Friday, Oct. 24, 2008 | The California legislature recently approved AB32 and SB375, measures described as being designed to address the issues of urban growth and global warming. These two pieces of legislation are the result of the state’s growing concern about the environment and our future quality of life.

No matter how or where we choose to enter the discussion — whether it is public health, energy costs, the carbon footprint, traffic, climate change or water infrastructure — we quickly find that all of these issues are interconnected and interdependent. Things are rapidly changing and it’s important to start addressing these pressing issues now.

Growth in the San Diego is inevitable; it is the boomer generation living longer, with their children and grandchildren adding to the population as they choose to make this region their home. How do we accommodate this growth? Can we provide adequate infrastructure and public services, decent places to live, and quality jobs?

In the past, the region’s growth was accommodated by developing subdivisions in areas far removed from the city. But now, we have run out of land to continue to accommodate growth in that manner. And, the cost of energy and the impact on our quality of life make commuting into Riverside County and East County much less desirable options.

Our best answer is to begin to look inward. Are there locations where selective infill can occur? Are there developments that are no longer suitable for their current uses that can be redeveloped?

The recently adopted city of San Diego General Plan provides guidance for the design of new development and redevelopment that will maintain the character and quality of the communities in which they are located.

Mission Valley is one of the areas in San Diego where selective redevelopment can take place. Currently, the Valley is an eclectic mix of uses adjacent to the San Diego River, which forms a natural spine and framework for the valley. Some people would probably argue that the Valley should have been left as agriculture and open space, perhaps as the open space park first proposed in 1908 by John Nolen in San Diego: a Comprehensive Plan for Its Improvement. But, city fathers did not follow that recommendation; in the 1960s, the city rezoned the Valley for urban development and the first shopping center.

In the early 1990s, the city of San Diego was commended by a national conservation organization for planning Mission Valley in a way that established a framework for making lemonade out of lemons. In particular, the city was recognized for rejecting the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to turn the San Diego River into a concrete-lined flood control channel, for building the trolley line through the Valley, and adding housing to the retail and office mix, which created the foundation for turning the Valley into a neighborhood.

Nevertheless, we are not there yet. We need to make the Valley more walkable, fill in the gaps in the street system, operate the trolley in a way that serves the Valley better, and provide the infrastructure and public services to create a community rather than just a collection of projects.

On Oct. 21, the San Diego City Council in a 7-to-1 vote approved a plan that greatly assists the creation of the Mission Valley community: Quarry Falls.

Quarry Falls is, first and foremost, a replacement for an almost depleted sand and gravel operation and a use that is no longer appropriate in the heart of the city. Still more important, the Quarry Falls Plan is a model of sustainable design. It is one of the LEED neighborhood development pilot projects of the U. S. Green Building Council. It was selected because it implements the concepts of Smart Growth.

The infrastructure improvements totaling nearly $50 million that are part of the plan will go a long way in knitting together this area of the Valley. Quarry Falls exemplifies a quote by architect Michael Willis that the San Diego Economic Development Corporation used to define our housing activities when I was director of Land Use and Housing there:

“We can build lots of houses; but, the danger is in building houses without a total vision. We need to be guided by the understanding that we are creating neighborhoods and that means transportation, schools, and open spaces — communities.”

Sustainable, environmentally-sensitive design is extremely important today, and I am excited that those principles are incorporated into the concept for Quarry Falls. Quarry Falls will provide multi-modal transportation solutions such as pedestrian bridge access to trolley stations, walkable streets, shuttle systems, and jobs close to homes.

Quarry Falls will be a model community. It embodies the type of smart growth and sustainable planning that will ensure a viable future for San Diego and a high quality of life for our current and future residents. The qualities of smart growth and sustainable design are thoughtfully integrated into the Quarry Falls plansnmaking it a community that will serve as a blueprint for future development in Mission Valley and, indeed, for all the region.

Michael Stepner is a professor of architecture and urban design at the New School of Architecture & Design, and an Urban Designer, Stantec Architecture. You can e-mail him at“> Or send a letter to the editor.

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