City Heights: Up Close & Personal

A weekly SDFP column by Anna Daniels

city heights up closeIn her own words: “It is the distillation of my experiences and observations of the confounding, sometimes dazzling and always changing urban landscape that I call home.”

“We are children of our landscape; it dictates behaviour and even thought in the measure to which we are responsive to it.” Lawrence Durrell, Justine

“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.” Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

You can subscribe to City Heights: Up Close & Personal and get an email whenever a new article in this series is posted.

Thumbnail image for The Ferguson Missouri Public Library: A Clean Well-Lighted Place within the Chaos

The Ferguson Missouri Public Library: A Clean Well-Lighted Place within the Chaos

by Anna Daniels 11.26.2014 Activism

“We will do everything within our power to serve our community.  Stay strong and love each other.”

By Anna Daniels

The news and images out of Ferguson Missouri have been grim.  Whether the perception is accurate or not, there is a sense that Ferguson is boarded up, parts are burned down, schools are closed and even the safe havens have not been safe from the encroachment of tear gas.

And then there is the Ferguson Missouri Public Library, which has stayed open and will stay open as long as library staff feel that their patrons are safe there.  This is a remarkable act of commitment to the democratic foundation of our public libraries– citizen access to information and resources in safe spaces that welcome and serve everyone.

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Ferguson’s Smoldering Fires

by Anna Daniels 11.25.2014 Activism

By Anna Daniels

It came as no surprise when St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced that police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted for the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown this past August.

Ferguson’s African American residents expected the announcement, the local and state government was preparing for it and arrangements were made well in advance for the local, national and international media to cover it.

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Thumbnail image for Whose Park?  City Heights Struggles to Define “Our” Park

Whose Park? City Heights Struggles to Define “Our” Park

by Anna Daniels 11.24.2014 Activism

Engagement and resistance at City Height’s Park De La Cruz

By Anna Daniels

This month’s City Heights Park and Recreation Council meeting took a surprise turn when over fifty attendees, mostly young people wearing blue Mid-City CAN tee shirts, arrived to speak during the non-agenda comment section of the meeting.

These skate park advocates and their supporters had hoped to address the neighborhood concerns and opposition that had recently sprung up about the planned skate park element at Park De La Cruz. They hoped that in doing so the rec council would proceed with the scheduled design meeting on December 4 as planned.

District 9 Council Member Marti Emerald announced in July that the allocation of $4.5 million in state Department of Housing and Community Development monies was sufficient to design and construct skate parks in City Heights and Linda Vista.

The second design phase meeting for Park de la Cruz skate park modifications was scheduled for December, but the Park and Recreation Council decided to postpone that meeting and hold a community hearing on the skate park issue instead. Was this an attempt to shift the conversation from how to proceed to whether to proceed?

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Thumbnail image for After the Wars, City Heights

After the Wars, City Heights

by Anna Daniels 11.12.2014 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

By Anna Daniels

Why does City Heights physically look the way it does and why does it have such distinctive demographics? The case can be made that City Heights has been shaped both by design–the adoption of the Mid-City Plan in 1965– and by happenstance in the form of the fall of Saigon one decade later.

The Mid-City Plan provided a blueprint of sorts for stimulating business and commercial growth that is reflected in the built environment.  The fall of Saigon and the subsequent resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees in City Heights also became a blueprint of sorts for influencing the ever changing demographics of the individuals who would move within the built environment.

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Thumbnail image for The Day after the Elections: Same as It Ever Was?

The Day after the Elections: Same as It Ever Was?

by Anna Daniels 11.05.2014 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

By Anna Daniels

Wednesday dawned in City Heights much like every morning here, with the cough and sputter of cars starting, the occasional twitter of birds, a siren shrieking on El Cajon Boulevard. Kids will pass by the house on their way to school.

There is no indication on 45th Street that four billion dollars had been dumped into national and local elections nor that a majority of the electorate– close to 70% in California– had decided to sit this one out.

