San Diego skyline
A view of the San Diego skyline from Shelter Island. Photo courtesy Port of San Diego

By Peter James MacCracken and Mikaela Bolling

San Diegans don’t agree on everything. But we seem to agree that nothing is more important than “quality of life.” But what exactly is it?

Maybe quality of life is like the famous jurist’s comment about pornography — “I know it when I see it.” Or maybe it is the aggregate of factors that allow us to feel we are living the good life: a high-paying job, our own home, good schools for our children, clean air and water, and more.

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For some, quality of life might mean no growth, no development, no more people and more beaches, parks and open space. For others, it might be densification to provide affordable housing, transit-oriented development and heavily populated urban cores.

The Equinox Project of the Center for Sustainable Energy has a pretty good idea of what comprises “quality of life,” having just released its 2018 San Diego Regional Quality of Life Dashboard reporting on 15 indicators of just that … quality of life. Available to everyone online, this is the ninth annual dashboard.

An interactive, online tool, the dashboard includes the indicators, along with the data and stories behind them as well as deeper dives into topics of greatest interest.

Equinox has almost a decade of experience in defining and measuring the factors that make up this know-it-when-I-see-it concept. The dashboard displays each indicator, with flashing green signal lights if the situation has improved, yellow lights if it is basically unchanged and red lights if things are worse.

So how are we doing, San Diego?

The dashboard considers air and water, climate action, economy, energy, housing, transportation, waste, land use and the border. These observations have been made over the past few years:

  • Employment and use of renewable energy have improved
  • Vehicle miles traveled have not changed much
  • Unsurprisingly, beach closures and housing affordability have gotten worse

This year, Equinox is reporting the following, among other findings:

  • Improvement in alternative transportation, beach water quality, climate action, employment and park access
  • Worsening in water usage, housing, air quality and entrepreneurship
  • Little or no change in border economics and environmental metrics, and landfill waste disposal

So why does Equinox Project do this, year after year? Because there is a need, and that need has many facets.

There is a need because what gets measured gets managed. If we are going to improve quality of life for San Diegans, we need to track progress — good, bad and indifferent.

There is a need because policymakers — those tasked with protecting quality of life — can use objective data to help inform their decision-making.

There is a need because businesses with an increasing focus on corporate social responsibility want to know what to look at and where they can make a difference … that will motivate customer loyalty.

There is a need because quality of life is not just about a robust economy or simply a healthy environment; it is about both and their inseparable connection. Equinox stands at the intersection of economy and environment and is an objective provider of substantial data.

To be sure, many organizations compile and track data related to their specific missions. For example, the San Diego County Water Authority tracks water usage, SANDAG tracks vehicle miles traveled and housing, the California Air Resources Board tracks air quality and so on. But Equinox aggregates that data and more to provide a fuller picture and shows how the data sets fit together and inform each other to evaluate our quality of life.

Take time to scan through the 2018 dashboard and begin to understand how we might get our arms around quality of life. Why? Again, because it’s important to know if things are improving or not, so we can act to make sure they are.

Even if we only know it when we see it, we have some sense of whether quality of life is getting better or not. Equinox takes that several steps further with a goal of driving measurable, meaningful actions that will lead to a brighter tomorrow.

We urge you to take time to understand what Equinox is doing and why, and give your support to this unique and important effort.

Peter MacCracken, principal at San Diego-based Strategic Communications, is chairman of the Equinox Project Advisory Board and Mikaela Bolling is the Equinox Project manager.