Wide-open spaces

Kris Michell | Downtown Partnership News

Is Downtown San Diego a concrete jungle? Hardly.

In fact, it’s time to take a jackhammer to that old notion.

Open space — both large and small — will be opening up throughout our community in the coming year.

Kris Michell, President and CEO of SDDP

Kris Michell,
President and CEO of SDDP

Just look at what is on tap:

There’s Horton Plaza Park at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Broadway that will provide a gathering spot for the entire region, offering up 200 unique events a year.

Along our waterfront, there is the much-anticipated two-acre park at Lane Field, which will enhance the recently revitalized North Embarcadero and complement the nearby County Waterfront Park.

And in the shadow of a soaring residential high-rise in the heart of the East Village, there is Pinnacle Park, which will soon offer a playground, grassy areas, gardens and shade trees.

And make no mistake: Parks, plazas and open space are serious business — especially in urban areas like Downtown San Diego. Urban parks create community, bolster our economy, improve health and wellness, promote sustainability, and yes, they give us a place to play and relax.

In short, parks and urban open space are the very foundation needed to create a vibrant and world-class Downtown.

So it is clear that we must do more — much more.

We need to ensure that the long-promised East Village Green moves from being an architectural rendering to a reality that serves this growing urban neighborhood.

But when it comes to parks and open space in Downtown, thinking big has its limits. Because space is at a premium in urban areas, we have to get creative and look at all public space — no matter the size — through a different lens. And frankly, some of the big things happening Downtown are small, yet full of impact.

Take for instance, the “pocket park” in East Village.

The Downtown Partnership joined up with HP Investors, the East Village Association and RAD Lab, a design firm, to transform a small parking lot at 13th Avenue and J Street into an innovative and engaging public space.

And the pocket park is not the only parking lot that has been transformed, either. This month, what was once a blighted stretch of asphalt at Park Boulevard and Market Street will become Quartyard — a community gathering spot that will offer food, fun and a dog run — a much-needed amenity for the canine companions of Downtown’s dwellers.

Not to be out done, parking spots are getting in on the fun, too. Last year, the City of San Diego and the Downtown San Diego Partnership sponsored a competition to help deliver a moving parklet, which is a tiny park that can be moved around to parking spots throughout Downtown to create temporary community gathering spots. The winning mobile parklet is in the final permitting stages and will be coming to a Downtown parking space near you later this year.

But we cannot just create space for space sake.

With every park, plaza and open space we build, we have to figure out ways to ensure that there are people-focused places, offering opportunities to engage, connect and create. An empty stretch of grass is not a park. We must be mindful of the design and the function of all our open spaces.

The Downtown San Diego Partnership understands this and that is why we have worked so hard to come up with strategies to enliven our open spaces. Whether it be pop-up concerts, free yoga classes or strolls, we want open spaces that breathe with life and energy.

In Downtown, space may be limited but our creativity is not, and we hope you will work with us to create engaging spaces that serve our residents, our workers and our region.

Have an idea to transform Downtown?

Let us know what areas in Downtown are ripe for some sort of placemaking and park space activation. Public, private, small or large — it doesn’t matter, so long as there is an opportunity to improve the Downtown experience.

Whether it’s your own property or just one you have an idea for, please reach out to Greg Parkington at so that we can continue to do great things Downtown.

—Kris Michell is the president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, a nonprofit, member-based organization that serves as the leading advocate for the revitalization and economic health of Downtown. To learn more about the Downtown Partnership, visit


  1. Chris Forte says:

    I love this article and fully support these efforts. Yet, I must respectfully disagree with the sentence, “An empty stretch of grass is not a park.” I explore natural parks like Tecolote Canyon and Switzer Canyon regularly and not only enjoy, but prefer natural and wild settings as opposed to a developed park, as useful and great as they are. I would love to see some natural wild space left preserved, not just on the edges, but right in the middle of downtown as well if ever possible.

    Thank you.


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