By Joyell Nevins
Mission Valley one of several areas getting a facelift
San Diego’s population is expected to increase 30 percent by 2050, adding one million new residents who will require 330,000 new housing units. So what will that housing, and the neighborhoods they fall into, look like? How will it change our environment and our lifestyle?
Those were the statistics and questions posed by the San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF) at its fourth annual “Context: People, Places, Engage! forum.” SDAF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to education and the promotion of outstanding architecture, planning and urban design throughout the region.
On June 6, about 130 people converged in Green Acre Campus Pointe restaurant in Sorrento Valley to network, begin and continue meaningful conversations concerning city development. The group included representatives from architect firms, the design industry, policy influencers and the public.
“It’s people in the know, and people not in the know, coming together to create connection,” said Margit Whitlock, vice president of the SDAF board of directors.
One of the people in the know, sharing a glimpse into a re-envisioning of Mission Valley, was Nancy Graham. Graham is a certified senior planner for the city of San Diego, and the leader of the Community Plan Update project for Mission Valley. She joined the city after more than a decade in the private sector as a consultant focusing on urban planning, community outreach, public affairs and environmental management.
Graham described Mission Valley as “San Diego’s next great neighborhood.” She said the initial community development plan, a guideline for zoning and city layout, was designed in 1985. The plan is very auto-centric, and was made before the trolley existed. Graham noted with chagrin that the Green Line is typically used for people going through, not to or in, Mission Valley.
“We’re looking to create a new vision,” Graham said.
One of the main factors in that vision is to make Mission Valley more accessible to pedestrians. Right now, there are sprawling shopping centers and giant parking lots, but almost no way to get between them without hopping in a car.
“We’re unlocking the pavement potential,” Graham said.
The new Community Plan is just that — a plan. It is in phase three of a six-phase process before anything is officially set. The designs Graham showed at “Context” are one of three alternatives that have been proposed.
Alternative 1 is referred to as the “string of pearls” concept. It has mixed-use land sections, all within a quarter mile of the trolley stops.
Alternative 2 is called the “vibrant core,” which places the core of Mission Valley from the Hazard Center to the Discovery Center.
Alternative 3 land-use plan, referred to as “campuses and clusters,” is what Graham presented at the forum. It features pedestrian walkways in and through building sectors.
It also purposely leaves green spaces, including an elevated park behind the state building by Ralph’s. The green spaces and walkways will make the building centers more of a “campus-like district.”
The new plan will also acknowledge and make more use of the San Diego River that runs through the valley.
“I always say if we didn’t live right next to the Pacific Ocean, the San Diego River would be the area’s most valuable resource,” Graham declared.
Along with focusing more on pedestrians comes making the trolley stations more directed and accessible. Frazee Road may be built up as a connector to the Hazard trolley station.
Accessibility and pedestrian-friendliness were also key concepts in the other two presenters at “Context.” Kate Goodson, the principal at the placemaking laboratory POP/ARCH, spoke about the importance of “place with a capital P” and making areas for people to walk, enjoy and connect with each other in their environment.
Dr. Bruce Appleyard, a professor of city planning and urban design at San Diego State University, shared the “livability calculator” and handbook project he spearheaded. The project seeks to correct the transportation-land use imbalance running rampant in many city designs, and helps cities and agencies hone in on specific practices they can improve to increase “livability” (quality of life) in their area. The calculator considers several factors covering transport, land-use, access to opportunities and social equity.
Mission Valley’s updated Community Plan will likely be an “amalgamation” of the three alternatives already developed, Graham said. Her team is putting together a “preferred land-use plan,” which they hope to have completed by this summer.
After that, the city will complete an environmental analysis of the preferred plan to determine its possible impact. A draft of the plan with any amendments from said analysis or other concerns is hoped to be released in the fall. It will have to go through several committees and city hearings before being officially adopted.
When the updated Community Plan is finalized, which Graham’s team goal is for that to happen by fall 2018, zoning in Mission Valley will change to reflect this plan. Developers will have to follow along the ideas set out in the plan to build in the valley.
If you would like to be a part of this plan-update process, come to the Mission Valley Library at 3 p.m. on the second Friday of every month. The Community Plan Update team holds a public meeting to share progress and hear community feedback.
For more information, visit bit.ly/1NAqQuN or call 619-235-5200.
To join the San Diego Architectural Foundation, or for more information about their future events, visit sdarchitecture.org or call 619-232-1385.