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Thumbnail image for MTS Ad Policy: Incoherent, Inconsistent and Anti-Democratic

MTS Ad Policy: Incoherent, Inconsistent and Anti-Democratic

by Anna Daniels 10.27.2014 Activism

San Diego’s publicly funded transit system bites the hand that feeds it

By Anna Daniels

MTS- you are a craven, pathetic mess. When Alliance San Diego launched a non-partisan effort to increase awareness about elections in communities with historically low voter turnout like my community of City Heights, they approached San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) with the intention of buying printed bus ads.

The ads would include the message Vote for San Diego, along with the date of the election. Images of native San Diegans were included with motivational messages such as “Vote for what’s best for your community.”

Did I say that Alliance San Diego’s intention was to buy bus ads? They weren’t asking for a public service freebee. MTS declined the request and herein lies the tale of how our publicly funded, public benefit agency proceeded to simply make sh*t up.

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Thumbnail image for Moonstruck!  Watching the Lunar Eclipse in San Diego

Moonstruck! Watching the Lunar Eclipse in San Diego

by Anna Daniels 10.08.2014 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

By Anna Daniels

Did you see the moon earlier this morning? At 3 am, when I rousted myself out of bed, it was already Part Deux of San Diego’s total lunar eclipse –the moon glowed a reddish umber behind the earth’s shadow. It was mysterious and somewhat confusing –the “rabbit” in the moon that was so clearly visible when I went to bed earlier had disappeared.

Holding coffee cups in one hand and binoculars in the other, My Beloved and I sat on the side of the house craning our necks upward. Watching an eclipse from start to finish is the cosmic equivalent of watching paint dry–long moments of nothing seeming to happen, then voila! the moon is occulted. Or it is whole again, a shining coin pulled from night’s pocket.

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Thumbnail image for What Does City Heights Lose when Albertsons Closes?

What Does City Heights Lose when Albertsons Closes?

by Anna Daniels 01.22.2014 Activism

The importance of keeping the public benefit issues alive when redevelopment is dead

By Anna Daniels

On January 15 Councilmember Marti Emerald released a statement about the imminent closure of the Albertsons store and pharmacy in the City Heights Retail Village. This announcement took the community by complete surprise. While it is true that “This planned closure of a major retailer is unfortunately a common story in older, low income neighborhoods…,” this particular Albertsons is part of a unique, extensive redevelopment effort in City Heights.

Albertsons opened in 2001, has a large footprint, carries fresh produce, is clean and well lit and includes the kinds of onsite services within the store that one associates with its more suburban (read successful) counterparts– Starbucks, deli, bakery as well as services tailored to City Heights tastes and needs.

It is frankly difficult to perceive how this particular store fits into the “common story” narrative.

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Thumbnail image for Us He Devours: Government by Crisis, a Shutdown in Wartime

Us He Devours: Government by Crisis, a Shutdown in Wartime

by Anna Daniels 10.09.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

By Anna Daniels

It is easy to imagine that the Republican hostage taking in Congress is little more than a great deal of sound and too much fury that signifies nothing to ordinary people living ordinary lives outside of the Beltway. The words “shutdown” and “default” don’t enter into conversations very often here, John Boehner is an unknown and that is perfectly fine with the madmen and madwomen who are much more concerned about being disrespected, waiting for the end time and the perfect photo-op.

The people who live here on 45th Street keep talking about the same things they have been talking about for the past five or six years– they are looking for full time work that pays a livable wage, affordable housing, health care and enough money to get the car fixed and buy school clothes for their kids. There is also an urgency for the children who were brought into this country without documents to receive legal status through the Dream Act.

It is easy to imagine that these two worlds don’t intersect, but that is not the case at all.

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Thumbnail image for Travelers on the Street of Dreams

Travelers on the Street of Dreams

by Anna Daniels 10.02.2013 Activism

“My challenge is to finish high school as a teenage Mom”

By Anna Daniels

Once a year Teresa Gunn, artistic director and founder of Street of Dreams, stands before a full house in the City College Saville Theatre and opens the student performance with these words:

We have the highest prison population that we have ever had in the history of the country. At Street of Dreams we are not willing to put another generation of people in prison because we lack the humanity to produce a creative solution. The solution is education and community collaboration. Street of Dreams is part of the solution.

