The Park-to-BAy Project Tour
UC San Diego,
School of Global Policy and Strategy
Our day began in a spacious park with languid San Diegans sunbathing, eating, and conversing. As we started the tour, Noura led us past the beautiful old homes and vibrant storefronts. I was surprised that the hipsters and tourists seeking the “real” San Diego weren’t here doing their work at the cafes. This area had the slightly worn look and sense of authenticity that 20-somethings like me long to see.
It only took a few minutes for this potential millennial magnet to transform into a working-class community. The boutiques and breweries were replaced with discount markets and corner stores. The dollar tree we went into to buy water was packed with people buying groceries and other wares. Continuing our walk towards the bay, the frequency at which Noura commented on the conditions around us increased. Her passion and frustration at the state of living for the most vulnerable populations in San Diego grew as well. Noura pointed out the consequences of things I never noticed as an able-bodied student. The uneven sidewalks, unclear crossings, and parking curbs all posed threats to those who couldn’t see or move as easily as I could. Those living there who were able-bodied faced challenges too. The invisible pollution of cars and the proximity to the port hurt families and manifested itself through asthma. The sounds and smells of the recycling plant undoubtedly was a nuisance and possible hazard to the people close by.
Eventually, we arrived at Chicano Park. Tucked under highway overpasses, the park was continuously cool, dark, and dynamic. The onslaught of cars above us made changed the physical environment of the park itself. The artwork at Chicano park embodied the deep-rooted cultural importance and the incredible efforts of the local community. The art was an exaltation of resilience, of women, of families, and of the glory of past civilizations that were robbed from so many during the time of imperialism. It was powerful and disheartening at the same time. Murals of Cesar Chavez and great Aztec spirits loomed over the homeless lying on the ground trying to rest. The park was a reflection of the sheer determination and pride of the community, and it made me want to help in expanding those sentiments throughout the rest of the corridor.
We stopped for some paletas and fruits at a small store and continued on our way down the corridor. Approaching the Port of San Diego, the small homes with wire fences gave way to industrial buildings and shipping containers. Demarcations for crossing streets became even less clear. The spirit of the people who worked at this port, typically Latinx and migrant workers, was nowhere to be found. The Cesar E. Chavez Park was a small plot of grass with two soccer nets. It was already after school, and only three little boys were there. As we walked down the pier in the sunlight, the affluent island of Coronado was right across from us. It was here where the tour ended, and it was here where I understood how important it was to make this side of the strait just as vibrant.
UC San Diego Alumni,
Master of International Affairs in International Environmental Policy
Being a millennial and urbanite, my love for exploring cities started with my first travel abroad at a very early age. Coming to San Diego I was thrilled to embrace a Golden Coast and “America’s Finest City”. However, reality smacked me hard on the face. I very soon realized that my favorite activity and way to explore the local environment was not completely available to me.
Yes, I am talking about walking. As simple as it is, it is through walking that I discover and connect to places, especially cities. While on a walk wandering around you can see and feel tons of things that constitute the local environment and how welcoming, safe, inclusive and vibrant it is. In my opinion for being an “America’s Finest City” San Diego scores very poorly on the walkability and inclusiveness criteria. Starving for my basic necessity of walking activity I was thrilled to meet Noura and learn about her “Park To Bay Project”. Not only it offers a new green corridor where pedestrians feel safe, but it aims to help a local community to improve its economic and environmental performance, thus empowering and uplifting it. I was even happier when Noura offered to walk me through the area where the project is supposed to happen.
We started from a Southern part of Balboa Park, Golden Hill Drive. While walking down to Golden Hill and Barrio Logan on 25th Street, Noura not only helped us to envision the possible green corridor and other positive changes, she as a true and a passionate professional guided us through the current state of the neighborhood development.
“See this bicycle path here? It is not safe at all, because it is between the car lane and parallel parking”, commented Noura pointing to a dangerous area. Inclusive and accessible environment for people disabilities is also something we talked about extensively about on our walk. With guiding questions Noura helped to pin down reasons for my feeling like not feeling welcomed or even in danger. “How does it feel? What do you smell? Do metal bars on windows and absence of people here make you feel safe?” As Noura continued the series of well-thought questions I started realizing how underestimated well thought urban design is.
Trying to envision a friendly and inclusive environment with a green corridor, beaming with life, people walking and enjoying city and beautiful sunny San Diego weather I couldn’t help but smile and promised I will do everything possible to make San Diego an even better city to live not only for those with money but every single person disregarding income and ownership of the car.
After all, Park to Bay Project checks all the boxes I have in mind for creating a modern city environment San Diego deserves – vibrant, safe, full of people, diverse, joyful, and sustainable.
Ways to create a shared community identity by using the physical environment could be by adding identifiable boundaries, signs, public art and farmer markets. The community starts to know the unique characteristics of the neighborhood. It starts to create a name, a sense of ownership and pride. This creates an emotional connection between the community and the neighborhood.
I did that subconsciously in the Park-to-Bay Project.