Conversations about downtown San Diego’s East Village tend to focus on two subjects: 1. Homelessness. 2. Padres baseball at Petco Park.
Here’s a neighborhood ice-breaker: The East Village Education Corridor.
Despite its hardscrabble image, East Village is home to an impressive, under-the-radar cluster of educational institutions.
There are multiple public (some of which are charter) elementary, middle and high schools. There’s also e3 Civic High located in the Downtown Central Library.
San Diego City College is part of East Village. Its broad campus includes San Diego High School and San Diego Middle College High School.
The NewSchool of Architecture & Design is part of the hood. So is the brand-new, multi-use UC San Diego Park & Market facility.
(Note: Thomas Jefferson School of Law was in East Village but moved to a new downtown location–701 B Street, technically a few blocks outside the EV borderline.)
East Village Residents Group president Kathleen Hallahan is proud to wave the unaffiliated schools’ collective flag.
“This community has grown organically and through the private sector,” Hallahan says. “I’d expect schools to be perceived as a priority.”
That’s not always the case, she says. (Note: After seven years as EVRG president, Hallahan will step down from the post in March.)
“It’s very rare for any dense urban core to be able to brag that they have a collection of educational institutions in such close proximity,” Hallahan says. “The potential of the East Village Education Corridor should be recognized as a valuable resource. And supported by the city and the downtown community in every way possible.”
I recently met with a downtown parent of two primary school-aged kids. He couldn’t be happier with the educational experience in East Village.
Rado Kalla and his wife, Jackie, live in the nearby Marina District. They have two sons, third-grader Ari and kindergartner Troy.
The boys attend Urban Discovery Academy. The public charter elementary school is part of the East Village Education Corridor. UDA also has another facility blocks away that houses a middle school and a high school.
A native of Switzerland, Rado Kalla has lived downtown since 1991. When Ari was born, he and his wife dutifully moved to the suburbs. They moved back to the city within three months.
“We were so bored that we wanted to come back, so we came back,” says Kalla, who is retired from a career in medical/dental device manufacturing. “Downtown is a wonderful place for kids, I think.”
Kalla’s wife works at Seaport Village, and he does the kids’ school drop offs and pickups.
He’s keenly aware of the downtown educational infrastructure, but observes most parents are not.
“This is a truly wonderful school,” he says. “Most people are surprised when I talk about the environment here. The staff is like family. They know every kid. I tell people to come take a look, because this school is undervalued and underappreciated by the community.”
I ask Kalla how the school experience is affected by the issue of homelessness. (According to monthly counts by the Downtown San Diego Partnership, East Village is at the epicenter of the city’s rising unsheltered population.)
Kalla notes that a police station is right around the corner, and says there are never tent encampments adjacent to the school.
He and the kids do drive past tents that line other urban core streets, especially near the U.S. Post Office.
“The kids see it and they ask questions,” he says. “They ask why and how it happens. And we answer those questions. Nobody chooses to be homeless. It’s just an effect because of circumstances. But circumstances are based on education and motivation. So, it’s a good lesson for them.”
UDA visionary and founder MaeLin Levine says her schools have never had a significant run-in with the homeless population.
“It’s not a safety issue as much as a perception issue,” says Levine, who has two children in the downtown school system. “We’ve had prospective parents excited about the schools but later were off put when they saw encampments around the city.”
That should be a red flag to anyone who wants to see the urban core thrive, she says.
“Without school programs, it’s impossible to fully realize the vision of downtown residency,” Levine says. “It’s significant. Schools allow people who work and live downtown, and have kids, to stay here and not move to the suburbs.”
Levine notes that the San Diego Unified School District’s general practice of determining new school sites is to gather numbers, see where there’s a demand, and then build.
“We’ve been more of the mind to build it, and they will come,” Levine says.
The significance of the location of the East Village Education Corridor is not lost on Mike Stepner. A professor emeritus for NewSchool of Architecture & Design, he’s spent 40-plus years in public and private jobs related to city planning.
The Education Corridor sits roughly along the same route that for more than a century has been suggested as a pathway to connect the San Diego Bay and Balboa Park.
“It was in a plan for the city back in 1908,” Stepner says. “It came up again in the 1930s and recently had renewed life as a plan a few years ago.”
He says the Education Corridor is connected to all sorts of issues related to East Village planning.
One of those issues: An East Village South Focus Plan–a white paper that came to life when the then-San Diego Chargers were behind a proposal to build a new football stadium in the area.
After the Chargers departed town, planning issues in the area faded from the spotlight.
Stepner says it’s time to refocus on East Village. From an educational point of view he points to the strong and growing presence of UC San Diego in the area. And, the impending ability of City College to award four-year degrees in the field of cybersecurity.
“This education cluster could become a magnet to business in the area,” Stepner believes.
Downtown San Diego Partnership president and CEO Betsy Brennan says she’s onboard and in full support of schools in East Village.
“Our mission is economic prosperity and cultural vitality of downtown San Diego,” Brennan says. “What’s more fitting than education to fit into that mission? That’s the base and building block of everything else we do here.”
She vows that DSDP is embracing the Education Corridor and will work to get the community behind it.
“We should absolutely brag about this educational corridor,” Brennan says. “I find it unique. I don’t see a lot of other cities touting an educational corridor. We should. I’m really proud that we have all of these educational institutions ranging from kindergarten to college.”
Brennan says it should be promoted, protected and encouraged.
“It’s an asset to downtown,” she says. “It’s an asset to our community, and I want to do everything possible to help East Village Residents Group promote it.”
The EVRG’s Hallahan says that all makes perfect sense.
“Young people who live downtown need to know that the educational resources are here,” she says. “So if they can provide a great environment for their children, they’ll invest more in integrating and supporting the neighborhood.”
Representatives from the offices of San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and Third District City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn attended the latest EVRG meeting on this (and other) issues.
Hallahan says the mayor sent administrators from the city’s Environmental Services, MTS (public transportation) and the SDPD to a recent East Village Education Corridor kick-off event.
“I’m sure these introductions and the conversations between the institutions and the heads of departments will be instrumental,” Hallahan says.
Community representatives from the offices of Gloria and Whitburn did not respond to interview requests for this story from the San Diego Sun.
Moving forward, the not-so-distant future will see the opening of expansive office spaces all over downtown. The Campus at Horton. IQHQ in the Marina District. And others.
The educational component deserves a spot on the city’s curriculum. Quality of life issues–schools, homelessness–have a domino effect on the future success of the greater downtown community. SDSun
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