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Revitalization: Lessons Learned
Kathy Garcia, City of Del Mar, Planning and Community Development Director

 

With my workday focused primarily on Del Mar’s Village Revitalization, it is not unexpected that my recreational reading has also emphasized community renewal. During those perusals, I’ve come across a number of interesting observations that are worth sharing as food for thought.

1. Revitalization is an ongoing process. The State of Vermont has an entire state-wide effort for revitalizing their village centers. As anyone who has spent an autumn day in Vermont knows, these quintessential villages define the Vermont character. Vermont stresses that revitalization is an ongoing process to improve a community’s vitality and livability, and any one element is just one tool in the toolbox. The lesson that I take away from Vermont’s efforts is that Del Mar, like other towns, will always be in the process of revitalization. When we finish the Specific Plan, we must then embark on its action items. We must be willing to make course corrections, but we must stay true to our mission. It’s not a process that is ever “finished.”

 
1927 Aerial view. Grand Avenue (now Camino del Mar) and 15th Street in center. The old Hotel Del Mar (nee Stratford Inn) is in the lower left corner (northwest corner) of that intersection. The present train station is in the bottom left corner of the picture. The Stratford Building (nee Kockritz Building) is across 15th St from the hotel on the southwest corner.
Photo courtesy DMVA History Committee

2. Village Centers have common characteristics. Whether in Del Mar or in Vermont, a village center has core characteristics. It is the traditional center of socio-economic activity; development should be consistent; more compact and pedestrian-oriented rather than auto-oriented. The mix of uses can be similar to those traditionally found in a downtown, but at a much smaller scale. And there is a unique character within a village center that should be allowed to evolve over time to reflect a community’s economic, social and cultural changes. We in Del Mar have a strong village; we’ve never lost the entire social or economic heart of our community. But it has changed, and it will continually change based upon the Del Mar community evolution. We won’t be afraid of change; it just needs to be targeted to meet our needs.

 
1947 Aerial view. Note the intersection of Grand Ave and Camino del Mar in the center of the picture as well as the pier and the Powerhouse stack.
Photo courtesy DMVA History Committee

3. Free Parking isn’t really free. It’s been stated that the average parking space costs more than the average car, and drivers aren’t the ones necessarily paying for the parking. As citizens, that cost gets passed to each one of us. Donald Shoup, a UCLA professor, has explored many solutions to a dramatic paradigm shift in how we provide for parking. One take-away is the belief that small improvements can be worthwhile and very effective. A small change will be congenial and not be disruptive as we retrofit our Village. We will be proposing changes to our on-street and off-street parking in the next round of Community Conversations for Village Revitalization, so be sure to voice your opinion.

4. Sustainability is Solution Oriented. Much of the sustainability measures we see around us are reactionary rather than solution-oriented. Author Neil Chambers explores the notions of ‘ecomimicry’ in our built environment as a far more sustainable solution than the current trends of green building. He argues that our communities should be designed not to imitate a natural process but that ecosystems instead are the foundation of design. As we think about improving Camino del Mar, I can’t help but think about our water runoff. What if drainage was as high of a priority as our vehicular movement? Our streets create a tremendous amount of impervious surface that allows water to run off instead of percolate to the water table. We’re looking into ways that we can redesign Camino del Mar to serve multiple purposes – improve parking and traffic flow and absorb our stormwater, all while encouraging the pedestrian to walk and explore the Del Mar Village.

5. There are myths surrounding revitalization. The article, “12 Myths About Downtown” (CalPlanner January-February 2006 by Mark Brodeur), dispels a number of common assumptions made by communities across the state pursuing revitalization. The article reminds us that there can be no silver bullet; mixed use zoning doesn’t solve everything; themes rarely work outside Disneyland; parking is not always the real problem; downtown won’t always re-emerge to serve all retail needs; design controls don’t necessarily scare developers; and a market study doesn’t answer all the questions. We in Del Mar must make sure we don’t have the expectations of somewhere else. While we can learn from other communities, we know that our Village won’t duplicate the retail in surrounding suburban shopping centers. Adding housing to our Village will not solve our revitalization needs - it may contribute to our future success but it won’t be the only thing. And a vision is not a theme. We have established a clear and consistent goal for our vision in our Comprehensive Plan, let’s stick to that and refine it.

6. There is a lot more to revitalization than preparing a Plan. Revitalization means mobilizing community efforts and energy to improve a village center. It will take both projects and activities to make Del Mar a more vibrant, attractive and livable place. We shouldn’t expect big changes all at once, but maybe those small, incremental improvements over time will better reflect the ecosystem in which we reside.
Revitalization efforts are underway as the City of Del Mar is preparing the Village Specific Plan. We are exploring various options for community input. Watch the website for Community Conversations being scheduled for October, www.delmar.ca.us/Government/Pages/VillageRevitalization.aspx or sign up for more information at conversations@delmar.ca.us

(If you are interested in reading more, visit the archives of CalPlanner at www.calapa.org/en/cms/92/ ; see the revitalization websites for Vermont’s Villages at www.historicvermont.org/programs/downtown.html ; and check out The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald Shoup, Planners Press 2005 and Urban Green, Architecture for the Future by Neil Chambers, Palgrave MacMillan, 2011.)

 

 
 

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