From studying San Diego, five features cities need to grow

A new study of San Diego’s development suggests five factors that lead to city growth:

According to Walshok and Shragge, five major characteristics of civic culture are necessary to move forward:

1) A risk-oriented culture adept at managing uncertainty. A central feature of San Diego’s experimental history and prevalence of small industries is a civic culture and business community that embraces risk.
2) Entrepreneurial talent: Civic leaders, scientists, business professional. San Diego’s long history of creating opportunities for people who want to challenge the status quo or create something new has resulted in an unusually large aggregation of entrepreneurial civic, business, and scientific leaders.
3) Integrative civic platforms. San Diego’s civic culture is highly inclusive, cross-functional and interdisciplinary. Institutions that span the boundaries between communities of ideas and practice have proliferated; in many other regions such entities continue to be siloed.
4) Multiple gateways through which ideas and opportunities can be developed. There is no one Establishment, Inc., in San Diego. There are actually many centers of gravity vis-a-vis leadership and access to resources. San Diego is characterized by an open innovation environment that allows people to easily move among social groups and within hierarchies.
5) A culture of reinvestment: Time and money. The absence of multinational corporations until recently, the century-long reliance on the federal government as a key customer, and the lack of accumulated family wealth have required a civic culture characterized by people investing significant amounts of personal time and resources to achieve civic goals. This is enhanced by the fact that those who come to San Diego stay because of their attachment to the place.

Sounds interesting for two reasons:

1. This sounds like a combination of the creative class bringing in new talent, ideas, and business and a committed growth machine of business and civic leaders. If this works in San Diego, the next question to ask is whether this particular combination and set of circumstances is generalizable to other cities.

2. San Diego doesn’t get much attention in urban sociology. Although it has the 8th largest population in the United States (and 17th largest metropolitan area), it is dwarfed by nearby Los Angeles, is all the way at the corner of the country, and doesn’t stand out for any particular reason outside of fantastic weather.

We had a chance to spend a few days in San Diego a few years ago and enjoyed some of the sights including the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and the USS Midway. Here is the view toward the city from the deck of the USS Midway:


We enjoyed our visit though it required a lot of driving around.

How much does a 21st century city, like San Diego, need a catchy slogan?

A sociologist argues San Diego needs a new slogan for the 21st century:

“San Diego: First City of the 21st Century.”…

Industrial sociologist Walshok, whose book on San Diego as a center of innovation in science, technology and other sectors is due out next year from Stanford University, said this area has a public relations problem — no catchy “narrative” that sells.

“L.A. has the movies, San Francisco has the Gold Rush,” she said. “But I think our capacity to innovate and reinvent is our DNA. That’s what the community has been able to do in the 21st century. It isn’t a process that just happens in the lab. It’s in the ecology of the people, the neighborhoods, the diverse talent … ”

Walshok’s moniker recalls former Mayor Susan Golding’s formulation of a slogan coined in the 1990s, “San Diego: The First Great City of the 21st Century.”

While I get the idea behind the slogan, I’m not sure it really captures the idea of innovation and reinvention.

Looking beyond San Diego, is a slogan necessary for a 21st century city? Does it really encourage business growth from outsiders who see and like the slogan or is it more about people in a community developing a unifying theme that helps bring them together? I suspect it is more of the second. Slogans could help a city establish its own character and this is not unimportant. It might indicate that the local business community has banded together for booster purposes. It could reflect history and aspirations while also highlighting a strength that sets the city apart from other cities. Of course, slogans can be used for marketing purposes but it takes some time and sustained pressure for the concepts to sink in.

Here is a quick summary of a 2005 survey about city nicknames:

In 2005 the consultancy Tagline Guru conducted a small survey of professionals in the fields of branding, marketing, and advertising aimed at identifying the “best” U.S. city slogans and nicknames. Participants were asked to evaluate about 800 nicknames and 400 slogans, considering several criteria in their assessments. The assigned criteria were: whether the nickname or slogan expresses the “brand character, affinity, style, and personality” of the city, whether it “tells a story in a clever, fun, and memorable way,” uniqueness and originality, and whether it “inspires you to visit there, live there, or learn more.”

The top-ranked nickname in the survey was New York City’s “The Big Apple,” followed by “Sin City” (Las Vegas), “The Big Easy” (New Orleans), “Motor City” (Detroit), and “The Windy City” (Chicago). In addition to the number-two nickname, Las Vegas had the top-rated slogan: “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” The second- through fifth-place slogans were “So Very Virginia” (Charlottesville, Virginia), “Always Turned On” (Atlantic City, New Jersey), “Cleveland Rocks!” (Cleveland, Ohio), and “The Sweetest Place on Earth” (Hershey, Pennsylvania).

Outside of Las Vegas, aren’t the more informal nicknames on this list a lot more prominent than the official slogans?

