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How A 1970s Plan For San Diego Sustainability Still Has Relevance

In 1974, the publication of “Temporary Paradise?” an unofficial but seminal San Diego planning document by urban planners Kevin Lynch and Donald Appleyard, kicked off the modern era of planning for the region and promoted local sustainability — even before the concept of sustainability had much currency.

San Diego State University professor Bruce Appleyard

The document still has relevance in a San Diego struggling with issues of sustainability and growth in the 21st century, according to San Diego State University professor Bruce Appleyard, son of one of the report's original authors.

Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, a local planning and urbanism advocacy group, is preparing to publish a commemorative reprint of the document. 

The edition will contain seven new essays by such local planners as Bruce Appleyard, as well as New School of Architecture professor Michael Stepner and San Diego State University professor Larry Herzog.

Recently Bisnow asked Bruce Appleyard about the report's importance in the current climate.

Bisnow: What is the relevance of “Temporary Paradise?” now, after nearly 35 years?

Appleyard: “Temporary Paradise?” is as relevant today as it was when it first came out, and in some ways, even more so. 

The authors give guidance on valuing and preserving our canyons, providing housing and jobs in existing neighborhoods and around transit stations — while slowing suburban growth — building robust walking, bicycling and transit networks, and renewing major centers, such as Mission Valley. These are the tenets of creating a sustainable region, and many issues we are still grappling with today.

While most planning exercises are either driven by highly local interests or disciplinary silos (such as our regional transportation plans), this document is unique in that it provides a comprehensive regional vision showing how everything is connected through an environmental quality and urban design lens.


Bisnow: Shouldn't some of the new tech we have now be considered when it comes to planning? That is, tech that didn't exist in 1974?

Appleyard: Yes. Some of the new things we have to consider going forward are the technological advancements in our handheld devices that enable our transportation, such as with Uber/Lyft, and our land use patterns (Airbnb), as well as the future of vehicle autonomy and the rise of Mobility-as-a-Service. These new technologies may even be harnessed to encourage and reward socially desirable behaviors.

Bisnow: How did Tijuana figure in the report?

Appleyard: The report advocated for stronger regional collaboration between San Diego and Tijuana, providing guidance on how this can come about through strong joint action. It's believed to be the catalyst for many cross-border collaborations we have today.

Bisnow: Can San Diego become a smarter and more sustainable city in the 21st century, and how?

Appleyard: There are several things the region can do to grow more sustainably: First, value planning and urban design, as well as planners and urban designers themselves. Recognize also that markets perform well with planning.

Also, develop a vision, and a sustainability, livability and equity performance measurement framework that can help guide all subsequent planning decisions, and stick to it! 

Finally, it will take political leadership and will to bring us together as a region, overcoming institutional barriers and disciplinary silos, in a comprehensive manner to realize a more sustainable future for all.

Related Topics: urban planning, Bruce Appleyard