Elements of Urbanism: San Diego

July 10, 2009 40 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

San Diego may be the west coast's best example to follow in Jacksonville's efforts to revitalize the city by embracing sustainable urban development and fixed-mass transit.

Tale of the Tape:

San Diego Pop. 2007: 1,266,731 (City); 3,001,072 (Metro-2008) - (incorporated in 1850)

Jacksonville Pop. 2007: 805,605 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro-2008) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); San Diego (333,865)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

San Diego: +6.65%
Jacksonville: +16.97%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

San Diego: 2,674,436 (ranked 15 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

San Diego: 3,418.7 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,149.2 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2007

San Diego: +43,331
Jacksonville: +69,988

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

San Diego: San Diego Convention Center (1989)  - 615,701 square feet on two levels
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Attached to Convention Center:

San Diego: San Diego Marriott & Marina
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

San Diego: One America Plaza - 500 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Downtown Fortune 500 companies:

San Diego: Qualcomm (244), Sepra Energy (252), SAIC (266)
Jacksonville: CSX (240)

Urban infill obstacles:

San Diego:
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

San Diego: The Gaslamp Quarter District
Jacksonville: East Bay Street, located between Main Street and Liberty Street.  This four block stretch is home to four bars and clubs.

Common Downtown Albatross:

A large number of surface parking lots and underutilized property that cuts downtown off from vibrant inner city neighborhoods.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

San Deigo: 96 out of 100 (core as keyword)
Jacksonville: 95 out of 100, according to walkscore.com (Downtown Jacksonville as keyword)

San Diego - Jacksonville Scaled Comparison

Jacksonville municipal borders: present (red), pre-consolidated city limits (green)

A scaled overlay of Jacksonville's border next to San Diego's city limits.  The light blue line represents the San Diego Trolley (light rail).  The dark blue line is the Coaster (Commuter rail), green is the Sprinter (DMU commuter rail) and the yellow line is the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner.  Metrolink, a Los Angeles commuter rail system, connects with the Coaster and Sprinter at Oceanside.

San Diego Trolley

The San Diego Trolley opened in 1981 with 13.5 mile single track starter segment with 15-minute headways and passing sidings.  This was done to keep initial implementation costs low.  The line was mostly double-tracked three years later, largely on the strength of demand for more frequent headways.  Since then, the system has now grown to 51.1 miles, includes three lines and is the sixth most-ridden light rail system in the United States with a daily ridership of over 118,400.  The San Diego Trolley is a good example of implementing an affordable "no-frills" plan to get rail off the ground in a community that has yet to fully embrace alternative forms of mass transit.

A San Diego Trolley train passes a transit oriented development.

An aerial of a transit oriented development built around a San Diego Trolley light rail station.

For more information on the San Diego Trolley: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Diego_Trolley

Santee Town Center

Santee Trolley Square Town Center serves as the terminal point for the Trolley's green line.  This transit oriented development serves as a good example of how to integrate mass transit use into low density, automobile oriented situations.

Santee Town Center aerial

Downtown San Diego Aerial

Columbia/Downtown Core

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, C-Street is one of downtown's most crime-ridden areas and in need of revitalization.

Full article: http://sports.uniontrib.com/uniontrib/20060621/news_7m21cstreet.html

Petco Park

Completed in 2004, Petco Park replaced Qualcomm Stadium and is the home park of MLB's San Diego Padres.  Adjacent to a San Diego Trolley light rail terminal, the $450 million ballpark was intended to help revitalize the aging East Village area of downtown.

East Village

East Village was traditionally a warehouse district with scattered vacant lots.  In the 1990s, it became a community for artist and social services.  With the addition of Petco Park in 2004, East Village is now rapidly becoming a popular location for infill urban housing.

The Marina District

What was once the site of warehouses and vacant lots is the home of hotels, apartments, condominiums, medical offices and retail.


Convention center

Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter is a 16 1/2 block historic district in downtown.  After a period of urban decay, the neighborhood underwent urban renewal in the 1980s and 1990s, and is today an energetic business and entertainment district.

Gaslamp Quarter Timeline

1850: William Heath Davis buys 160 acres (0.65 km2) in what will eventually become the Gaslamp Quarter. Despite heavy investment from Davis, little development happens in this period.[1]

1867: Alonzo Horton arrives in San Diego and purchases 800 acres (3.2 km2) of land in New Town for $265. Major development begins in the Gaslamp Quarter.[2]

1880s to 1900s: Now known as the Stingaree, the area is home to many saloons, gambling halls, and bordellos. Wyatt Earp and his wife Josie come to San Diego and invest in real estate and saloons.[3]

1950s-1970s: The decaying Gaslamp Quarter becomes known as a "Sailor's Entertainment" district, with a high concentration of pornographic theaters, bookshops and massage parlors.

1970: The start of the public interest in preserving buildings downtown, especially in Gaslamp Quarter.

1976: The city adopted the Gaslamp Quarter Urban Design and Development Manual, aimed at preserving buildings in the area, and the redevelopment of Gaslamp Quarter as a national historic district.

1982: Gaslamp Quarter became the major focus of the redevelopments in downtown by the city of San Diego.


convention center

San Diego Coaster

The Coaster is a 41 mile, 8 station, commuter rail operating between Oceanside and Downtown San Deigo.  Service began in 1995 and as of 2006, the system carries 6,000 riders a day.


