Demographic data paints a fascinating picture of San Diego’s future. Many of us are already familiar with projections of a regional population increase of 1 million people by 2030. We also know that a considerable amount of the growth will be the result of natural increases in our Hispanic and recent immigrant populations.

Closer examination of the data reveals population trends that will impact land use patterns and should therefore be addressed by urban planners and other policymakers. I’d like to highlight two subsets of the population that I believe are often underserved by the urban planning process. Not only do we need to be cognizant of their needs and plan accordingly, but we also need to make sure that they participate in the decision-making process.

The Economist just posted a summary of piece written by two urban planning demographers at the University of Southern California that draws attention to the tremendous impact of the aging baby-boomers on housing markets nationwide. This is a fascinating topic with significant ramifications for San Diego County which, as we know, is not only a magnet for retirees, but the existing population is also aging. SANDAG projects that the median age of the region will increase from 35 years old in 2007 to 39 years old in 2030. Certain segments in certain locations are aging faster (the Caucasian population in particular).

This will have a profound impact on our physical infrastructure. Aging in place in the suburbs, access to transportation, proximity to health care, affordable housing — these issues manifest themselves differently among senior populations and require different land use policy responses. Many of our neighborhoods are not equipped to best serve the senior population, and we need to plan for this. San Diego should follow the lead of the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Cobb County Board of Supervisors who recently held a symposium for regional stakeholders to discuss land use and transportation issues as they pertain to senior citizens. Long-term planning for our aging population is a strategic investment in our future.

In contrast to those subsets of the population that will experience an aging trend, San Diego also has a sizeable youth population. This is more pronounced among recent immigrant communities. This also raises serious issues about how we conduct our land use planning. The needs of children in the land use planning arena are rarely highlighted, although they are often a byproduct of other policies.

The city of San Diego’s Draft General Plan is notably proactive in its attention to children’s specific needs in the built environment. Missing, however, is a consideration of ways to engage children themselves in the planning process. Kimberley Knowles-Y&ñez, a professor of urban planning at California State University, San Marcos, conducts research on children and the land use planning process. She has found that, in general, children are excluded from the planning process, and efforts to include them vary in depth and scope.

Importantly, we need to educate our children about their physical environment so that they can make meaningful contributions to their communities as adults. Every year, I ask my students in the Urban Studies and Planning Program at UCSD if they studied urban planning or architecture in primary or secondary school. Every year I get the same response — a few hands are raised in a class of approximately 90 students. Just as we are mainstreaming the dialogue on sustainability into our education curricula, so too should we do the same with issues related to our built environment — our physical infrastructure. Professional organizations such as the American Planning Association and the American Institute of Architects have curricula and programs for primary and secondary schools, but they are not widely implemented. Perhaps it would be worth our while to identify additional resources to mainstream these curricula in the San Diego region.

If our children grow up understanding the importance of their physical environment, we will all be the beneficiaries as our communities will ultimately be better places to live.


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