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(Editor’s Note: Adrian Florido and Sam Hodgson are getting to know a different San Diego neighborhood daily. They’re spending Tuesday in Rolando.)

About 10 years ago, Henry Clay Elementary School in Rolando got a new sign, which welcomed visitors not only in English, but also in Spanish, Vietnamese, Khmer and Thai.

Administrators recognized that Rolando was changing from a once largely white neighborhood to an increasingly multi-ethnic one, as the diverse population of nearby City Heights trickled east.

Rolando is the easternmost neighborhood in San Diego’s Mid-City area, tucked between La Mesa and San Diego State University. Construction started in the 1920s but wasn’t completed until after World War II, and its curving streets, hilly topography and tree-lined sidewalks made it attractive to families in search of suburban calm.

Like many of San Diego’s oldest suburbs, Rolando still has families who have lived there since the few decades following World War II. But like many, it is witnessing an internal demographic shift as older residents die or move away and are replaced by young families.

Jan Hintzman, who has lived there for more than 40 years and been active in Rolando’s community council, said the trend has been toward a more ethnically diverse community. The neighborhood has particularly attracted families with an interest in gardening, she said, because houses in Rolando have generally larger yards than in other city neighborhoods.

“A lot of these younger families have been moving in with their good ideas about sustainability,” she said, including a woman who gives gardening courses.

Yali Mei, a Chinese man, moved into Rolando with his son’s family and transformed their modest house’s front yard. He terraced it with planting beds and now grows row after row of fragrant basil, which he sells to supermarkets.

Pedro Alvarado, a Peruvian horticulturist, moved to Rolando with his wife and young son last year. On Tuesday he was just finishing planting the last of the fruit trees he’s been installing as he turns his backyard into an edible landscape.

“As a horticulturist, it was important to have a house that has a pretty good sized backyard,” he said. “I’m a little concerned with the quality of food you buy at the store.”

Like many of the neighborhoods within close proximity to SDSU, those large lots became something of a liability for a time, as the university’s growing population created an ever-larger demand for student housing. Rolando is farther away from the university than the College Area or El Cerrito neighborhoods, but longtime residents there also lobbied against the proliferation of so-called “mini-dorms,” or single-family homes converted or expanded to house multiple students, Hintzman said.

The city recently implemented more stringent restrictions on those kinds of conversions, which Hintzman said have given active residents a measure of relief that Rolando will remain quiet and at times quirky, a community where more soothing land uses like gardens can flourish.

On Tuesday, Mei, who speaks little English, was standing outside his home rolling out some protective netting for his basil crop. It’s packed in tight and makes his front yard look more like a commercial farm.

“It’s good, huh?” he asked.

I’m reporting from Rolando today as I explore a different San Diego neighborhood each day this week. Have a story idea for me? Email me at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or call me at 619.325.0528 and follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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