New and Improved Neighborhoods
Preserving the Old Neighborhood While Keeping Up with the New
Little Italy San Diego
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You can almost hear Mr. Rogers’s melody playing in the distance. Quaint, old- fashioned neighborhoods are transforming into bustling modern centers of culture and creativity. While no one can turn back time, the best qualities of a bygone era can be preserved, reinvented and reinvigorated. Three such neighborhood communities have done just that. With a presence demanding to be explored, these revitalized communities offer a new and improved outlook on San Diego living.
The term “Renaissance-driven” is apropos for San Diego’s Little Italy. “We saw in the mid 1990s our community was in decline after the tuna industry shut down,” says Marco Li Mandri, Chief Administrator of New City America, Inc., Little Italy Association’s managing partner. Their combined goals became the redevelopment and management of business improvement districts, community and public spaces, as well as neighborhood revitalization. To make this happen, “we drew on our culture’s rich traditions of family, of community gathering, of city-states,” says Li Mandri. This tradition has historically been expressed in the piazza, or public square, and the church. With 43 organizations alone operating through Our Lady of the Rosary, an iconic landmark in its own right, additional neighborhood and civic groups and developers coalesced to revitalize the community into what residents and visitors enjoy today.
“We wanted to create some great public spaces,” says Li Mandri, adding, “We needed to establish an environment for businesses too.” Part of this effort required creating housing developments that were family, youth and senior- friendly. It also included establishing an easy-access, pedestrian-friendly community that serves those locally, as well as the greater San Diego area.
There are rich examples of how Little Italy’s Association and partnerships have accomplished this from its original genesis. The Mercato Farmers Market not only serves the local community, but it draws in visitors from across the county. Further, over 3,000 apartments and condominiums have been constructed in the last several years, with 1,000 units under construction currently. With relentless enthusiasm, Li Mandri tells of a 10,000 square foot piazza, one block from Our Lady of the Rosary, that will open next spring. Little Italy’s robust revitalization efforts have also included smaller piazzas, distinctive boutique shopping districts, scrumptious restaurants and events such as Artwalk, Festa and Carnavale. Also included is streetscape beautification and the planting of 1,300 trees. Once on the brink of disaster, Little Italy has transformed into a thriving and reinvigorated place, Italian style!
Once considered San Diego’s foremost suburban community, North Park enjoys untold charm with its historically renovated Craftsman home and California bungalow architectural mix. Many previously in need of repairs were refurbished in the last decade, displaying timeless grace as if they were just built. Setting off North Park’s neighborhoods are lush trees that display wide streets and quaint culs-de-sac that promote an authentic neighborhood feel.
It’s the sense of community that has taken this once in- decline section of San Diego to new heights. “People wanted to live, work, shop and socialize in our community,” says Angela Landsberg, Executive Director of North Park Mainstreet Association, a driving force behind the area’s revitalization efforts. “We have a tight- knit business community that collaborates, not just competes.” What’s more, since it’s situated next to San Diego’s massive and lush Balboa Park, North Park has a unique green space topography. “You can dine at a great restaurant here and walk 200 feet for a canyon hike when you leave the restaurant,” quips Landsberg.
With a unique fusion of classic and hipster sensibilities, the community demonstrates an easy convergence of conventional and classic. Having grown up in North Park herself, Landsberg appreciates both the traditional and modern, as do the rest of the business and residential entities. The co-working development, for example, demonstrates a collaborative effort whereby diverse entrepreneurs come together to share space for their mutual benefit. In addition, with the city’s Business Improvement District efforts and Main Street’s historic preservation efforts, the focus has expanded to include art and entertainment activities such as music and art festivals, farmers markets and more. “We’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg into what we will become as a community,” Landsberg concludes.