Last June, four city staffers comprising the San Diego Civic Innovation Lab were hard at work all aroudn the city, even thoug it was a Sunday. It was like one of those HGTV shows where the team is racing to beat the clock, but the fixer-upper was the city, not a house. And there wasn’t much time left: less than 24 hours, because the staffers had all been fired. Their last day as City of San Diego employees would be the following day, Monday, June 30th. They had been on the city payroll for less than six months.

Things had looked very different a year earlier. Then, the Lab was the brainchild of a world-renowned architect and the pet project of a mayor who wanted social change and believed urban design and planning could be the means to achieving it. Philanthropists were standing by to offer their support. The concept behind the Lab — a cadre of designers embedded in the mayor’s office, with the power to revive public spaces around the city and launch a broad campaign of civic engagement — was unique in North America, and almost unimaginable in conservative San Diego. It seemed to answer the long-held desire of architects, especially, for designers to play a role in the decision-making that shapes cities. Read More