Street of Dreams has been part of that solution since its founding in 1998, when Teresa Gunn recognized that the power of story telling and arts education could provide a path out of poverty and inter-generational incarceration and addiction for young mothers who had found themselves in the juvenile justice system.

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Thumbnail image for King Tut in City Heights

King Tut in City Heights

by Anna Daniels 09.11.2013 Business

Egyptian Revival Architecture on Euclid Avenue

By Anna Daniels

It is difficult to imagine the excitement and personal interest in Egyptian antiquities that Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamen’s 3,000 year old tomb engendered in 1922. A series of sealed chambers were filled with so many funerary objects that it took days to remove them on stretchers. The final chamber which included the nested sarcophagi of the “Boy King” was filled with dazzling gold and blue adornments and objects provided for Tut’s journey into the after life. Carter had hit the archeological mother lode.

The discovery of the tomb was significant for Egyptologists and it also caught the imagination of the European and American public. Travels to Egypt to view the antiquities became even more popular. Jewelers recreated designs found in the tomb. Scarab rings and brooches became fashionable.

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Thumbnail image for City Heights Prepares for Obamacare: How Outreach Will Affect Enrollment

City Heights Prepares for Obamacare: How Outreach Will Affect Enrollment

by Anna Daniels 09.04.2013 Activism

By Anna Daniels

While Republicans are busily obstructing and attempting to de-fund (but not replace) Obamacare, California has been gearing up for the day when a significant number of its 7.1 million uninsured residents under the age of 65 can sign up for health insurance on the State’s health care exchange. That day is October 1, 2013. The insurance itself will go into effect on January 1, 2014. All Americans must be insured by tax time next year or face a penalty – 1 percent of their annual income or $95, whichever is higher.

There is a great deal at stake here in City Heights for making the enrollment period a success. There is a great deal at stake here in City Heights for making the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) a success. There is a higher percentage of uninsured adults and children in City Heights than the county and state averages. There are fewer working adults in City Heights with insurance coverage–only 49% compared with 65% of county residents. This translates into lower levels of preventive and routine health care access– the very things that Obamacare will provide. “All new health plans must cover essential health benefits such as doctor visits, hospitalization, emergency care,maternity, pediatric care for your kids and prescriptions,among other services. “

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Thumbnail image for Summertime City Heights: Variations on a Planetary Theme

Summertime City Heights: Variations on a Planetary Theme

by Anna Daniels 08.21.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

Perfumed Nights, Skunks, Spiders, Clouds, Bird Calls and Kittens

By Anna Daniels

Spring is all about sex and sugar. The birds, skunks, opossums and cats were doing “it” while the vegetative world turned green, tendrilled and flowering. Summer on the other hand is about flight and foraging, storing up and going to seed, with more sex thrown in just because that’s how it works for spiders. And that’s how it works for cats, to my great dismay.

All this happens here in City Heights, in this flat, densely populated, concrete covered place. This summer has held surprises, variations on the planetary theme of long warm sunshine filled days. Even here in the city we live within a natural world that is shaped by the cycle of seasons.

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Thumbnail image for City Heights, Where the Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

City Heights, Where the Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

by Anna Daniels 08.14.2013 Activism

Transit Dependent Communities, Social Equity and Environmental Justice

By Anna Daniels

There is no trolley route through City Heights. This deficiency is not for a lack of trying. In the early 1990’s residents were advocating for significant mitigation to the construction of I-15 through the community. The proposed mitigation included the construction of a trolley line in the center of the freeway that would efficiently carry City Heights residents north and south to their jobs and concentrated employment centers.

The short story is that the steep freeway incline/grade made a trolley route infeasible. So while the heavily transit dependent community of City Heights does not have a trolley, it does have buses and will continue to rely upon buses. If you can get past trolley envy, buses become the workable solution to transit needs.

