Both in San Diego and around the country, there are signs that leveraging the power of arts and culture into traditional planning processes can improve neighborhoods while better serving community interests. This convergence of interests has created a field that practitioners are calling creative placemaking. The movement is growing rapidly in part because cities around the U.S. are looking for tools to redevelop communities in ways that not only increase economic development, but also build social capital among community residents.
In San Diego, the movement is grassroots oriented, bubbling up through community-led projects. As the projects continue, City staff is being asked to simplify the process to make community dreams, some of which are relatively simple, become reality. Examples include street paint, benches, art in vacant lots, murals, decorative crosswalks, alley activation, landscaping, wayfinding signage, and temporary mobility enhancements-all promoted to revitalize neighborhoods and jump start the building of social capital. As much as these projects are about the product, they are also about the process. That means an authentic, community-led process that respects community history and values.
As the City strives to implement the City of Villages, and Vision Zero strategies in a manner that aligns with the new Climate Action Plan (CAP), City leaders must find opportunities to deeply engage diverse communities about their vision and priorities for the future. The emerging field of creative placemaking offers San Diego a collaborative process to tap into the talents of its thriving arts community and achieve multiple City-wide goals.
This paper outlines case studies of successful placemaking projects in San Diego, and the challenges they have faced. The paper also offers recommendations on how the City can embrace creative placemaking, based on best practices in other cities.
The case studies highlight the following recommendations:
1. Create a new, user-friendly permit process to enable and encourage community-led projects,
2. Pilot desired projects to determine if process is accessible to all,
3. Experiment with and formalize a partnership with local artists and integrate into the existing community planning process, and
4. Partner with a local arts or community organization to serve as a conduit for community engagement.
San Diego prides itself on its diverse, unique neighborhoods. Residents are willing to step up to implement their own vision of their space, especially in areas that are highly underutilized and sometimes just plain derelict. One step the City can take to achieve its own goals, is to explore creative placemaking and not only allow, but also encourage communities to work together to create the places they want to see. This requires the establishment of a new creative placemaking permit process in partnership with multiple City departments, including Development Services, Neighborhood Planning, and the Commission for Arts and Culture.