Neighborhood preservation, it appears, has become an important part of the San Diego City Council discussions on growth control. Though this idea in itself is a desirable goal, it is imperative that such a program be enacted with caution, intelligence and consideration of other factors.
Neighborhoods are parts of the whole city, and they do not stand by themselves. Great care must be taken not to enact any provisions harmful to parts of the city, or to the city as a whole.
Are large tracts of exclusively single-family houses really a desirable goal for a city that has now become a metropolis? If we are to continue this trend, we must, of necessity, end up with urban sprawl similar to Los Angeles. This is not deemed desirable by most people.
Growth of the kind San Diego has experienced must encompass many changes. No resident has ever been guaranteed that things would always remain the same. Some changes may be very positive, such as the cultural enhancement not possible in smaller cities.
Other changes require that we turn them to advantage, rather than persist in the mind-set that is tied to the past. No large city can afford the kind of land use that single-family houses require, if that is the exclusive housing type.
Mixed-height housing can be very attractive, and, in this respect, we can learn much from European cities. This kind of housing can provide greater variety and visual diversity instead of the monotony of great stretches of closely built single-family houses--provided we are protected by some basic design and planning standards to spare us from some of the monstrosities some developers feel free to foist upon the public.
It can also accommodate more people, and make it easier to comply with state law, which requires housing for all segments of the population.
Now that some areas of the city have already been inundated with medium- and high-rises, would it be fair to mandate that some other neighborhoods become entirely exempt from providing a variety of housing types?
Rather than exempting (as has been suggested by Mayor Maureen O'Connor) all single-family houses from demolition, it would appear far more urgent to preserve multi-family housing, especially in the low-price or low-rent categories.
The great need for affordable housing for persons of low and very low income has been well documented. After failing to provide the most-needed housing for many years, the San Diego Housing Commission is about to obtain the services of a new director whose focus appears to be on correcting this situation. Both the housing commissioners and the City Council have gone on record favoring this change of direction.
It would be tragic if the attempt to preserve neighborhoods without consideration of other factors resulted in limiting housing for low-income persons.
Comfortably housed people are often unable to realize how devastating and traumatic the lack of adequate shelter can be. The humiliation of the lack of privacy and human dignity, inability to get proper rest, fear of the unknown and threats to their general welfare, physical and mental health are only some of the factors that may lead to hopelessness, desperation or criminality for those in such an appalling situation.
Enlightened self-interest should dictate that we do whatever is necessary to prevent this from happening in what we like to refer to as "America's Finest City."