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SD Cityscape Diary

What comes from moving two miles

— It’s been three months since I moved from one part of San Diego to another. I left Normal Heights and arrived in El Cerrito, which is just south of San Diego State. The move has been a lesson in how a city of mesas and canyons creates neighborhoods that are very different, even when they are almost side by side.

The two neighborhoods mentioned above are actually two miles apart. In Normal Heights I lived one block from Adams Avenue, a vibrant commercial street that was home to bars, restaurants, a full-service grocery store, a public library and a post office to name a few. In El Cerrito I live five blocks from El Cajon Boulevard, a broad commercial thoroughfare with a much more dispersed and mixed bag of businesses.

The homes in El Cerrito are bigger than in Normal Heights. That, combined with my greater distance from the “main street” makes me feel like I’ve moved to the suburbs. That has its advantages. But I miss the foot traffic, the activity, the convenience and (I will admit) the hipness of Normal Heights. I also miss St. Didacus parish. The Church and its Catholic school, which my kids still attend, have created a web of social connections in Normal Heights that became more and more visible to me, the longer I lived there.

El Cerrito is a different parish and its church, Blessed Sacrament, is on El Cajon Blvd, just a block away from a card room called the Lucky Lady Casino. Salvation and temptation in the same city block. Gentrification is coming slowly to El Cajon Boulevard but it has begun to take hold. The Living Room, for instance, is a coffee shop that caters to the tastes of the educated classes.

One good thing about moving to El Cerrito: It’s made me think harder about what’s a walkable urban community. I now live a mile from work and a mile from Vons grocery store. When I walk those distances (as I often do) it takes between 15 and 20 minutes, one way. That can only be called un-walkable if convenience is the thing you crave above all. Maybe you also value physical exercise. Here’s an illustration.

I belong to a gym that’s located on the San Diego State campus, where I also work. If I want to get some exercise on a Saturday afternoon, I can get in the car, drive to the gym, run on a treadmill for a while, then get back in the car and drive home. OR… I can walk to the gym, stand at the front door for a minute then turn around and walk back home. Both scenarios take about the same amount of time and give me about the same amount of exercise. Which would you choose?

What’s On-Ramp driving at?

Cityscape Diary is a long-winded way of telling On-Ramp readers that this blog will focus more and more on the shape of San Diego communities, and communities in general. True to its name, On-Ramp will seek out stories about transportation. Housing will also a subject of focus.

Where we make our homes and how we get around define the appearance and the feel of our cities. Housing and transportation are strong expressions of our values and they are a great source of probing questions. Is home ownership the goal of American housing policy? Are we building communities that will reduce greenhouse emissions? Are we providing affordable housing so the poor can live in a dignity? Do we pay enough respect to the property rights of homeowners… or do we pay that too much respect?

I’ll be interested in hearing your answers to those questions as On-Ramp moves ahead. So stay tuned!

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