Bill Harris has been manager of Pet Zone for the past six or seven years. The pet shop is located west of the urban village on University Avenue. Harris wasn't thrilled with the changes. To slow the speed and volume of cars on University, the number of lanes has been reduced. Harris complained that automobile congestion has increased and that his business has declined because of it. He said people avoid the area because of the high traffic volume.
Harris also wasn't impressed with the notion of increased safety, saying, "Nobody wants to go out after dark, that's for sure."
Ivan Sanchez agreed. "I wouldn't let my girlfriend go out after dark here for a walk. I mean, it's my neighborhood, but to be realistic I wouldn't let her. I wouldn't let anybody walk at night here. That's a negative. It's always been like that, but I hope it changes, but then again, people are people."
Dani Pham, owner of Dani Salon, in the retail village, said, "I think it's safe. We feel safer now. Before, we were scared a lot." Pham had operated a salon in the area before redevelopment. "I had a business here before. Then the city took over. I came back and started into business, but it just doesn't make much money right now. Before, I made a lot of money. Now nobody sees my shop because I'm inside a shopping center." Her business doesn't attract much of the foot traffic, and it suffers because of higher rent she must now pay. "For a man's haircut we charge $7. It is very cheap. When they stop in and say, 'How much for a haircut?' we say 'Seven,' and they just walk out the door. Out on the street they just charge $5. I cannot make my price lower because the rent is too expensive."
As San Diego's older communities are revitalized, residents find their neighborhoods more inviting to walk in. On February 10, 2004, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to approve five Pilot Village projects around the city. (See sidebar page 40.)
In San Diego's new housing developments, urban villages can be created from scratch. Andy Hamilton is vice president of WalkSanDiego, an organization formed in 1998 to address pedestrian issues. He said, "There are a number of communities that are being built right now that are intended to be walkable and bikeable and friendly to transit." He mentioned 4S Ranch, a 2900-acre site near Rancho Bernardo; Black Mountain Ranch, a 5100-acre site that will include communities built around village town centers; and Otay Ranch.
Otay Ranch in Chula Vista encompasses 5300 acres, with almost one-half of the land to remain open space. There will eventually be 11 urban villages. In one that has already been built, Heritage, the houses fan out from a village center that includes 10-acre Heritage Park, a retail center, and a mass-transit island. Kim Kilkenny, vice president of the Otay Ranch Company, said, "One of the things that Otay Ranch tried to do was to create a wide range of opportunities to move around the community, other than by car. One is a 'paseo,' one is something we call a village pathway, and we have pedestrian bridges and what we would call regional trails. The regional trails are 15-foot-wide trails that surround each village. For the first two villages that have been developed, the regional trails are roughly 8 miles in length. They will connect to a 17-square-mile open-space system, so it will expand, and it will be the largest urban open-space area in San Diego County."
Kilkenny continued, "We also have pop-through cul-de-sacs, which are very unusual. We have a series of cul-de-sacs, and 80 percent of them you can't drive through, but you can walk through. We have a pedestrian-grid system, but not an automotive grid system. If you watch kids go to school, they can walk out their pop-through cul-de-sac, get on the paseo, get to the elementary school, and, at most, cross only one residential street."
In existing towns like La Mesa, Encinitas, and Oceanside, the original main streets -- the "good bones" -- are being renovated to build or rebuild a sense of community.
Steven Johnson, in his book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, says about sidewalks: "What matters is that they are the primary conduit for the flow of information between city residents. Neighbors learn from each other because they pass each other -- and each other's stores and dwellings -- on the sidewalk. Sidewalks allow relatively high-bandwidth communication between total strangers, and they mix large numbers of individuals in random configurations. Without the sidewalks, cities would be like ants without a sense of smell, or a colony with too few worker ants. Sidewalks provide both the right kind and the right number of social interactions. They are the gap junctions of city life."
To function thus, a sidewalk must link up with other sidewalks. It must adjoin dwellings and necessities, like grocery stores, pharmacies, coffee shops. It must keep company with points of destination that draw people, such as galleries, novelty shops, restaurants. A sidewalk must provide a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere where people can pass each other on the street, make eye contact, greet each other, congregate.
La Mesa's main street, La Mesa Boulevard, between Spring and Acacia Streets, is such a place. The sidewalks are examples of the gap junctions Steven Johnson promotes.
La Mesa reduced what had been a four-lane boulevard down to a two-lane street and replaced parallel parking with diagonal parking. Tree planters and park benches along the street invite people to linger while visiting the shops and restaurants. Sidewalks appear old but in good repair, framed with red tile and wide enough for cafés to offer outside dining. Corners have the bulbed-out effect to shorten the distance across streets. Vintage lampposts sport colorful banners.
Deanne Buller, co-owner of Act II and Act II for Kids, shops offering "gently worn clothing," said, "A lot of people think that La Mesa is a sleepy old town, and they don't really know what we offer here. There is so much. We have all kinds of things. We have one of the largest Oktoberfests on the West Coast. We have the Old-Fashioned Christmas in La Mesa: we close off the streets; we have strolling carolers; we have chestnuts roasting on fire pits in the middle of the street. All the stores stay open and offer apple cider and goodies. We have a car show that is every Thursday night in the summer."