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San Diego's Urban Neighborhoods Suffer Shortage Of Parks

The front of the Gilliam Family and Community space in San Diego's Logan Heights neighborhood on Apr. 19, 2018.
Roland Lizarondo
The front of the Gilliam Family and Community space in San Diego's Logan Heights neighborhood on Apr. 19, 2018.

Certain San Diego neighborhoods do not have enough green space, according to a study by the San Diego Foundation and that finding comes nearly a decade after a similar study found much the same thing in 2009.

The park acreage shortfall is pronounced in San Diego's Logan Heights neighborhood, despite efforts to address the problem.

A pocket park on Imperial Avenue is squeezed in between a business and homes in this predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. The place used to be an eyesore.


"It was a lot that people dump trash on. When I say trash I'm not talking about your normal trash. I'm talking about refrigerators, tires," said Monte Jones of the Logan Heights Community Development Corporation.

Community residents and volunteers completely transformed the space a few years ago, turning it into the Gilliam Family Community Space and Garden. A decorative iron gate keeps the space closed to the public overnight.

Pocket Park Serves Many Needs

"Amphitheater space here," Jones said as he pointed at a tiered wooden structure. And a "20-foot high tree house," he said as he walked through the park.

The tree house is actually coming out because it has become a daytime gathering place for people who are skipping school.


RELATED: Logan Heights Residents Are Building Their Own Community Space

That truancy is breeding vandalism, according to Jones. There is graffiti scattered throughout the space. The gardens are fallow. And the park's gate is not always open.

The community has learned that you can't just build a park and check it off of a list. The space requires ongoing attention.

"So, we really rely heavily on the community to do the cleaning and the policing of the space," Jones said. "We'll have someone overall do some of the things, but for the space to stay vibrant, it really has to be a community effort. In order for it to stay active and safe for the neighborhood to use."

Volunteers from nearby King-Chavez High School will offer the muscle to refresh the space in coming weeks. The tree house and gardens will be removed. The movie screen will be fixed, weeds will be trimmed back.

Ivonne Santiago, 18, said the effort is worth it because she can envision what the builders saw when they transformed the empty lot.

"It allows kids from the neighborhood to come out and play. To be more active. To not stay at home all day being on social media. It gives them a place where they can be free and have fun with rest of the kids in the neighborhood," Santiago said.

Park Deficits Still Persist

That community spirit is welcome news to the San Diego Foundation's Katie Rast. A foundation grant helped pay for the construction of the space and she's glad that the community remains engaged.

"In these more dense environments that have fewer trees sometimes we have to be more creative about building those green spaces from within," Rast said.

While San Diego County enjoys a surplus of park space with wide swaths of city, state and federal parkland, the region's urban neighborhoods suffer. Especially neighborhoods like Logan Heights that have more renters than average, lower than average incomes and lower educational attainment levels.

Even though the neighborhood is just a short drive from Balboa Park, walking to a park in Logan Heights is not easy.

"This is something that is extremely valuable to our citizens. They know San Diego is a place of beauty, known for its beauty, known for its access to the outdoors. We want to be sure everyone has that access," Rast said.

And while the foundation has helped secure more than 50,000 acres of green space in San Diego County since the last report, the inner city park deficit persists.

In some cases, it's tough to find the space to build a park that meets a critical community need.

Logan Heights officials reached out to scores of property owners who had vacant lots before they got the Gilliam family to agree to let them build a park here.

"A lot of the houses don't have spaces in their backyard. Like in the old days, you go, you have a house, you have a big backyard, kids are running around. That's not the case here a lot of times in our city, our urban areas," Jones said.

That is where small urban green spaces can fill the gap, according to the San Diego Foundation Report.

The pocket parks allow families to get outside and share a common space with their community and the study finds the community will become more invested in the park and neighborhood the more common space is used.

San Diego's Urban Neighborhoods Suffer Shortage Of Parks
San Diego's Urban Neighborhoods Suffer Shortage Of Parks
A new report on the region's parks finds San Diego's poorest neighborhoods endure a shortage of green space.