The Dump - Trucks make their way down into the landfill to dump commercial and private garbage.
On Sept. 23, the San Diego City Council will consider updating the city's General Plan, which is, essentially, the blueprint for future urban growth. The state requires cities to periodically update their general plans, and San Diego's update is way overdue.
City Planning Director Gail Goldberg, in a manner of speaking, is a disciple of the Church of New Urbanism, not unlike a growing number of her counterparts across the country. That's why “City of Villages” is the chosen strategy for the update. City of Villages follows the principles of New Urbanism, a philosophy that seeks a return to the way this country used to plan its city centers.
Those principles include commercial cores that are in easy walking distance from residential areas; natural environments and parks that are preserved from development and easily accessible; mixed-use development that encourages activity long after the working day is over; and easy access to mass transit.
In practical terms, approval of City of Villages means we're moving toward populating our existing villages more densely and looking for opportunities to recycle outdated or underused areas of town. The idea is to make sure new housing development is diverse in type and cost and tied closely to transportation hubs.
One might argue that San Diego is perfect for such a planning philosophy because the city is already largely built around villages—the uptown districts of Hillcrest, North Park, University Heights and Normal Heights are good examples. The problem with some of those areas is a severe lack of parking spaces to accommodate all the apartment building development that has taken place over the past few decades. And therein lies the rub for some of the opponents of the hard-charging City of Villages campaign.
Sure, some critics talk fancifully about how if the city stops erecting buildings, we can stop population growth.
Hogwash. A no-growth policy can slow the rise in population a bit, but you can't stop it. The bulk of population increases come not from people moving into the city, but rather from the natural birthrate. Halting housing construction would simply worsen the housing crisis. More and more low-income residents will pack themselves tighter into substandard homes, and more and more middle-class folks will commute farther and farther, worsening the problems of traffic and air pollution.
But there are more reasonable opponents of the plan with real concerns about the adequacy of San Diego's infrastructure. Even city staffers concede that roads, schools, parks and other public amenities are inadequate as it is. Now we're talking about densification-more people further taxing an antiquated system. Proponents of the plan say it'll be implemented alongside a new and improved public-transit system.
It had better be.
Look, City of Villages is a strategy—a policy vision—and as strategies go, it's not a bad one. It's unlikely that it's a devious, get-rich scheme in which city officials and developers are in cahoots-not this time anyway. From our view, there's much to like about the principles of New Urbanism. And while the critics have many valid concerns-and their warnings should be heeded-there will be plenty of opportunities to scrutinize specific projects down the road during the built-in public review process. That will be the time to raise focused concerns about each project.
So go ahead and approve this thing, City Council, but please also get ready to make some tough political decisions about how to finance desperately needed improvements to the city's public infrastructure.