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San Diego is experiencing noticeable growing pains as we work to accommodate a growing population, develop housing residents can afford and create viable transportation alternatives.

Community plan updates in North Park, Mission Valley, Uptown and other neighborhoods are potentially reshaping our communities for the future and, to comply with the city’s recently adopted Climate Action Plan, the plans will be designed to reduce pollution and reliance on cars. Big changes to the cityscape could be on the horizon.

But change is hard. Proposed infill and density have caused a backlash as communities worry about maintaining their unique character. And they’re right to be concerned. There have certainly been poorly planned developments in the region over the past several decades. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

An architect’s job is to design new buildings, restore and conserve old buildings and develop new ways of using existing buildings. As architects do their jobs, they should aspire to build great neighborhoods. That’s where having a dialogue with the community can help in the design and development process. It’s the citizens – residents and visitors – who make up the life and character of our neighborhoods, and architects need their input to help maintain or improve that.

Architects and city planners need to know what’s important in the fabric of a specific community, as this input helps to guide and inform the design process. The goal should be to develop a built environment that provides form and function that complements and enhances a neighborhood’s existing character.

The San Diego Architectural Foundation’s Orchids & Onions program is a place where San Diegans can have a community-based discussion about development projects. On Oct. 13, the annual awards program will applaud the hits – and recognize the misses – of recently developed projects of all types in our region.

Anyone can nominate a good or bad project through the month of July.

Nominations that have come in already span the region. For example, a project nominated for an Orchid is the downtown’s Celadon at Ninth Avenue and Broadway. The person who nominated it calls it an innovative housing high-rise that with an efficient layout from the foundation to the roof. Across town, the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve Ranger Station is being nominated as an Onion. That project’s nominator calls it a lackluster building that “falls short of its role, which is to serve as a gateway to the large, expansive Los Peñasquitos Park system.

Orchids & Onions is a way to give a voice to the public about the built environment. A real dialogue about what makes our neighborhoods great – and better – will inform the development process. As our city continues to see more people, more cars on the road and more hustle and bustle, we need public involvement to improve what we see and experience on our streets and in our neighborhoods.

Pauly De Bartolo is a principal with DBRDS, president of the San Diego Architectural Foundation and director of the Gaslamp Quarter Association. Perriann Hodges is a designer at Studio E Architects, board member of the San Diego Architectural Foundation and co-chair of the 2016 Orchids & Onions.

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