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'A Hopeful Tale of What San Diego Might Become'

Placemaking projects — where community members transform empty lots and underused spaces — have the potential to attract tourists and local visitors to neighborhoods they might not normally visit, boosting the local economy and even creating safer streets.

All over San Diego, people are imagining what should be done with the Qualcomm Stadium site now that the Chargers are gone. Developers, local leaders and community members are looking at that space and getting excited. We should all get excited about what our underused or vacant spaces can do for our city.

Commentary - in-story logoAcross the city, there are underused spaces asking for attention. If you are a regular reader of Voice of San Diego’s Culture Report as I am, then you probably read how indoor gallery space is at a premium and that local artists have taken to using empty lots or parking areas to show their work. At first blush, it’s a sad story of artists forced out into the cold for exposure, but on second glance it becomes a hopeful tale of what San Diego might become.

In cities across the country, the creative economy has become the major driver for economic growth. A recent report shows that arts and culture contributed $704.2 billion to the U.S. economy in 2013, with a 10 percent annual growth rate from 1998 to 2013. Arts and culture provides the dynamic urban lifestyle that allows other creative industries like tourism, technology and science to thrive. Local leaders and businesses eager to train and retain talent here should be thinking of ways to support San Diego’s arts and culture scene.

One potent way for local leadership to support arts and culture is to embrace creative placemaking as a tool for neighborhood development. Creative placemaking transforms empty lots and underused spaces into a new place for city life to happen. Often temporary locations like East Village’s Quartyard pop-up park, newly made places provide park space for communities, locations for pop-up markets to jumpstart local entrepreneurship, gallery space for artists to display their work or locations to hold community events.

Local leaders and business should pay attention. New placemaking sites have the potential to attract tourists and local visitors to neighborhoods they might not normally visit, boosting the local economy and even creating safer streets. While building new community places, placemaking projects should also employ local artists. Creating paid work for artists means they are more likely to remain in San Diego, strengthening our arts and culture sector.

Placemaking is not new to San Diego. In August 2016, Circulate San Diego released a report on projects under way across the city. The report shed light on the maze of bureaucracy standing between a community and the completion of a placemaking project. In response, the city has taken up the thorny question of how to categorize and issue permits for placemaking projects.

Hopefully, the city will develop a solution in coming months that will make placemaking a simpler and more transparent process for all community partners seeking to use this powerful development tool.

As we imagine a future for the Qualcomm site and for all of San Diego, placemaking can inspire us to move forward with vision and community input, building on our arts and culture strengths.

Clifford Deaton has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois at Chicago and has published articles on urban development for the Journal of Urban Studies.

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