San Diegans say they want their public space back.
In the Southern California that comes to most people’s minds, people spend all day at the beach or lounging in public parks. But Mike Stepner, a professor at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego, says that’s not the reality.
“We’re very car-centric here,” Stepner says. “Many of the older neighborhoods are very walkable, but the newer stuff built since World War II, well you just can’t get anywhere around there without driving.”
Residents are finally starting to speak out about the lack of walkability in the sunny city, he says. Stepner moderated a forum at the NewSchool in late July called “The Public Realm: The Reemerging City Building Framework,” and attendees took to the subject, he says.
Maybe the resurgence is due to neighborly competition: San Francisco ranks number one on WalkScore, a public index that ranks cities’ walkability, while San Diego comes in at 16. Or maybe parents are just tired of packing the kids in the car to drive to the park at the end of the street, simply because there are no sidewalks. Stepner says that people drive to these parks because they can’t get there any other way. Once the habit of driving kicks into high-gear, it can be hard to break, too.
“We have streets as wide as freeways here, and there’s a lot of space in there that can be reoriented for public use,” Stepner says. Public parks are great, and very SoCal—but if the people can’t get to them it’s all for naught.