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Data-driven development is the wave of downtown San Diego's future

A new study says downtown San Diego is thriving and projections for growth are strong. KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado spoke with experts who say the report will help the city – and investors – make informed decisions that will better serve those who live and work downtown

What will downtown San Diego look like in the future? Thanks to a study just released by the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, Betsey Brennan, the president of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, says she can envision it: "If you close your eyes and look 10 years in the future you’re going to see this European vibrant model of 24/7 living."

Brennan said this study can help mold the future identity of the heart of the city. "Everything within 15 minutes of your home and your business, you can go stroll to have a cup of coffee bring your dog for a walk and lunch and enjoy everything Downtown San Diego has to offer," she said.

Mark Cafferty is the president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation. He said data is more important than ever, especially coming out of the pandemic. Cafferty said the data not only shows shows who lives, works, and plays downtown — but also who’s moving there. He said this is vital information that will help people make smarter development and investment decisions.

"Gone are the days where you can think, 'I want to put a building somewhere,' and not think about, 'Is there childcare for workers in that building, are there restaurants or cafes that people want to go to, is it accessible for people, is there housing nearby?'" said Cafferty. "So the more effort and investment we can put into the data and the research, the more it will pay off in the end when we are working on these projects and completing them."

Cafferty said one of the biggest findings was the increase in life-sciences workers who are now living and working downtown. "So the very scientific workforce that our industries are craving are living downtown in higher numbers and it’s a younger demographic downtown, and it’s a more diverse downtown," he said.

Historically, Cafferty said, finance, law and tourism have been concentrated downtown, attracting investments in those areas. He said the new data paints a different picture that will help draw in more diverse investments, saying, "The takeaway is if downtown is going to thrive, we need to make sure we have diverse segments of industry down here, so that if one is struggling more than another, it’s lifted up by the people who are working and living down here."

Cafferty also said unlike other large metropolitan cities, San Diego has yet to define its identity, and this data is an opportunity to help shape that brand.

"One of the things that the study finds is how resilient downtown is despite the challenges," said San Diego city council member Stephen Whitburn. He represents District 3, which includes downtown. Whitburn said all signs point to a bright future that makes him excited about the future of downtown. "I live downtown, I work downtown, and it was quiet for a little while during the pandemic while everybody was staying home , but it is back to being as vibrant as it was before and that’s a really good sign to the future of San Diego," Whitburn said.

The study was done in coordination with UC San Diego Extension’s Center for Research and Evaluation.

For more information about the study visit: Downtown San Diego Demographic and Industry Study