For decades, the highest bus rider ship in the whole Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) has been on the Number 7 bus. This one bus route carries a whopping 3,903,109 passengers annually. To put this in perspective, the Green and Orange trolley lines each record around seven million passengers annually. The Number 7 bus is a plodding workhorse, definitely not a racehorse.

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Thumbnail image for Welcome to City Heights!

Welcome to City Heights!

by Anna Daniels 08.07.2013 Activism

By Anna Daniels

It is hard to make generalizations about a community with over 75,000 residents. It is even harder to make generalizations about a community in which 41% of the residents are foreign born and those residents were born in over thirty different countries. City Heights must be understood in bits and shape shifting pieces.

To understand City Heights, it must be rolled across the tongue and savored in the local markets and restaurants. It must be heard in the cacophony of buses, street vendors, garbage trucks, music from quinceañeras and children’s voices. It must be felt on an early morning canyon walk.

The San Diego Free Press focus on City Heights will be delivered up over the next month as a fragmented incomplete narrative. Twenty-one percent of the residents here speak no or little English. It is a daunting challenge to provide a way for myriad disparate voices to be heard. In the upcoming weeks we’ll be covering a variety of topics and people.

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Thumbnail image for Mayor Bob Filner and the Shame that Has No Name

Mayor Bob Filner and the Shame that Has No Name

by Anna Daniels 07.24.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

By Anna Daniels

When Bob Filner was campaigning for mayor last year, he was a visible presence in City Heights. He showed up to support public transit initiatives; he attended the rally calling for George Zimmerman to be charged with murder in the death of Trayvon Martin.

Filner listened to mid-city youth advocating for a skate board park and free bus passes for low income students to get to school and work. He listened to taxi drivers advocating for livable wages and safe working conditions and called for additional library hours. He recognized the importance of streetlights and supported the needs of vets and the homeless.

These are all tangible meaningful issues in City Heights. For the first time in my memory, a mayoral candidate acknowledged not only the importance of our government in addressing these needs, but our government’s ability to do so–right here in City Heights.

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Thumbnail image for Tying Up Loose Ends: Around City Heights, Jacaranda Weather, Too Many Cats and This Very Old House

Tying Up Loose Ends: Around City Heights, Jacaranda Weather, Too Many Cats and This Very Old House

by Anna Daniels 06.05.2013 Activism

By Anna Daniels

I’m taking a month off from writing my weekly column and will return July 10. Next week I will start working on projects that have piled up inside and outside our aged house–more on that below–and nothing will get done once the weather turns hot.

City Heights News–the very good, the good and too soon to tell… City Heights will be getting its first skate park plaza! The Central Avenue Mini-Park and Skate Plaza in City will include a tot lot, a playground for older children, small open turf area for passive recreation, a plaza with games, landscaping, and relocation of trees.

This is the very good news-construction will begin in October 2014 and the park will be open to the public in November 2015. Congratulations and thanks to the amazing skateboard community, Mid-City CAN, Council members Marti Emerald, Todd Gloria and Mayor Filner.

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Thumbnail image for Where Will Taxi Drivers, Hotel Maids, Grocery Clerks, School Aides and Retired People  Live?  A City Heights–Golden Hill Conversation

Where Will Taxi Drivers, Hotel Maids, Grocery Clerks, School Aides and Retired People Live? A City Heights–Golden Hill Conversation

by Anna Daniels 05.29.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

The San Diego Free Press neighborhood focus during the month of May has been on Golden Hill, one of San Diego’s oldest communities. One of the most visible elements of Golden Hill is the elegant old mansions that comprise the historic district.

These mansions are a tangible reminder of individual wealth and power amassed in years past. Today, many of those mansions are still owner occupied, while some have been divided into rental units; others are now attorney offices or operated as half-way houses. These disparate uses reflect a more nuanced story about wealth, power and changing demographics in Golden Hill today.

