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San Diego Students Have Plans For Stalled Redevelopment Site

Evening Edition

Above: Four San Diego architecture students have a plan for a vacant lot on Park and Market streets in the East Village.

Aired 5/2/13 on KPBS News.

Redevelopment agencies are a thing of the past in California. So what happens to the areas that were being held for their projects?

Redevelopment agencies are a thing of the past in California. So what happens to the areas that were being held for their projects?

Four San Diego architecture students have a plan for one of these spots, a vacant lot on Park and Market streets in the East Village. The lot is owned by Civic San Diego, the nonprofit created to replace the city's dissolved redevelopment agency.

NSAD Student Team/Design Tempo

The NewSchool team's design for a temporary urban park in the East Vilalge.

Nothing but dead grass and a chain link fence sit on the lot now. In its place, the NewSchool of Architecture and Design students want to build an urban park with a coffee shop and meeting space. But instead of buying the land for their park, they want to temporarily lease it from the city.

“We started to think about how we can actually use these areas that are underutilized for something that would be beneficial to the community,” said David Loewenstein, one member of the team. “We can be there for about four or five years, and then when we leave, the site’s returned back to its original state.”

To build something temporary, they can’t create much impact on the land. So the team plans to use old shipping containers for their structures. They’ve also designed a glowing orange triangle — which could house an office or living space — to sit on top of the containers.

The idea sounds a little far-fetched. But when the students took it to one of Mayor Bob Filner’s public Saturday meetings, the mayor loved it.

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Philip Auchettl and David Loewenstein, two members of the NewSchool team, meet with Mayor Bob Filner.

"I am very impressed with the ideas these students presented to me," Filner said in a statement to KPBS. "What moves me even more is their initiative to take action in their communities. The use of a vacant lot to create a communal gathering space around great food and architecture will be awesome! I will always listen to ideas, it's what creates positive change in the world and I appreciate their efforts."

Now they are meeting with Civic San Diego and the city attorney to get permits. Loewenstein said the terms of the lease agreement, including the price of their rent, have not been finalized.

Jorge Ozorno, one of their professors, said the students' success — as well as their modelesque good looks — earned them attention within the school.

“They became known in the school as the architectural Beatles, because not only they look like rock stars, but their projects are really, really interesting,” he said.

Ozorno taught the students about revitalizing a neighborhood by temporarily taking over blighted spaces. The message hit home for Philip Auchettl, another member of the team.

“By bringing these empty lots up to speed with some sort of architecture, it creates a pedestrian level of engagement within the streets," he said. "It slows pedestrians down when they’re walking around the site. It also actually also creates a safer environment by getting more people out on the streets within the area.”

Auchettl said they hope similar projects can happen at other unused redevelopment sites.

“We want to see this as a new model for what could happen in San Diego, potentially, then create a trend across the state," he said. "Because there are a lot of lots that could be potentially utilized with this type of concept.”

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