Oceanside Sprinter

The Sprinter is a diesel light rail line operating between the San Diego suburbs of Oceanside and Escondido.  Completed in 2008, the system runs on 22 miles of pre-existing freight track owned by the San Diego Northern Railroad.  Due to its shared right-of-way with freight trains, Sprinter station platforms are set back from the track to provide sufficient room for employees riding on the sides of freight cars.  This suburban rail line currently has a ridership of 8,308 passengers a day.  At Oceanside Transit Center, the Sprinter connects to three commuter rail lines (the Coaster, Metrolink Orange County, and Metrolink Inland Empire) and Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner regional rail line to access either San Diego or Los Angeles.  For those who believe rail can only work in urban areas, the Sprinter service suggests otherwise.


Amtrak Pacific Surfliner

The Pacific Surfliner is a 350-mile Amtrak corridor service serving the communities of Southern California.  With 3.09 million passengers in fiscal year 2009, this is Amtrak's most heavily-travelled service outside of the Northeast Corridor, and recovers 59.1% of its operating expenses through ticket sales.  Between San Diego and Los Angeles, trains travel in each direction every hour.  Including Oceanside, the Pacific Surfliner makes four stops in the San Diego area and terminates at Union Station in downtown.  The San Diego Coaster commuter rail line makes eight stops along the same corridor.  The Pacific Surfliner and Coaster serve as excellent examples of how an Amtrak corridor service and regional commuter rail can complement each other.


Westfield Horton Plaza

Before it was redeveloped as a shopping center, Westfield Horton Plaza was an actual plaza: a grassy area surrounded by banks of plants and flowers, standing in stark contrast to the buildings around it. It was named for Alonzo Horton, who was largely responsible for the location of downtown San Diego. In the 1960s and 1970s the plaza was a major public transit center, with most public buses that entered downtown having stops there. The entire area was run down by the 1960s, and the plaza was home to a substantial homeless population. Despite the poor condition of the plaza, initial plans to redevelop it into a shopping center were met with some skepticism and resistance.

Westfield Horton Plaza was the $140,000,000 centerpiece of a downtown redevelopment project run by The Hahn Company, and is the first example of architect Jon Jerde's so-called "experience architecture". When it opened in August 1985, it was a risky and radical departure from the standard paradigm of mall design. Its mismatched levels, long one-way ramps, sudden dropoffs, dramatic parapets, shadowy colonnades, cul-de-sacs, and brightly painted facades create an architectural experience in dramatic contrast to the conventional wisdom of mall management. Conventional malls are designed to reduce ambient sources of psychological arousal, so the customers' attention is directed towards merchandise. By making the mall an attraction in itself, Jerde stood this model on its head.

Westfield Horton Plaza was an instant financial success, with 25 million visitors in the first year. Twenty years after opening, it continues to generate the city's highest sales per unit area, in the range of $600 to $700 per square foot ($6500 to $7500/mē)). From an urban planning standpoint, Westfield Horton Plaza is a civic asset that generates pedestrian traffic and shares it with a number of contiguous destinations, paving the way for the revitalization of the Gaslamp District. According to its web site, the mall has been "hailed locally and nationally as an overwhelming success since its opening in August 1985, winning dozens of awards in design, architecture and urban development."

When originally built, the center was anchored by The Broadway, Mervyn's, Nordstrom and J. W. Robinson's. The Robinson's was renamed Robinsons-May in early 1993 and closed in June 1994, being subdivided for shopping and entertainment space. The Mervyn's was closed in 2006.

In 1998 Hahn sold the center to Westfield America, Inc., a precursor of The Westfield Group. It was renamed "Westfield Shoppingtown Horton Plaza" shortly afterwards. The unwieldy "Shoppingtown" name was dropped in June 2005.  Today, the shopping center is anchored by a Macy's and Nordstrom.


San Diego / Jacksonville similarities

- Both are Navy towns

- Both are coastal cities with an abundance of water-related activities

- Neither are the home of a major urban core university.

- Both cities have been engulfed by low density sprawl

A light rail line in the middle of a suburban intersection.

San Diego / Jacksonville contrasts

- San Diego has embraced rail transit. Jacksonville still favors highways.

- Due to a nearby airport, San Diego has no buildings over 500 feet.  Jacksonville has two.

- In San Diego, there are several examples of old buildings integrated with new uses. In Jacksonville, old buildings are routinely torn down.

- San Diego's downtown has benefited from "connectivity." Jacksonville struggles to embrace the concept.

San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter is anchored by the waterfront and convention center on one end, and Horton Plaza on the other.

Transit Tips from San Diego

- Multi-modal Transportation Centers work very well.  In San Diego, Downtown connects Amtrak, commuter rail, trolley, and local bus with Greyhound being two blocks away. At Oceanside, the transit hub is served by Amtrak, commuter rail (San Diego and LA), DMU commuter rail (Sprinter), Greyhound, and local bus.

- Most of the San Diego Trolley light rail system was built very economically with no frills.  Today, the trolley has the highest ridership of any light rail system in the U.S.

- To save on right-of-way acquisition costs, San Diego's trolley shows that downtown stations can use existing sidewalks and be integrated with buildings. Suburban stations can be integrated with or right next to typical strip shopping centers.

- Transit Oriented Developments (TOD) can range in scale and density. In San Diego, three story apartments and townhomes are common at many rail stations.

Source: Wiatt Bowers

Images by Wiatt Bowers

Article by Ennis Davis