San Diego Makes a Place for Placemaking through new Urban Spaces Initiative

Mayor Faulconer announced this week a redirection of Regional Enterprise Zone funds to support and advance several of the City’s economic and workforce development initiatives. His proposed action would specifically allocate $2,500,000 among eight initiatives within the Economic Development Department. The City Council approved the proposal at its meeting Tuesday.

Included among the eight initiatives is a new Urban Spaces program focused on placemaking. With a total of $400,000 funds available, $250,000 will be allocated through a revolving loan program, and another $150,000 will be distributed through Activation Grants. Both funds will be made available to non-profits or neighborhood businesses seeking to implement placemaking projects. Grants up to $10,000 will be made available through an RFP process for projects in the enterprise zone and new Promise Zone boundaries, for use in subsidizing permit fee costs related to the proposed project.

The City’s staff report to Council for the program acknowledged difficulties often related to permitting these types of activities, “Often community groups, neighborhood businesses, or non-profit groups want to bring new life to vacant lots or other underutilized areas. These temporary uses can serve both as a new temporary amenity for the community and as a catalytic event which inspires additional investment. For these types of projects the City's permitting fees and requirements can often stop a project before it ever gets started.”

The new grant program is a big win for communities across the city who have indeed struggled with the permitting for these often simple, but catalytic projects in their neighborhoods. Circulate San Diego and numerous community organizations began working with the City months ago to call for an easier process to launch successful placemaking efforts in their neighborhoods. Circulate SD, with support from these organization, released a report with recommendations.

As with many new policies, the devil will be in the details. The program will need to be affordable and accessible to communities in order to be successful. Offering the grants to non-profits is an excellent start and is something the Neighborhood Placemaking Collaborative has advocated for with City staff.

We look forward to continued work with the city on this exciting new program to ensure it is user-friendly and equitable.


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