Welcome to Viva-city and Downtown San Diego
Sandra Simmons

Life in the City

-by Sandra Simmons

You’ve come a long way baby, to get where you've gotten to today. – advertisement campaign, circa 1968-1986.

Seedy places entice me. Seedy industrial and urban places, that is. I remember the delicious thrill of rollerblading through East Village in the early 90s when one didn’t venture east of 6th.

The luring call of cities’ underbellies became apparent when I lived in Portland, oh so many years ago. A rush of exhilaration would fill me as I bicycled through the dark and quiet cobblestone streets, brimming with dilapidated warehouses and rail yards of the northwest quadrant of Downtown.

On my recent journey back home to Oregon, I revisited the area of my past exciting escapades. The area is still edgy, but in a much different way now. The Pearl District (as it’s now known), is the west coast version of Manhattan’s urban, hip SOHO neighborhood.

Verdant flourishing green trails zigzag through a mixture of contemporary steel and glass façade condominium buildings and century-old warehouses now converted into trendy lofts. The skyline takes my breath away.

Local designer boutiques teeming with sophisticated clothing dot the streets. Delightful little eateries serve distinctively scrumptious pleasures. Former loading docks that once held chilling mysteries down narrow cobbled alleyways now house pleasant outdoor cafe seating for coffeehouses and tiny microbrewery pubs. The sidewalk experience is invigorating. A place to walk, even in the rain.

Crammed with art and culture, clever performance spaces, local artisan galleries, and hip jazz clubs, the area’s ambience is rich, diverse, and honest. A mixture of young and old sophisticated professionals enjoy the area’s offerings.

If city residents want to visit Downtown’s epicenter, they hop on a fareless streetcar, thus avoiding the whole car thing.

It’s a resident’s paradise.

One of the things I find remarkable is Portland’s light rail transit and streetcars sharing lanes with automobiles, avoiding dead streets such as our C Street. If they can, why can’t we? Why is their ground floor retail so vibrant, so filled with the desired uncommon? Is the ground floor rent more reasonable?

I wonder….Have we lost our way?

These Downtowners long for more resident-serving businesses.

The Hill (as Cortez neighbors call it) has few businesses. Consequently, we don’t have a place. Neighbors are looking forward to the opening of the Tweet Street Linear Park, creating a place to draw us together. – Rachel Murray, Helena Apartments

As a new resident to Downtown, John Steffey, Alta, finds many convenient services within walking distance. There are times, however, that he longs for a big box retailer that could fit into the character of the neighborhood, appropriately and responsibly.

Joe Drew of Renaissance ponders, “Have you noticed how many storefronts are for lease in Downtown? Do you know what the possibilities could be? We need small mom-and-pop businesses to activate our neighborhoods.”

I just wonder if there is a way within redevelopment law to help small businesses afford to open Downtown, providing residents with amenities to make this truly a livable neighborhood? - October 2007

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