Posted by: cantmisssd | November 22, 2010

Golden Hill’s 25th Street Facelift

On a drizzly Saturday morning, I joined a packed house in Golden Hill for a second public feedback meeting on plans to redevelop 25th Street between Balboa Park and F Street. As with most public meetings, the group often struggled to stay on topic and keep moving, but it was the first opportunity to see the first full draft of plans from RRM Design to significantly revamp the corridor.

The most significant changes came out of feedback from the initial community meeting in October. First, 25th will be trimmed to one lane in each direction. That will create space to add bike lanes in each direction, parallel parking on the west side of the street and, new to the city of San Diego, back-in angle parking for several blocks on the east side. Combined with bulb-outs at the major intersections of the strip, and the major artery is already looking much more friendly for folks who aren’t in cars.

The plan also calls for a new roundabout at the north end of 25th, opening the Balboa Park entrance and connecting the park and the community. It potentially will also include better trail connections, dramatically improving pedestrian access to and from the park (and perhaps spurring more infrastructure investment for the south end of the park).

A number of challenges remain, many of which concern relative details: Size and placement of benches (particularly vis a vis homeless use), lighting, type and placement of trees (a much bigger deal than one might think), drainage, right-of-way impositions, long-term maintenance costs. These issues will all be fought over, but in the end they’re not essentially challenging… or interesting.

The fun challenge still outstanding is how to utilize the bulb-outs as collaborative community space. Little Italy has had some success with this, specifically at India and Date. Also noted at the meeting was South Park’s community bulletin board at 30th and Beech. Both of these examples provide good jumping-off points, but this offers a small-scale opportunity to innovate and to add individualized touches of character. The project as conceived will be focusing on the maintenance of uniformity, so creatively curated bulb-outs could break things up a bit and boost the rest of the community. For example, kiosk displays of local artists, interactive art and/or community information, permanent vendors and rotating popshops, music, structure for small events (then organizing a series of small community events). I’m sure there are many other possibilities.

More striking, though sadly unsurprising, was the split over the stages of redevelopment. The current proposal calls for the segment between Broadway and the park to be fully completed in the initial phase, with the stretch from Broadway to F Street only getting basic street changes. This would be followed by a second round of fundraising to complete the sidewalk and ambient changes along the south stretch in a second phase. The tension bubbled up briefly at the meeting, with the division between old, white, north vs young, latino and south asking who had decided to work from the north end instead of the south end.

It’s a good question in the larger scale, highlighted accidentally by the reasons it makes sense for this project. The weight of development that would benefit from (and has driven) the redevelopment project is north, and the project has always been driven by an aspiration to connect to Balboa Park in the north, not Logan Heights and Grant Hill to the south. The idea, and it’s fair if not right, is that Golden Hill is going to find more customers and more affluent residents by attracting them from the north- South Park, North Park, Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, etc. So an eye towards prioritizing better connectivity in that direction makes sense.

It does however highlight the redevelopment priorities of the city in recent years. The concerted improvements have been in Little Italy, Hillcrest, North Park, Normal Heights. It has largely skipped communities like Barrio Logan, Sherman Heights, Logan Heights. Granted, some of the gentrification successes have been driven by community initiative, but the city has certainly been deeply involved. This is beginning to change, with a big development project coming on Cesar Chavez Parkway adjacent to Chicano Park, with plans for the Sherman Heights historic corridor redevelopment, and with rumblings about finally doing something- ANYthing- with Commercial Avenue. But attitudes won’t change overnight (nor should they), and there’s still very little proof on the ground that low-income, majority-minority communities are getting any love from San Diego.

The 25th Street project has the potential to eventually help change this. If and when the full project is completed, it will provide a direct line from Balboa Park to the 94, a key component to extending all the way down 25th and Cesar Chavez Parkway to the harbor. And it sets the stage for the Golden Hill community to become a vibrant crossroads for the center of San Diego, bringing in traffic from all four directions and mixing them all. There are countless steps between beginning and end, but the initial plan is a good start. The next phase- details- will reflect whether the old-school gatekeepers are focused more on insulating the community or opening it, but the priority on creating functional, shared public space is an encouraging foundation.



  1. Great piece and thanks for the coverage.

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