landscape architect
Ilisa Goldman (right), founder of Rooted in Place Landscape Architecture and Consulting, helps nonprofit clients transform outdoor space. / Photo courtesy of Rooted in Place

Ilisa Goldman thinks it should be easy for a group of neighbors to spruce up a vacant, city-owned lot with seating, shade, art and other simple amenities.

Instead, they often end up having to claw through a series of bureaucratic barriers and many simply give up, or avoid the ordeal entirely.

Goldman is the landscape architect and planner behind Rooted in Place, [1] a firm she started to help clients – mostly nonprofits and community groups – create public spaces and outdoor learning environments for kids.

In a new episode of I Made it in San Diego [2], a podcast about the people behind the region’s businesses, I talk to Goldman about the community gardens, outdoor classrooms and other projects she’s designed, and her ongoing struggle to make it easier for people to improve their neighborhoods.

Jargon like “tactical urbanism [3]” and “placemaking [4]” have gained popularity in recent years. Both concepts refer to the kind of work Goldman does – quicker, easier, more affordable urban projects, often in historically underserved communities.

Goldman said the placemaking movement is gaining popularity, in part, because once one community builds a successful project, other people take note and feel empowered to do it, too.

“I think that communities were sort of tired of waiting,” she said. “They were waiting for improvements to happen in their community and trying to go through City Council and trying to go through governance and realizing it was really hard.”

Goldman has successfully completed several placemaking projects across the county, both with her firm, and during her stint with the city of San Diego’s short-lived [5] Civic Innovation Lab, a pet project of then-mayor Bob Filner who envisioned it as an incubator [6] to help the city do quicker, more affordable, neighborhood-driven projects.

“I saw firsthand what the real issues were inside the city, and outside of the city with community organizations,” she said. “What were the biggest challenges, why was it hard to do these placemaking projects. I had really come to understand that our development services [department] was geared toward developers who had money, not toward communities that wanted to make their own change.”

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