Going Public – San Diego Public Market

On the entrance to the Public Market space

Last Sunday I made my way down to the new San Diego Public Market on National.  It’s a great space with a bright future and it has the potential to really drive change in one of San Diego’s oldest neighborhoods.  The trick, of course, is driving the right kind of change–but what the heck does that mean!?! It’s worth talking about, but first let’s have a look inside the market, shall we?

As of this writing, the Market is open from 9am – 2pm on Sunday and Wednesday.  If you want to figure out how to get here on the trolley (3 blocks away) click here or you can map it from your house here. The address is 1735 National Avenue San Diego, CA  92113.  The cool thing about this being the early days of the market is that there is parking everywhere.  So although it’s a very easy bike ride from downtown, North Park and lots of parts of the city, you can find easy parking if you need it (note: there’s actually a lot right behind the Market where you can park and it’s dedicated for the Market).

So, we got out of the car and bumped into some family who live out in Talmadge–yes, people from all over are coming.  This was a pleasant surprise, as was the guy named Tom who was standing in front of these cool site plans explaining what the future of the Market was to be.  I can’t do it justice, so you can get a full read here.  From what I remember, it will have permanent food stalls, some stalls for fresh fish caught nearby, a test kitchen for classes and restaurants to experiment, jewelry and craft stalls and food truck rally space.  And, which I thought was especially cool, there is a plan to celebrate all sorts of holidays in the great public space–Eid, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and probably others I don’t know about.  This will be a cool way to blend cultures and create interesting interactions between people. The vision Tom laid out sounded very much like they want to create the type of great public space that exists at the Ferry Building in San Francisco or Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver.  Quick aside: I was talking to Chef/Owner Matt Gordon of Urban Solace (in North Park) and Solace and the Moonlight Lounge (in Encinitas) at dinner recently and he was telling me how great it is as a chef to be able to run down on Wednesday and get fresh local supplies.  To hear restaurant owners get excited about the space is nice because it creates almost a backbone of customers that can be supplemented with neighbors and regular San Diegans.

The real potential power of the Market isn’t just in creating “place” in an older community.  It’s also in the creation of an economic engine that doesn’t require a technical background for residents to make, grow or sell items to the public.  The trick, as is often the case when you have a Market where the eggs cost $6/dozen, is creating something that benefits San Diego without involuntarily displacing people who live in the neighborhood.  If neighbors choose to sell their homes as values rise, that is their right.  But for those in rental markets, the issue of keeping available and affordable rental homes is an extremely challenging one.  We can’t–and shouldn’t–force private property owners not to prosper as their property values rise.  As the neighborhood gets more attractive to more people, scarcity is likely to drive rental prices up.  Smarter people than I are trying to find creative ways to minimize these impacts on poor and working class families, but it’s something for which I hope there is a good solution.  A couple interesting potential solutions involve the city purchasing property that it chooses to subsidize or finding a way to capture some of the value of new public infrastructure improvements on the surrounding properties.

I found a variety of fresh vegetables and nuts and had a pleasant conversation with Gemma, the owner of this farm.

The banner of a first generation farmer in San Diego County…very friendly and helpful. Also very good freshly squeezed O.J.

The above photo is from Paradise Valley Ranch.  Gemma and her husband Dennie were great and helpful.  They have plans to create evening experiences where groups can go out and enjoy the farm and have a nice big meal.  Sounds like a grand time, actually.  Oh, and when I say they had great orange juice, Dennie was literally squeezing it as we spoke. Nice. Another cool item I stumbled on was an East African woman who set up a food truck for her catering business, which shows the promise of this type of venue.  Another part of the promise of the Market is it’s proximity to downtown.  If our city leaders can focus improved land use designations that foster walkability and consistency, there is an increased chance that developers will put in the type of projects that will make the Market a destination for downtown visitors as well as a gateway to the growing arts scene in Barrio Logan.  This type of vision wouldn’t be possible without people like Catt White and Dale Steele, the founders.  And it will only flourish if our city takes seriously the opportunity to make economic and land use decisions that allow more San Diegans to benefit within the local economy.  Thanks for reading, have you visited yet?

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