Where there is a lack of public park space in a neighborhood, as is the case in San Diego, often a solution is to convert a school field into a joint-use field. This allows a park to remain open to the public after school hours. In the City of San Diego, the Park & Recreation Department and the San Diego Unified School District have created legal agreements to establish joint-use fields.
Unfortunately, that is only half the solution. What is lacking from many of these joint-use parks is the ability to function as a public park. Take for example Wilson Middle School in City Heights. The entrance to the school is on Orange Ave, at the corner of 38th Street. It once faced El Cajon Boulevard, but the structure was reversed during a period of re-development to become earthquake proof. This left El Cajon Boulevard with an expansive fence line and no available access (because the door remains locked) to the school and the park. In fact, there is only one entrance on Orange Ave, which is difficult to find and limits access to residents living north of El Cajon Boulevard.
Among the many reasons why this joint-use field is a poorly maintained public park is the obvious. The park hosts various soccer leagues, yet lacks permanent infrastructure for playing the game. The only permanent structure on the grass field is a back stop to a non-existent, unused baseball diamond.
Nearly half the park is a hardscape surface with basketball courts and handball courts. According to the joint-use agreement, both the basketball and handball facilities aren’t actually incorporated to what is jointly available to the public after school hours. What is the justification behind that?
In the past five years, City Heights has set new boundaries for what is possible in the realm of urban gardening. To make the most of a joint-use field, schools and neighborhoods around the city would greatly benefit from a thriving garden with tranquil public space to grow food, exercise, improve one’s diet, gather in public, and enjoy the outdoors.
Among the many wishes of the residents in City Heights is a skatepark. In re-imaging the joint-use potential of neighborhood fields, partners from the City’s Park & Recreation Department and San Diego Unified School District should host design charettes. With community feedback, these departments could update each joint-use agreement and create parks that serve the community at large, and strive to build better neighborhoods.
The City’s Pothole Tangent
When Todd Gloria began posting pictures on facebook of newly paved roads around his district, which he proudly refers to as ‘Sexy Streets’, it was evident that he and the city policy had missed out on the large opportunity to fix the complete street. A shiny paved road is not sexy, particularly when the adjacent sidewalk is broken. According to the City of San Diego, the sidewalks are the building owner’s responsibility, but the road is the city’s job. This is a discriminatory measure, simply because their policy favors the automobile over pedestrian activity.
When potholes are reported to the City, they get fixed in as quickly as a day according to the El Cajon Boulevard Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) manager, but when reports come in about necessary sidewalks repairs, they stay at the bottom of the list and likely never get fixed. What is worse, driving over a bump or tripping and falling while walking around a neighborhood? Great neighborhoods are full of vitality when people are walking and engaged in public activities. In order to plan for great neighborhoods, the City of San Diego needs to re-prioritize their policy of how available funds are spent, and focus on fixing and enhancing the pedestrian realm.
Beryl Forman is the Marketing Director for the El Cajon Blvd Business Improvement District, which includes North Park and City Heights. She is currently working on her Master’s degree in City Planning at SDSU.