San Diego’s public spaces offer scenic views, year-round destinations for locals and visitors alike
By Paul Benton
At any time of year – and especially during the holiday season – public spaces like Balboa Park provide a wonderful setting for locals and tourists alike to meet, gather, and take in the beauty of our unique San Diego architecture and art history. The gracious Prado creates a promenade that is perfect for walking, with majestic buildings at both sides, two plazas with fountains and the dramatic crossing at the bridge. Balboa Park recalls a time when only a fraction of the population owned cars – and when a day at the park was an opportunity to linger and explore these wonderful shared spaces on foot. Of course, over the years, traffic has increased dramatically; and now, opportunities to enjoy pedestrianized public spaces have become increasingly special, as they also have grown fewer and further between. As modernity threatens to compromise the Prado promenade, city officials face a difficult decision: whether or not return the space to pedestrian use, and to limit driver access in exchange for greater pedestrian access and aesthetic charm. San Diego architects and the community are presently in a lively discussion about what would be the best solution to this new concept.
Here in La Jolla, we have similar open spaces, and are blessed with dramatic settings and breathtaking views into the bargain. We also have our own wonderful promenades that offer a pleasant walk and the chance to see others and ourselves in a gracious setting – and with the help of skilled architects and city planners, we can maintain these spaces without compromising vehicle access or parking convenience. The various and renowned shops throughout the village may be a pedestrian incentive, of course; but each time we happen to see something that we can claim as part of our community, we are also enriched and revitalized in our sense of living in La Jolla. To talk about “where we live” encompasses so much more than our individual homes: we live at all of the places we frequent — our places of work, where we do business, where we meet with all of our friends and neighbors, and where we walk to exercise and explore our village.
Bringing a new pedestrian promenade to La Jolla’s downtown community
Recently, one such area in particular has come to our attention: the short section of Prospect known as “the Dip,” located between Girard and Herschel near downtown La Jolla. Thanks to the higher ground on Prospect, a dramatic view extends over the traffic on the street below, leading down the slope to the park and the ocean beyond. This area has been identified as a view corridor in our community plan, to be made into a pedestrian promenade; and we at the San Diego architecture firm of Alcorn & Benton have concluded that just such a development is not only feasible, but also a wonderful addition to our coastal village. Not only is it possible to divert all car traffic to the lower street at this location, but it is also possible to plant a garden on the new slope, reconfigure the parking options and provide for the wider promenade with outdoor cafes and a scenic lookout – all in keeping with the community plan that is already approved. This area has grown up: the traffic volume has increased, and it is time to reclaim this wonderful space for people who can enjoy the view and the promenade.
Our community has so many spaces designed specifically to help us enjoy and celebrate our environment. If we are fortunate enough, we even consider some of these spaces a regular part of our everyday lives. We should remember that there is a community plan for the village, and we should take care to respect and build on that plan. At Alcorn & Benton Architects, we are committed to shaping an environment to be both shared with our many visitors and also beloved by those lucky enough to call La Jolla home.
Paul Benton is a principal of Alcorn & Benton Architects, on Girard Avenue in La Jolla. If there is a subject about La Jolla architecture or San Diego architecture that you would like to see in future articles, please email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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