Located just south of downtown, Barrio Logan is one the most culturally and historically rich neighborhoods in San Diego.
With landmarks such as Chicano Park, the Barrio symbolizes much of the Mexican-American struggle in California. The San Diego Historical Site Board officially recognized the park, along with its murals, as a historic site in 1980. It will be celebrating its 45th birthday this year.
Due to the significance of its past, efforts to redevelop the Barrio typically have been met with resistance from residents; however, the community is trying to find a way to respect and preserve the Barrio’s culture and history amidst redevelopment.
The Barrio Logan Community Planning Group
In 2012, as a part of San Diego’s General Plan, the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update was developed and passed by the San Diego City Council. It was written to help encourage economic growth and redevelopment in the Barrio. The plan addressed transportation, zoning and redevelopment issues. The plan was controversial among industries in the Barrio. Enough signatures were collected by various industries and two propositions (B and C) were put on the 2014 primary election ballot. San Diegans voted the two measures down in the 2014 primary election. Currently, the original Barrio Logan Community plan is in effect.
Since the rejection of the plan, City Councilman David Alvarez has established the Barrio Community Planning Group — one of 42 community planning groups in San Diego. The groups exist to help advise the City Council in city planning and development. Alvarez asked members of the community to run the group. The group is supposed to serve as the Barrio’s official voice.
Architect Mark Steele, who has had an office in the Barrio, was asked by Alvarez to serve as the chair of the group. He says that he doesn’t necessarily have a vision for the group, but is dedicated to seeing that come out of its members.
“My strategy, rather, is to make sure that this group remains positive,“ Steele said. “When we make a statement, it’s a statement that has some unity and value to it so that the reputation of this group will build to the point where people will pay attention when we come out and take a position on something.”
Gentrification vs. “gente-fication”
Initial renovations to the Barrio focused on affordable housing for the community like the La Entrada Apartments and Los Vientos Apartments providing 85 and 89 units, respectively. The projects were completed by 2012.
The Mercado del Barrio, located directly in the center of Barrio Logan alongside César Chávez Parkway and between Main Street and Newton Ave., makes up two city blocks. It includes a grocery store, restaurants and a plaza with a fountain. The Northgate-González Market is the Barrio’s first major local grocery store. The Mercado serves as a town square where residents are brought together to shop, eat and socialize.
When a lower-income community undergoes such an overhaul, the word gentrification becomes a part of the conversation.
Gentrification occurs when the redevelopment of a community raises property values and costs, thus displacing the current demographic. It is no wonder why gentrification holds a negative connotation in a culturally rich community like the Barrio.
“I don’t think [gentrification] is happening right now in Barrio Logan, there’s been one market rate development built in Barrio Logan in 10 to 15 years and those were condos built on the corner of National and Sigsbee,” Barrio Logan resident Brent Beltrán said. “Every housing development you see in Barrio Logan… is affordable housing complexes and so they are not market rate condos where a more affluent community is moving in.”
Beltrán, who regularly contributes to the online publication San Diego Free Press, also serves as the vice chair of the Barrio Logan Community Planning Group. Beltrán has been an active member of the community for more than two years.
Although Steele sees gentrification occurring, he has a slightly different view of what it means to the community.
“People are discovering the Barrio,” Steele said. “Most people I talk to, however, are interested in repurposing existing buildings and sort of fitting in with the community as opposed to changing the community.”
Derived from the Spanish word “gente,” Beltrán says some community members are referring to the recent changes as gente-fication rather than gentrification. Beltrán defines this as anything that provides something positive to the community or prompts residents to actively participate in the community.
“We want to ‘peoplefy’ this community,” Beltrán said. “It’s happening, we have these spaces opening up, art exhibits and breweries opening up, they’re playing an active role in the community.”
MULTIMEDIA: Brent Beltrán describes gentrification in the context of the community and Ranessa Ashton explains the significance of the new San Diego Continuing Education campus.
Infusing culture and construction
Gentrification remains a concern for a lot of the Barrio Logan community; however, one architect is proving that is possible to develop within a community without forcing people out and actually inviting people in.
In 2013, construction began on the new San Diego Continuing Education César Chávez campus — the campus is scheduled to open in the fall of 2015. The campus is located on the Southwest corner of Main Street and César Chávez Parkway, walking distance from the trolley station.
The parking structure for the campus is located two blocks northeast, it displays a mural of César Chávez and farm worker protests in California.
The continuing education center will focus on adult education and will provide vocational training, like English as a second language classes. The center will also have programs for high school students in the community. The building incorporates symbols of Mayan, Aztec and Mexican culture in its composition.
As a part of the San Diego City College District, the $50 million project is being funded by construction bonds made possible by the passage of Propositions S in 2002 and N in 2006. What makes the campus so special is the architect who designed it and his vision for the campus as a part of the Barrio Logan community.
Joseph Martinez, president and principal architect at Martinez + Cutri, grew up in Logan Heights, a neighboring community to Barrio Logan. He attended University of California San Diego, where he got his bachelor’s degree, and went on to get his master’s degree in architecture from Harvard University in 1975.
As the lead architect on the project, Martinez is able to incorporate elements of his culture into the design of the building. He says his long-term vision for the Barrio is to maintain and promote its rich Latino heritage.
“The design focus was on authenticity, capturing the spirit of the culture and ancestry of the Mexican-American/Latino residents and, in turn, synthesizing an appropriate work of architecture,” Martinez said.
Redeveloping a community like the Barrio, and preserving the culture within it, can be difficult, but members of the community are seeing the recent changes as positive and many residents are embracing it.