As the city moves forward in making their selection on a development team for the Sports Arena site in the Midway District, in addition to assuring that there is a commitment to substantial affordable housing to meet the California Housing and Community Development Surplus Lands Act, let’s not forget that this 48.5-acre site will become a new San Diego neighborhood. There is no doubt that housing is paramount to this redevelopment project but attention to design, sustainability, nexus to the bay and adjacent communities, equitability and infrastructure, including the finance tools to pay for them, must be a part of the review process.
The pandemic has permanently shifted our neighborhoods. For thousands of years, commerce, transportation, art and architecture have been a part of great city and community building. But in the 21st Century, and post-pandemic, a tectonic shift has occurred where the environment, housing and equity are now as important to a great city as business and culture. In addition to catalyzing more incentives for building equitable communities, the pandemic has accelerated the desire for living where we work and play. This, coupled with climate change mitigation measures, will create the biggest shift in our neighborhoods now and well into the future.
We are already seeing signs that healthy, sustainable, and equitable neighborhoods are gaining steam. People are out in their neighborhoods walking, running, and attending outdoor live concerts. While shopping is now largely online and going to the office is not what it once was, we are changing habits and longing for more personal connections. As we reorient our neighborhoods to fewer cars, less commercial space, reduced parking and less retail, the challenge to repurpose underutilized real estate becomes more pressing. The pandemic has created opportunities for more sustainable and socially just cities.
As the city moves forward in selecting a development team, design needs to be a part of the process for qualifying proposals. The Sports Arena site must implement the goals and recommendations of the Midway Community Plan as it will be the catalyst for other projects in the Midway Community and beyond.
Cities are always changing and evolving. Outdated shopping centers and industrial lands are being repurposed and redeveloped more and more. The Sports Arena site has the potential to be the model for how large infill sites can be redeveloped and for how new neighborhoods for the 21st century can be created. It is critical that this project does not become an island.
An approach that has become very prominent during the pandemic and in how people relate to their neighborhoods is the “15-minute neighborhood” where citizens can access their daily necessities by foot or bicycle within 15 minutes. The Sports Arena site should include design guidelines that connect to all the uses as well as the adjacent communities of Old Town, Mission Bay Park and Point Loma.
Climate action planning needs to be part of rating the proposals. The neighborhood planning process is not new to San Diego. City of Villages, Transit Oriented Development Guidelines, Complete Communities Strategy and most recently the updated Climate Action Plan, will all significantly change our neighborhoods and the pedestrian experience. Coupled with the federal government’s Inflation Reduction Act, which is the largest climate investment in US history, investments in our communities for health and well-being are front and center. Great open space and paths for walking and biking will be key.
Renewable energy and storage facilities can help create a 21st century neighborhood. Developers can tap University of California San Diego’s Energy Storage Innovation Hub for guidance. UC San Diego owns and operates a 50-megawatt world-class microgrid, generating more than 90 percent of its own annual electricity, heating, and cooling needs. Let’s incorporate some of their successful research and technology into this new neighborhood.
Experience in planning and implementing Enhanced Infrastructure Finance Districts, which pay for infrastructure maintenance and housing development, economic development, transportation infrastructure, sewage treatment, and climate adaptation projects, must be required for any team that is selected.
Diversity in types of homes, both rental and for sale, needs to be heavily considered. The affordable housing goals of each proposal make an important contribution to meeting the city’s housing needs but the city must ensure that the housing portfolios meet the diversity of housing needs from singles and families to seniors and the unhoused. Opportunities for low income families to purchase homes need to be integrated into the overall housing program. One of the biggest collective awakenings during the pandemic was how inequities in opportunities for home ownership negatively impacts a family’s ability for wealth building which carries through to their children. This project can be part of a solution to demonstrate how to change that.
The Sports Arena site not only has the opportunity to become a great 21st century neighborhood but also a catalyst for the entire 800 acre Midway-Pacific Highway Community. We encourage the city to look beyond affordable housing unit number only when making their decision on a development team and make sure that the selected team understands what neighborhoods need in the new world we find ourselves in. The development team needs to have deep experience, diversity, a successful track record, an ability to respond to changing climate and equity dynamics and the financial resources and wherewithal to implement. Let’s get this right.