Bravo to the business barons, civic champions and enterprising entrepreneurs looking to create an innovation hub in downtown San Diego. However, they should not overlook what a valuable partner lays just to the east of downtown, San Diego’s Diamond neighborhoods.
Like all San Diegans, we celebrate the progress that has come to downtown and the East Village in the past three decades. In fact it is hard to remember what the area was like without the Convention Center, Petco Park, a vibrant Gaslamp Quarter and the variety of housing options. Now the next logical step is to include the Diamond neighborhoods as an integral part of the urban core.
Named for the area’s diamond-shaped business improvement district, the Diamond neighborhoods cluster in the heart of San Diego. Home to more than 88,000 residents, it includes the communities of Chollas View, Emerald Hills, Lincoln Park, Mountain View, Mount Hope, North Encanto, Oak Park, South Encanto, Valencia Park and Webster.
At its heart is a growing hub of activity that includes the Malcolm X Library and Performing Arts Center, the Tubman-Chavez Multicultural Center, the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA, the Elementary Institute of Science, Market Creek Plaza and the Joe & Vi Jacobs Center.
San Diego’s Diamond neighborhoods have embarked on a process to better understand its economic assets and the core values of its residents in order to grow new businesses and good jobs. Through a process of data gathering and community conversations, the Diamond neighborhoods are building a shared sense of place.
All communities want to know about themselves. However, to “know” yourself requires reliable information and good case studies. The partnership between the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation and UCSD Extension’s Center for Research on the Regional Economy is a multiyear effort at gathering data that enables every citizen in the Diamond neighborhoods to better know about where they live and eventually make decisions about the best path forward to economic and social prosperity operating from a base of shared goals and common metrics.
What are we learning? The Diamond neighborhoods are a promising center of economic development for the city because of their abundance of available land, the spending power of residents, and their geographic proximity to a dynamic evolving downtown economy. Mayor Kevin Faulconer has identified communities such as the Diamond neighborhoods as fertile ground for growth and prosperity that can contribute to all of San Diego. Our initial research on the neighborhoods suggests this is in fact the case.
This baseline data provides an opportunity for conversations. Recently, the Jacobs Center held a series of workshops to engage residents in a conversation about assets and gaps, soliciting input on what the growth priorities should be moving forward allowing community partners to better identify shared goals and common metrics which can be tracked over time.
Collectively, the Diamond neighborhoods are building a “shared sense of place.” When people have a shared sense of place and shared metrics against which they can evaluate their progress, they can engage a cross-section of the community in creating a brighter future for all. It also enables strategies which connect to the aspirations of neighboring districts such as downtown and the East Village. We all win if the Diamond neighborhoods succeed.
The “Collective Impact Project” on which we have embarked has surfaced assets which can be leveraged and gaps which need to be filled. So far we have already learned that a higher percentage of children are vaccinated in the Diamond neighborhoods than elsewhere in the county, and that there is a larger educated population and a higher percentage of homeownership than most assume. We have learned that crime rates have gone down at a more rapid rate (38 percent) than in other parts of the county and that parents are deeply interested in assuring education opportunities for their children.
However, we have also learned that there are fewer well-lit or tree-lined streets than in other communities, there are higher school dropout rates and lower employment levels, as well as lower average wages. For San Diego to truly benefit from this diamond in the rough, all of these can and must be addressed by the collective effort of business, government and investors.
Walshok is the UCSD associate dean of public programs and dean of UCSD Extension. Jones is president and CEO of the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation.