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City Heights Montage Goes Up On 43rd Street

One thousand photos of the people and places that animate City Heights cover a 44-foot mosaic that adorns a wall along 43rd Street.
Tom Fudge
One thousand photos of the people and places that animate City Heights cover a 44-foot mosaic that adorns a wall along 43rd Street.

It’s an artwork impressive in scope: A tile mosaic of 1,000 photographs of the City Heights neighborhood that were taken over 10 years, documenting the dynamic cultural life of the neighborhood. It’s 14 feet high and 44 feet long.

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)

Last week, the Aja Project mounted this piece of inner-city art, funded by Price Charities, on the wall of an apartment building near the corner of 43rd and University Avenue. The photographs were taken by City Heights high-school and middle-school kids, who are part of an education program run by the non-profit group.


The Aja Project has done several public art projects, including a temporary wall covered with images that surrounded the San Diego Museum of Art last year. But the group’s artistic coordinator said this was meant to be different.

“When you make something permanent, it’s a proposal for the future,” said Shinpei Takeda. “When you look back on this, in 2020 or 2030, it will tell people what this place was like today.”

The mosaic faces an empty lot. I had to squeeze through a chain-link fence to enter the city-owned lot to get a good look at it. Its colors radiate from black and white in the center to blue along the perimeter.

Get up close and you see the photos. There are the faces of the children of refugees, many of them in Muslim dress. You see photos of the public gardens, shops and street corners that animate the neighborhood. The photos were baked onto individual tiles before being mounted on the wall.

“I wanted it to look at little bit chaotic, since that’s what City Heights is like,” added Takeda.


Price Charities donated $35,000 to build the mosaic. Now, the only thing missing from the tableau is the “pocket” park the art is supposed to be a part of.

The Aja Project mosaic was meant to look down on a small park, serving the neighborhood. The park has been designed and approved, but shortage of money and the loss of redevelopment funds have prevented it from opening on schedule.

City Heights is known for having a shortage of park space. But the San Diego Mayor's office said the City Heights pocket park has been put out to bid, which means funding is lined up and construction should begin soon.

Until they do build the park, people wandering along 43rd Street will see a vacant lot, and a work of art that would be easier to see if it weren’t for that chain-link fence.