What makes a city strong?
Is it a large police force? Multiple hospitals? Numerous colleges and universities?
Or a concentrated high-tech center of wealth and innovation, plus public libraries?
One might argue all of these make a city strong. Certainly, they are important.
But, I would argue that resilience—amid looming, super-wicked problems—is now the number one ingredient for any city’s survival.
Only resilience can successfully navigate the post-print, high-tech, warp-speed changes that accompany wars, population migrations, scientific innovations, scarce resources, and global uncertainty.
And where can one find the greatest concentration of that resilience in San Diego?
Simple—that strength resides in every home in every neighborhood.
Remember the needlepoint message: “Home is where the heart is.” That remains very true today.
A neighborhood is more than just the block where one lives. A neighborhood is where civic morality lives and breathes and holds a city together.
A vibrant, resilient neighborhood provides the flexible glue—the familiarity and strength that shows up in neighbors and neighborhoods after disastrous floods, monster fires, and earthquakes.
Who among us,doesn’t count on that courage from our neighbors in the event of some calamity or crime nearby?
And who among us doesn’t quietly grieve when those same neighbors leave us—due to age, loss of income, or an inability to cope with the undesirable and unsightly changes encroaching on their block?
That is what is at stake in San Diego’s next Mayor’s race —the preservation, protection and prosperity of our neighborhoods.
How to save them from decline—brick by brick, block by block, old stock by old stock—lest San Diego become a virtual transient center of strangers?
How do we find the glue to repair the “broken windows effect” that announces the downward spiral in our neighborhoods?
How can any of San Diego’s neighborhoods reclaim their own destiny?
First, we must start with protecting the parks, beaches, bays, rivers, open spaces, trees and historical buildings. They provide us with the beauty, history and sense of wonder so necessary to life’s progress.
For example, the net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-sized air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. Plant more trees!
Biologically rich wetlands have proven even more precious as examples of a natural ecosystem protecting our shores. Protect the wetlands!
Follow the topography; don’t bludgeon it.
“To build or not to build?” is not the question. The question is how, what, where and when we build while protecting was has made San Diego so beautiful for so long.
Then stop and reverse the broken windows effect that grime, graffiti, and gang presence signal in the downward spiral of many neighborhoods.
Move next to restore the position of the City Architect to oversee the design, placement and suitability of every building in our residential and commercial zones.
Then demand stronger open and competitive bidding rules on all city properties to avoid another contentious transfer like the former Qualcomm stadium to just two bidders via an initiative process.
Hold City Hall accountable.
Give back control of the neighborhoods to the neighborhoods. Only they can repair the fabric of our city.
Only they can express the vision and higher purpose of their own neighborhood. And only they can best articulate the loss of what was once admirable.
Ocean Beach, Barrio Logan, Mission Hills, Paradise Hills, Point Loma, Clairemont, University Heights, downtown and every other neighborhood in San Diego is unique.
And they should determine the design and destiny of their environs. They can restore the trust so lacking in our elected officials today.
Without strengthening the neighborhoods, this city will flounder.
Neighborhoods can save us. But, can we save the neighborhoods?
It is up to the voters now.
Colleen O’Connor is a native San Diegan and a retired college professor.