One of the things that seems to be true is that organizations that create major change all started off as little more than an idea. Or perhaps a collection of ideas. The photo above was taken by my friend at SD Urban, who writes about San Diego’s urban communities. The photo is a park dedicated to someone who had great ideas. As a member of the Leadership Council of the Center for Civic Engagement, I’ve started writing about its progress in developing a local vision and fostering a more involved public in San Diego (first installment here). I had the good fortune to meet one of the gentleman whose ideas helped create the Center and this is a quick step back in time to understand where the Center for Civic Engagement came from.
This post is a snapshot of how we got where we are in planning for the ‘what next’ in San Diego. In addition to giving out money, like this more than $600,000 to protect our environment, the Center for Civic Engagement was created from a collection of ideas about changing the way we in San Diego handled our major issues. Recently I met Peter MacCracken, a local communications professional who was among a few people who gave birth to the idea that created the Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement. Taking a walk with Peter around Liberty Station, near the home of the Center, I found out some of the steps Peter took to help the San Diego region implement a vision of itself. Here is one of the early articles about the Center, which explains some of its history. You can get some sense of how the government of the City of San Diego has planned for the area here, by the way.
An important part of the reason behind the Center was the need for a compelling vision for the future of San Diego. In this editorial about the creation of a new vision, Peter shared how several organizations and people helped shape San Diego’s evolving vision of itself over the last 40 years. The repeated use of the word ‘paradise’ suggests to me that we San Diegans lack a history of humility about our home. But why not see our region with such grandeur? In any case, the interesting items mentioned include:
- A seminal 1974 piece called Temporary Paradise by Kevin Lynch and Donald Appleyard
- A 3-part series in 2006 called Preserving Paradise by San Diego Magazine (read editor Tom Blair’s explanation here).
- A 2008 year-long series called Path to Paradise – a UCSD-TV production.
- A 2011 piece called Sustainable Paradise produced by Citizens Coordinate for Century 3.
- A 2011 piece by Mike Stepner and Mary Lydon analyzing the history of visions in San Diego
- (note: keeping the string of Paradise-themed works alive, though not mentioned in the article, a very interesting book by Vlad Kogan and Steve Erie called Paradise Plundered made its way into the local dialogue in 2012 as well)
With the benefit of time, the 2006 articles To the brink and beyond (by Neil Morgan), Paradise Found, Paradise Lost (by Jamie Reno) and Water Worries (by Larry M. Edwards)–among more than 30 in San Diego Magazine’s series–take on a new life. Reading our city’s modern history is useful for those seeking to be more engaged in how it grows today.
While I’m at it, the Envision San Diego effort seems to have played a role in the modern development of a vision for San Diego. Here’s a 4-page background on that effort and a 44-page white paper called Nurturing an Innovation Region by Professor John Eger of SDSU, one of the intellectual minds behind Envision San Diego, that lays out the steps to cultivate innovation in the region.
A few observations
As I read through these various accounts of San Diego’s evolving vision, it struck me that there are compelling reasons for the San Diego Foundation to have embarked on the massive project that has become Our Greater San Diego Vision. First, the vision and plans that we’ve had came from an era that was, shall we say, less than inclusive. It’s not clear the lives and views of San Diegans in many of our urban communities made it into early planning documents. Although Temporary Paradise made explicit mention of Logan Heights, it isn’t obvious whether the neighbors who live in that community contributed significantly to the vision. Second, the importance of matching broad citizen input to the planned evolution of neighborhoods and actual decisions by our elected leadership seems to be a relatively recent development in the grand scheme of things. Third, in my opinion we are kind of a
cheap frugal penny wise and pound foolish town when it comes to investing in our physical community. This is driven, at least in part, by the ability of the loud few to drown out the quieter masses. Giving voice to a broader number and cross-section of people matters.
The San Diego Foundation has created the first citizen-focused vision of our region that I was able to find. Though the methodology may require some additional follow up to maximize the inclusion of representative viewpoints, that MacCracken and others breathed life into an idea about viewing our future through the lens of neighbors and citizens is a major shift. Instead of leaving to the professionally trained or well-connected few the task of planning for our future, the Foundation has done the important work of making you and I the starting point for this discussion. And the creation of a Center for Civic Engagement whose primary goal is to drive implementation of that vision is the type of practical, real-world step needed to make the community’s vision–or more accurately our many visions of our selves–a reality.