Welcome to Viva-city and Downtown San Diego
Sandra Simmons

Life in the City

-by Sandra Simmons

Every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there. –excerpt from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert goes on to write, “If you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought.”

This concept intrigued me. Upon moving to Downtown San Diego in 1992, I frequently described my new home as paradise; I was quick to note those of us who lived in this strangely hidden yet urban oasis had a perpetual smile on our faces as we confidently traversed our domain. The word of the street was happy.

With the recent influx of people, that earlier word no longer seems quite apt. After considerable thought I was still perplexed.

I decided to ask my neighbors. With pen and pad, I frequented coffee shops and civic and community meetings posing the question, “What is the one word that describes the essence of Downtown?”

Those I queried were equally puzzled. With further prodding, words such as weather, active, leisure, accessible, busy, and urban were expressed.

Weren’t these buzz words (the words on the street) really our common spoken language? Wasn’t the word I was seeking actually the underlying, unspoken collective thought of those who inhabit the area?

I mull over...What is the word “of” our street?

These Downtowners share their thoughts.

Sitting at a patio table in the piazza outside It’s A Grind in Little Italy, Acqua Vista residents Rhianen Aberly and Matt Reynolds were sharing an enjoyable moment. Rhianen described the neighborhood as relaxed.

Overhearing my inquiry to a neighboring table, Geoffrey Eiter (Archstone) caught my attention. Having recently returned to his native San Diego, he found Downtown inviting.

A new resident of Nexus, Sarah Levin feels we are a small town that seeks to be different. She offered the words young and diverse.

Long time resident Gary Smith (Park Row) suggested aspire.

A number of residents submitted the word vibrant: John Cunningham (San Diego Square), Rita Monares (Little Italy), Jenifer Bubenik (Island Village), and Bill Bufalino (Watermark).

I grew increasingly frustrated in search for our word until I realized that Downtown is a work in progress. It’s unfinished, undefined, even now transforming.

From month-to-month, our blocks are continually being modified. Buildings are demolished, excavated parking lots turn into underground garages with residential and office edifices, community plans are revisited and revised.

Even our citizens have altered their lives. Most are transplants from neighboring communities or states. Some are empty-nesters, downsizing from large detached homes, moving into an urban environment for the first time. Some are young professionals seeking a hip, exciting place to live, work, and play. The long-timers silently whisper, what took you so long? All come seeking a fresh start; all are excited about the possibilities.

All come to share in one word: change. The word of our street is change. And even that, too, will change. - March 2007

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