Developing new architectural ideas from Third World slums

Here is an interesting discussion of how some architects are looking to third-world slums for innovations in design:

The lofty vision of “Favela Cloud” touches upon several trends cycling through architecture today. First, it responds to the rising popularity of “architecture for social change,” for which the profession nobly renounces its service to the rich to address the issues of the poor. But the “Cloud” purportedly distinguishes itself from more conventional do-good design because its principle source of inspiration is the slum itself. As eVolo explains, the success of the design hinges on its “additive system that can grow and adapt to its site conditions,” motivated by the existing self-organizing logic of the favela. In other words, the intervention draws from the social and organizational qualities characteristic of the very environment it seeks to improve, a methodology that has its own backstory in architectural discourse, as I’ll explore later. By returning to its point of departure and theoretically folding back into itself, the shiny edifice straddling Santa Marta brings into question if and how architecture can intervene in communities that have developed in the abject absence of a welfare state…

With basic rights to food, potable water, and shelter categorically denied to slumdwellers, decent public architecture is but a pipe dream. Without functioning infrastructure, working sewage systems, proper housing, and designated civic spaces, slum-dwellers are forced to engineer their own systems of order. Waste from the city proper is salvaged in the slums to form constellations of cinderblock shelters fortified with sheets of tin and plastic-bag insulation; the meager space of a home easily and often doubles as a workshop; makeshift marketplaces sprout like weeds in every available space. As urban sociologist Erhard Berner wrote in his 1997 book examining land use in Manila, “Virtually all the gaps left open by city development are immediately filled with makeshift settlements that beat every record in population density.”…

Around the same time when Koolhaas was traveling to Lagos, San Diego-based architect Teddy Cruz was visiting Mexico’s border towns with a similar resolve to study under-the-radar urban phenomena. Cruz observed in Tijuana how developers were importing a superficial image of the American dream across the border in the form of cheap, miniature replicas of the suburbs. “What I noticed is how quickly these developments were retrofitted by the tenants,” Cruz told the New York Times, bringing attention to the makeshift mechanics’ shops and taco stands that quickly took over front lawns and the spaces between the homogenous suburban shells. Here along the border, the ersatz American utopia could not help but evolve into something much more layered and complex.

Cruz studied the individuated forms and programs and exported these lessons back across the border to suburban San Diego, where he was working on a design for a residential development for Latino immigrants. His resulting prototype weaves 12 affordable housing units, a community center, offices, gardens, and spaces for street markets and kiosks into a concrete frame. “In a place where current regulation allows only one use, we propose five different uses that support each other,” Cruz explains in an article for Residential Architect Magazine. “This suggests a model of social sustainability for San Diego, one that conveys density not as bulk but as social choreography.”

Combining technical and theoretical expertise with how people “live on the ground” seems like it could be a winning combination. It is one thing to impose a particular design or program on a group and another to work with them and utilize their own expertise. This can require some humility on the part of trained professionals…it would be interesting to know how this is viewed within the broader discipline of architecture.

I’ve highlighted Cruz’s work before.

An architect places the McMansion in a box of mirrors

An architect recently spoke at Dartmouth and discussed his thoughts about McMansions:

Cruz showed the audience his representation of “McMansions,” or luxury suburban residences, which have become a large part of the ideal American home. Cruz’s “McMansion,” exhibited at museums throughout the nation, is a small plastic model home placed in a box of mirrors. The image repeats into infinite space, epitomizing the monotony of traditional suburban landscapes.

Alternatively, citizens can come together to create new plans for their neighborhoods, Cruz said.

“The mythology of the American dream of ownership has become unsustainable,” Cruz said. “We need to rethink ownership, and rethink how a small house can become a small village.”

Cruz is well-known for his research on the Tijuana-San Diego border and most recently received the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award, which recognizes leaders’ efforts to improve economic opportunities. He is currently a public culture and urbanism professor at the University of California, San Diego, where he co-founded the Center for Urban Ecologies.

It sounds like Cruz defines McMansion in these ways: they are luxury homes, meaning they are expensive and have a lot of features, and they are monotonous (“cookie-cutter”) when placed with a bunch of similar houses in a neighborhood.

Here is a little more about Cruz’s 2008 work titled “McMansion Retrofitted” at the San Francisco Art Institute that emphasizes the spaces created in the suburbs by recent Mexican immigrants:

McMansion Retrofitted, 2008
Plastic model, pedestal with mirrors, and two videos
Courtesy of Estudio Teddy Cruz…

The areas of San Diego that have been most impacted by this nonconforming urbanism are concentrated in its first ring of suburbanization. At a moment when developers and city officials are still focusing on two main areas of development—on one end, the redevelopment and gentrification of the downtown area and, on the other, the increasingly expansive suburban sprawl resulting from an equally high-priced real estate project supported by an oil hungry infrastructure—it is the older neighborhoods of San Diego’s midcity that remain depressed and ignored. It is here in the first ring of suburbanization that immigrants have been settling in recent years, unable to afford the high rents of the downtown area’s luxury condos or the expensive “McMansions” of the new suburbs, though providing cheap labor for both.

Interesting – Cruz’s preferred neighborhoods sound quite vibrant and diverse. You can read more here about Cruz’s thoughts on how immigrants are changing neighborhoods in San Diego. Also, Cruz has in the past been involved with converting McMansions to multi-family housing (though this home is 70,000 square feet – more of a mansion or a castle).

All the world’s a fair use

If you’re out in San Diego sometime during the next month, you might want to check out a staging of a 2009 play written about the copyright concept of fair use:

The play “Fair Use” borrows from the romantic epic “Cyrano de Bergerac.” [Wikipedia backgrounder] It also borrows from a legal doctrine about borrowing….It becomes a plot point in “Fair Use” when an author is sued for supposedly appropriating the work of another writer without permission. The “Cyrano” angle comes in when a love triangle sprouts at the Chicago law firm representing the writer.

As reviewer James Herbert dryly notes,

It would be ironic (and yet pretty good theater, in a way) if a stage show that meditates on the violation of copyright got hauled into court for that very offense. But not to worry: “Cyrano” is long since in the public domain.

That is almost too bad.  For my money, it’s nice when art imitates life.  For your money, the show is $31-33.  However, if you go see it on March 7, it’s pay-what-you-can.