This is the second of a series of Innovation Stories about the National Endowment for the Arts’s Our Town program. These inspiring stories highlight communities strengthening their neighborhoods through the arts and design across the United States.
To learn more about ArtsFwd’s partnership with the NEA, read the introductory post from Jason Schupbach (NEA’s Director of Design Programs).
How can planning for the arts be used strategically to augment current neighborhood planning efforts?
The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation (JCNI), a nonprofit foundation focused on community revitalization, was in the midst of developing a land use master plan with local area residents for The Village at Market Creek in southeastern San Diego, when it was reasoned that such a plan would need to consider the role of the arts. With the support of Our Town, the group set out to design and plan an ‘arts overlay’ that could be incorporated into the master plan already under development.
Though San Diego tends to conjure images of sandy beaches and craggy coastlines, the city of 1.3 million people includes vast stretches of inland areas with all the challenges that any big city must address. The Diamond Neighborhoods, a conglomeration of districts less than ten miles southeast of San Diego’s bustling downtown, is one such area. The area is connected to the city with a rail line, but it has faced long-term economic challenges, evidenced by abandoned buildings. Chollas Creek runs through the neighborhood and provides a unifying natural element. At the hub of the Diamond Neighborhoods, a nearly 60-acre area called “The Village” is in the midst of a transformation.
One of the oldest suburban areas in San Diego, the Diamond Neighborhoods are home to a range of diverse communities that include Latino, African American, Filipino, Lao Somali, Samoan, Sudanese, and Chamorro residents. The area’s economic conditions have been challenging for a long time: The median household income is roughly half the median for the county, and much less than the San Diego region. As is often the case, economic conditions have had physical consequences, leaving the area spotted with empty lots and vacant buildings.
The Diamond Neighborhoods area has all the advantages of being an aggregate of different communities: It is diverse, and there are on-the-ground community groups with the capacity to organize. Yet, what the neighborhood needed was a way to help bring together the neighborhood’s nine distinct cultural groups and create bridges between government, nonprofits, artists and the broader San Diego community. Creating an arts overlay component that could converge with the larger master plan (already underway) would be targeted to provide needed urban coherence, and give the community a sense of common identity that had been missing.