I spent a few hours walking around Golden Hill, not along the historic or commercial district, but along one particular side street off of 25th Street that has been beckoning to me. I set off down a steep hill and explored streets that dead ended at the 94 Freeway or on the other end, at a flight of steps up to Broadway.

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Thumbnail image for Budget Matters:  The One Minute Citizen Goes to City Hall

Budget Matters: The One Minute Citizen Goes to City Hall

by Anna Daniels 05.22.2013 Activism

…because it is important to say “Yes.”

By Anna Daniels

Final Public Hearing on the Fy’14 Budget
Wednesday May 22, 2013 6PM- 9PM
202 C Street, City of San Diego Public Administration Building
12th floor City Council Chambers

Wednesday May 22 is the last day to provide public testimony about Mayor Filner’s budget before the San Diego City Council. This is the third and final public budget hearing. Inside I’m going to give readers a few reasons why they should make an appearance.

The past decade has been a tough one for San Diego residents. The Wall Street meltdown in 2008 was piled on top of the city’s long term structural deficits. In addition, there has been an effort to make government so small that it can be drowned in a bathtub. City Heights is one of a number of San Diego communities that was thrown out with the bath water.

Those of us who provided testimony at past budget hearings were there to say “no” to the budget presented by then Mayor Sanders. This year we have the opportunity to say “yes” to a budget.

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Thumbnail image for Do We Have the Will to Invest in Our Children? City Heights Youth Take the Lead for Free Mid-City Student Bus Passes

Do We Have the Will to Invest in Our Children? City Heights Youth Take the Lead for Free Mid-City Student Bus Passes

by Anna Daniels 05.15.2013 Activism

By Anna Daniels

Adults have historically established the parameters and content of public policies as they relate to children. The results in recent years have been ghastly as local and state governments have been starved of revenues by virtue of the economy. Conservatives are using the spending cuts necessitated by a weak economy to advance their ideology of small government, hoping to impose a permanent state of austerity on governmental entities.

One in five kids in this country lives in poverty. The ticket out of poverty has been access to quality education and the availability of jobs that provide economic security. Neither of these conditions are currently being met. The kids living in poverty now may very well spend their whole lives in poverty.

There has been an astounding sea change in City Heights as youth themselves have taken an informed and powerful lead in shaping public policy that affects their lives and their families. Mid-City CAN has been pivotal in mentoring and providing a platform for that leadership.

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Thumbnail image for The Continuing Long Hard Slog for Streetlights in City Heights

The Continuing Long Hard Slog for Streetlights in City Heights

by Anna Daniels 05.10.2013 Activism

By Anna Daniels

There isn’t any mystery as to why residents expect to have streetlights in their respective communities. It’s important to be able to see where you are walking at night; streetlights are an essential element of crime deterrence; and they contribute to our perceptions of personal safety.

City Heights is a transit dependent community and residents don’t tend to work bankers hours. Many of my neighbors go to work while it is still dark or return home when it is dark. Many of these commuting workers are women working in the hospitality and food service industries or providing in home personal care.

This is also a community that sustains elevated incidents of assault, robbery and break-ins. City Heights should be one of the best lit neighborhoods in the City of San Diego simply on the basis of need and yet it is unfunded $26 million for streetlights.

The City of San Diego does not get a free pass on this issue because of the economy. City Heights was starved of streetlights twenty five years ago when I moved here and it is still starved of that critical infrastructure investment. That real story here has little to do with the economy.

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Thumbnail image for The Incredible Lightness of Being Able to Understand Mayor Filner’s 2014 Budget

The Incredible Lightness of Being Able to Understand Mayor Filner’s 2014 Budget

by Anna Daniels 05.01.2013 Activism

Community Power Affecting Budget Decisions that Impact Our Neighborhoods

by Anna Daniels

It is highly unusual for a group of strangers to smile broadly at each other and enthusiastically confess that the workshop they had just attended on how to read the City’s Capital Improvement Budget had been really interesting and very worthwhile. That is exactly what happened a few weeks ago when I got into the elevator with a group of people with whom I had just attended the Community Budget Alliance‘s hands on budget workshop held in City Heights.

