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KPBS Commentaries

Why does San Diego rank so high in so many ways...and far behind in others? Our unarguable uniqueness is geographical: We are America's most populous border city. And border cities everywhere are often impacted by the decisions made in distant capitals.

Where do we go for honest and impartial insights into how well we are doing as a community? Not to politicians or City Hall... or unfortunately, to our own media, or religious and educational leaders.

But professional researchers try to tell us who we are, where we have failed, and where new opportunities lie. Contrasting San Diego with other cities can often redirect us. It led us to recognize our potential for tourism, and increased construction of new hotels and resorts, office buildings, subdivisions...... but seldom of new industry.

In a recent study of America's cities, San Diego ranked near the top in parkland, in open space, healthcare, and climate.

We ranked midway in crime and schools and near the bottom in rapid transit.

We do sports, we do cargo, tortillas and high-tech. We do start-ups, and we do laid back. But we are not yet in the top ranks of cities with image. We have climate and beaches, happy conventioneers and vanilla-flavored family tourism.

We seem to be people with options, who could do whatever we do in other palaces, and are lucky or smart enough to do them in San Diego. From the 2000 census, we learn that a startling one in three San Diegans holds a college degree. That puts us just behind two great cities, Boston and San Francisco.

During the decades of this city's long, slow beginning, its only reputation was for the Navy and the Zoo. Now we are known for a mess at City Hall and for being smart middle-income people, who move here, much form the Midwest and South, to form the Nation's mince pie flavored with salsa.

We have distinguished universities, higher education and research science. Most of these institutions began life later than their peers in older cities, and profited form the beginning be the research and mistakes of others.

There is much to learn about ourselves from the research like this. It supports the best that we believe about ourselves for, and it gives us talking points for rebuttal when San Diego is under attack.

These rankings tell out relatively young city that we have developed broad roots through rapid rate of in-migration and have won acclaim for far more that climate. In the end, these rankings suggest to me that our city has outgrown its leadership and the structure of city government.

If we are as good as these rankings say we are, this city should regard itself more confidently. We should be recognized for our maturity and have a larger impact in state and national affairs. For any city, that comes with growing up, and proving it.

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