By Delle Willett
Over the years, East Village has been a community with strong ties to education, innovation and creativity. A working-class neighborhood rich with industry, it has evolved into a central provider for social services to all of San Diego. In the ’80s and ’90s, artists flocked to the area to establish opportunities for live/work lofts.
About 12 years ago, when CCDC completed the Downtown Community Plan, a project was conceived to fundamentally transform 14th Street from National Avenue to C Street to be more pedestrian friendly. This project, called the 14th Street Promenade, came to life about three years ago when the planning, design, and communications firm of MIG, under the leadership of principal-in-charge and project manager Rick Barrett, worked on a master plan for more than a year with Civic San Diego.
The city of San Diego’s newly created Urban Division will oversee the implementation of the project along with future pedestrian promenades and other street enhancement projects. The 14th Street Promenade, along with five other promenades, were included in the Downtown San Diego Mobility Plan, approved by the city in 2016. The long-term goal of the plan is to boost safety and fight climate change.
The proposed promenade will be along the east side of 14th Street, with an approximate 26-foot pedestrian area that includes a sidewalk and a strolling trail. There are two travel lanes for cars and parking only on the west side of the street. The west side of the street has standard 14-foot sidewalks.
The master plan is based on three branded, context-driven districts that celebrate the past and bring the future of the neighborhood forward, creating an urban trail that is uniquely East Village. “Where history unites with today’s modern working neighborhood and continues to promote innovation, design, education and art,” reads the MIG design narrative.
The four-block Entertainment and Innovation District between J Street and National Avenue will celebrate the history of industry and innovation in San Diego. It will include flexible spaces that can be programmed for varied uses, integrating historical artifacts and interpretive elements.
The four-block Park District between F and J streets will be bookended with the future East Village Green and the existing Fault Line Park. This district will provide a green oasis that connects the two parks.
The three-block Urban Discovery and Play District between C and F streets will encourage discovery and creativity with opportunities to learn, relax and enjoy views toward the bay. Interactive elements are included, representing historical information about San Diego and the East Village.
The first block to be developed is in the Park District, between G and Market streets, with Barrett as lead designer.
In the process of developing a master plan, MIG landscape architects held a series of workshops to hear what the residents of the area wanted.
Said Barrett, “The main thing that we heard from the public was, ‘Don’t make it a homogenous solution over the 11 blocks from C Street to National Avenue. Make it feel like San Diego.’”
For the MIG team, which includes landscape designer Kenya Huezo, the fun part was working with the Sinclair Collection of industrial artifacts collected over the years by East Village visionary Bob Sinclair, an industrial archaeologist. It depicts the rich history of the East Village industrial era and is the largest collection of memorabilia of old East Village. A selection of this collection will be on display along the promenade.
The second block to be developed is in the Park District between Market Street and Island Avenue and is being designed by Schmidt Design Group, Inc. Like the first block, a portion of the existing street on the east side will be captured and repurposed for the green pedestrian promenade.
“This block of 14th Street includes over 13 feet of vertical-grade change, which provides a unique opportunity to celebrate water and the treatment of stormwater within an urban setting,” SDG Principal J.T. Barr said.
A series of weirs and stormwater features will treat runoff before being released into the storm system, and, ultimately the ocean.
According to SDG’s Senior Project Manager Todd Schechinger, “The design of the second block compliments the overall vision and industrial materiality of East Village. We are excited to enhance the pedestrian experience in this neighborhood.”
Continuous promenade elements unite the three districts and include plantings, outdoor furniture, recreation elements, dog stations, streetlights, paving, artwork, interpretive elements, bioswales, and gateway elements.
Plantings: in addition to each district’s plant palettes, the promenade will feature low-growing, low-water-use, low-maintenance, colorful understory plantings. Most of the trees will be canopy trees, creating shade and a green oasis. Planters, hanging baskets and green walls will be used where there is limited space for planting.
Outdoor furniture includes benches, moveable seating, group seating, trash receptacles, and bike racks.
Recreation elements include outdoor exercise equipment and sensory play equipment, climbing rocks and other objects.
Dog stations are placed along the path.
Paving: The sidewalk for people walking quickly will be concrete while the winding urban trail will be decomposed granite.
Artwork is included in the master plan, incorporating permanent and/or temporary art opportunities, and allowing space for innovative, unique art, implemented as funding becomes available.
Interpretive elements that define the neighborhood and represent the historical and cultural importance of the East Village, such as the Bob Sinclair artifacts, will be labeled with signage to provide interest and value to the promenade.
Bioswales will be used throughout the promenade for stormwater collection and cleansing. They will be planted with appropriate plant material and will be a prominent attractive feature of the promenade.
(Vocabulary Lesson: Bioswales are linear channels designed to concentrate and convey stormwater runoff while removing debris and pollution. They are typically vegetated, mulched, or xeriscaped.)
In keeping with San Diego’s history of providing unique gateway elements that help to define neighborhoods, the promenade will add gateway elements that will define the three individual districts.
Minimum improvements on the west side may include porous paving for parking stalls, bulb-outs for all corners and hanging baskets supported from existing light poles.
While it will remove parking spaces on the east side of the street, when the new East Village Green park is completed in 2022, there will be a large parking structure for generous parking.
14th Street was chosen along with five other streets in the Downtown Community Plan to be treated as greenway streets. The other streets are Island and Eighth avenues, and Cedar, E, and Union streets.
14th Street, a designated sustainable “Green Street,” will further the Centre City Green program and will help meet the city of San Diego’s climate action plan goals.
— Delle Willett has been a marketing and public relations professional for over 30 years, with an emphasis on conservation of the environment. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.