It’s budget season! The total City Of San Diego budget is a whopping 2.7 billion dollars, with 1.1 billion dollars allocated to the General Fund, which is where the rubber meets the road in providing core services to residents- police and fire, libraries and recreation. Another 363 million dollars is allocated to the Capital Improvement Program.

This is the annual budget exercise to determine how well our need for safe, sustainable and livable neighborhoods will be met. Mayor Filner has made neighborhood services a top priority, which includes the revitalization of our neighborhood infrastructure. As residents, we should do much more than wait and see what happens– we should be informed and involved.

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Thumbnail image for A Freeway Runs Through It:  A City Heights-Barrio Logan Conversation

A Freeway Runs Through It: A City Heights-Barrio Logan Conversation

by Anna Daniels 04.24.2013 Activism

Resistance, Vision and Community

By Anna Daniels

Chicano Park exists in Barrio Logan because of the construction of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and the loss of property and displacement of lives that it caused. The community responded in a powerful, unique way. Residents couldn’t stop the construction, but they did lay claim to the land beneath the immense concrete pillars that enabled travelers above to make their way across the Coronado Bridge, oblivious to the transformation occurring below them. The land that was being readied for a California Highway Patrol substation was re-claimed as a long promised park. The reclamation began as a twelve day occupation that involved hundreds of people.

City Heights was likewise changed forever when eight city blocks along 40th Street- people’s homes and businesses–were scoured from the face of the earth in the early 1990’s to make way for the last connecting link of I-15, which extends from Canada to Mexico. City Heights would become a scorched earth community divided by an enormous ditch in keeping with Caltrans signature construction style.

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Thumbnail image for Why Do You Have a Fence in Front of Your Home?

Why Do You Have a Fence in Front of Your Home?

by Anna Daniels 04.10.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

Thoughts on defensible spaces and private places

By Anna Daniels

A few days ago I realized that every single piece of residential property on my City Heights block, save one, has a fence and or a gate between the residence and the street. The business at the end of the block is also completely fenced.

I only became conscious of this fact after spending a number of hours last month walking along the side streets north of University Avenue a few blocks east and west of 30th Street in North Park. This area looks in many ways like the City Heights side streets off of University Avenue, farther to the east, where I now live. There are the same generic craftsman style detached houses and two story multi-unit apartments and condos, for the most part built more recently.

But these North Park side streets look different aesthetically in terms of the colors of paints utilized and kinds of landscaping; and they look different in terms of overall appearance than the area where I live. I was really struck by the fact that so many of the residences in this part of North Park, close to a busy commercial area, still do not have fences in front of the property.

So why are there so many fences in some parts of San Diego, and less or so few in others? Why are there so many more fences in the mid-city areas than there were thirty years ago, when I moved here? Do fences make good neighbors? Do fences make good neighborhoods?

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Thumbnail image for San Diego Street Trees:  My Love-Hate Relationship with Palm Trees

San Diego Street Trees: My Love-Hate Relationship with Palm Trees

by Anna Daniels 04.03.2013 Activism

A requiem for the palm at the end of the mind

Street trees in urban areas are important. They provide a human scale to our surroundings and soften the mind numbing linearity of vast expanses of concrete. They clean the air we breathe and provide much appreciated shade. On an often unconscious level they impact our feelings about a street or neighborhood’s economic status and safety, which is to say its desirability as a place to walk or live.

A specific iconic tree can define where we live on a particular street or in the city of San Diego itself. For many residents of Ocean Beach, that iconic image is of a Torrey Pine. I can remember a spectacular late afternoon descent over the downtown cityscape which had been turned into a massive violet bouquet of blossoming jacaranda. And of course, there are the eucalyptus in Balboa Park and lining Park Boulevard.

But the ultimate iconic image in San Diego is of palm trees. A line of sixty foot palm trees silhouetted against the sky is a stirring sight, but it can only be appreciated from a distance and therein is the palm tree problem. Walking under or close to them day in and day out is a sure way to kill your palm tree passion.

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