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Little Saigon District Wins Official Designation

It's been two years in the making, but San Diego's Vietnamese community has finally gotten the recognition it's been asking for.

Asian-inspired architecture and lamppost banners tell restaurant goers and shoppers along El Cajon Boulevard between Euclid and Highland avenues they've arrived in Little Saigon. But visitors might not know that designation wasn't official until this week.

Photo by Brian Myers

With official recognition as a cultural district and a $200,000 SANDAG grant, Little Saigon leaders say they hope to improve walkability issues that negatively impact businesses.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

City Council members voted unanimously today to designate the strip of Vietnamese businesses a cultural district. The designation is more symbolic than economic. This is not a business improvement district that draws tax dollars. But Little Saigon Foundation Executive Director Frank Vuong said it will help unite residents and boost business.

"The hard work is behind us in terms of getting the designation," Vuong said while celebrating over pho at a Little Saigon restaurant. "But the new hard work is the revitalization work, the community building, the community organizing."

That work could begin soon. SANDAG awarded the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association, the official business improvement district stretching from Little Saigon and City Heights to University Heights, about $200,000 last month to plan for sidewalk and street improvements in the district.

Business owners and residents in the area began mobilizing several years ago when the Little Saigon Foundation formed. Since, the area has been referred to as Little Saigon by many San Diegans. The district has hosted "Taste of Little Saigon" events and an annual lantern festival, which returns July 19 to 21. They've also already begun the work of branding streets and buildings in the area.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald, planning groups in Kensington, Talmadge and City Heights and the Vietnamese Community of San Diego all endorsed the designation.

"This is not only an expression of the diversity that makes San Diego, and particularly City Heights, so special," Emerald said at the city council meeting. "It also speaks to the unity in a community that respects the differences that we share."

Vietnamese Americans make up the third-largest ethnic minority group in San Diego. Many came to San Diego during a large-scale resettlement program that brought tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees to U.S. military bases in the 1970s.

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