Author: Steve Kerrins
Neighborhood: Mission Valley
Occupation: Law student
I have to admit that after 18 months here, I actually kind of enjoy living in Mission Valley. Still, I feel strangely guilty writing that.
It’s true, it doesn’t have the avant-garde feel of a home in Ocean Beach, nor does it have the tony appeal of UTC.
But where else in San Diego could I live in a large, modern apartment, chock full of amenities with a gym, pools, and all the rest, and all this at a reasonable price?
It’s not only that. In my better moments, I love the quiet I wouldn’t have in Pacific Beach and the clean, empty sidewalks I couldn’t enjoy downtown. I love the easy access, the students and other young adults. In fact, I must confess that even the more abrasive aspects of new development hold their appeal; I like the homogeneity of red tile, the surfeit of unnecessary cupolas and external beams. I like the notion that I live in some sort of high-tech adobe hut, as if my apartment were the sort of place the Anasazi would live in today’s go-go world.
Secretly, I also like the kitsch, the special helper that makes life in the glow of Qualcomm Stadium worthwhile. I rather like the tacky bowls of agave raised aloft outside of Fenton Marketplace, offerings to the gods of California commercialism who brought you ample parking and rapid egress on that harried afternoon when all you needed was a mattress. If recent development in San Diego is any clue, after all, those gods are extremely partial to Southwestern junk.
I will admit, it does have its drawbacks. Mission Valley, as I recall from some snooty article written by a geological leviathan at UCSD, was formed over millions of years by the slow and steady trickle of the San Diego River, and indeed that river still flows through the valley (albeit in a technologically subdued form) today. Indeed, floods in the historical record have covered Mission Valley’s entire floor, and much of the recent development seems to have been hastily completed without an eye toward the flimsy dam holding everything in place just upstream.
The story of Mission Valley is, at its core, just another rehashing of the tragedy of the commons — an orgy of development interests descended on the city council seemingly at once, and everybody wanted a piece. What’s left is a neighborhood with no schools to speak of, very little parkland, and few amenities — condos and apartments sprung up in multitudes but as apparent afterthoughts to showroom space at Macy’s.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m delighted (and heartened), for example, by recent trends. I love — love — that people care enough about our rare riparian woodland to preserve an important section of it along the Mission Valley greenway, even if the execution has been a little haphazard. I also find it amusing when, in a nod to a parking code dating from the days of the oil embargo, San Diego’s soccer moms fight to edge their Suburbans into minuscule spaces each morning, the Coffee Bean so tantalizingly close, yet out of reach. And I’m rather fond of the notion that, each year, Mission Valley seems to become just slightly more trendy, as a new wave of working people moves in. (I like to imagine the archetype: too pragmatic to be Bohemian, but with a soft spot for the coffeehouse scene or some nonsense.)
In the meantime, the tension between old interests and new, between Mission Valley’s fragile environment and its vital commerce, between insular convenience and true community (the stuff of civic-minded hard work) continues, and I’m paying attention. But I’ve still got one eye on that rickety dam.