Tactical Urbanism in San Diego and Tijuana
By Beryl Forman
Building a thriving bi-national region between San Diego and Tijuana is an enormous feat. Based on conversations with practical-minded leaders around bi-national planning, “intentional collaborations and concerted leadership” are the foundation of success. Aside from the largest setback to improve bi-national affairs, which is the border wait time, much can be accomplished on the neighborhood level to lure travel between the region. With a growing interest to establish a vital bi-national region, I believe that in the next few years we must plan for small scale pilot projects, in an effort to establish a framework for collaboration and build positive momentum.
Improving the livability of our urban environments commonly starts in the immediate vicinity of where people live, work, shop and socialize. While large scale planning projects such as transit oriented development have their place, incremental, small-scale street improvements are increasingly seen as a way to garner community interest and support before making significant financial commitments.
Based on a model effort in Portland, Oregon, the City Repair Project created an event called the Portland Convergence, where people work together in neighborhoods throughout the city for ten straight days to construct benches, community kiosks, gardens, street paintings, tile mosaics, and more. Community members bring life to their built environment by carrying out projects that they’ve been planning. They learn important skills around urban sustainability and social equity, while celebrating the creativity and diversity of their city.
The City Repair Project came about when a group of urban activists realized that their city’s colonial grid street structure was hindering the opportunity for random acts of social interaction. As is stated on their website’s History and Bylaws:
“Public spaces and piazzas occur naturally at the intersection of pathways when communities are allowed to grow organically. In cities based on the grid plan, it is much easier for people to feel isolated and not know their own neighbors. The neighborhood places for communication and gathering that develop naturally in non-grid cities must be specifically planned for in grid cities.
The City Repair Project was established to return these important places of communication and participation to our neighborhoods. At City Repair, we see that sustainable communities are built when people work together for mutual benefit. We create and facilitate prototype gathering spaces that can inspire any community to create their own places of gathering.
Our projects are all aimed at building a more community-oriented and ecologically sustainable society – but we can’t do it in your neighborhood if you don’t get involved!”
This grid structure is also diluting the urban environment of San Diego and Tijuana. Let’s take this same model from Portland, Oregon and apply it on a bi-national scale. Already in the region, sightings of tactical urbanism are found in the form of artistic alleyways, community built parks, urban garden, and a desire to build parklets. I recommend selecting five neighborhoods in Tijuana and five neighborhoods in San Diego, and plan for the build out of 10 tactical projects in each neighborhood year after year.
These small scale projects are considered the first phase in an effort to seek lasting change. A Yearly Bi-National Convergence leading up to the Balboa Park Centennial, and further into the future with the opportunity to host the first the first ever Bi-National Olympic is an approach I believe should be taken to showcase the creativity and unique qualities of our city’s diverse neighborhoods and lay the foundation of a world renown Bi-National San Diego-Tijuana Border Region.