Welcome to Viva-city and Downtown San Diego
Sandra Simmons

Life in the City

-by Sandra Simmons

When people walk the streets of Little Italy, every step should be an experience.” - Marco Li Mandri, Little Italy Association, Association Administrator

During the early 1990s, for planning purposes Downtown was divided into eight districts. Only one of those neighborhoods boasted a richly ethnic and authentic culture, not so much due to the nationality of the then current residents, but instead from those who clutched on to the past.

Italian and Portuguese immigrants made Little Italy a thriving community, saturated with food and culture in the beginning of the last century. However, mid-way through, the tuna industry hit hard times, and together with the freeway bifurcation, displacement and blight struck the once family-oriented neighborhood.

Shortly after landing Downtown in 1992, I earnestly began searching for the ideal place to call my own. There were so few choices back then.

One choice was in the Little Italy neighborhood. I saw beyond the chipped paint, boarded storefronts, and cracked sidewalks of the closely spaced historical buildings that lined India Street. The place still had whispered a feeling of intimacy. But after a number of close encounters with seedy individuals, I quickly decided to play it safer and invested in the more established Marina neighborhood.

Had I known the Little Italy neighborhood revitalization that began in 1995 would be so remarkable, perhaps my choice would have be different.

My pace slows now as I stroll through the neighborhood taking in the pastel, yet somehow very vivid colors, reminiscent of summer days and sunsets: watermelon and peach, canary yellow and dusty lavender, pea green and cobalt blue.

Passing enchanting eateries with sidewalk tables, whiffs of garlic and simmering tomatoes float through the air. Listen closely; the romantic words of Italy are spoken by those who are actually Italian, and those of us who just desire to be. Despite the close proximity to the freeway and airplane flight path, you’ll only experience the chimes of Our Lady of the Rosary Church and the sounds of the people.

What if a small band of local shopkeepers who grew up playing in the very streets we stroll hadn’t kept the faith? What if Marco, who was born in Little Italy, hadn’t persuaded those locals that the community could be born again? Would there be a captivating urban village?

I observe…Isn’t every step an experience?

These Little Italy residents share their experience:

Reydeen Brooks (Acqua Vista) is reminded of a small alluring European village when she walks India Street. She uses the words delicious, exciting, sophisticated, yet casual when she recounts her experiences.

Ian Monck (Camden Tuscany) fell in love with the experience of community, feeling immediately at home the moment he moved to the neighborhood.

Lynda Kirby (doma) credits the Little Italy Association for the cleanliness of the environs, particularly after one of the many delightful special events.

The next time you feel disconnected, walk the streets of Little Italy. There you will slow down just a bit, and experience being a little more human and Italian. - April 2007

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