Seaport Village tends to hold a special place in the hearts of visitors. Since its opening in the 1980s, it has become a hub for making memories and celebrating meaningful occasions. Over the years, the property inevitably needed some thoughtful investment and updates. Beginning in the Fall of 2018, the Port of San Diego, Protea Property Management and SLP Urban Planning collaborated closely to reposition Seaport Village through site enhancements and activations.
Urban Planning creates positive change on many scales. In this case, the careful combination of community engagement, placemaking and data-enabled design proved to be the successful key to unlocking the potential for Seaport Village to serve visitors and residents alike, provide meaningful open space amidst the pandemic and beyond, attract local small businesses to locate along our waterfront, and continue the legacy as a backdrop for making memories.
The collaborative approach was both well planned and managed, as well as iterative and experimental, grounded in principles of Tactical Urbanism and Human-Centered Design. From decluttering common spaces, implementing moveable furniture, and facilitating community happenings, to the creation of artists-in-residence programs, a podcast studio, and a monthly concert series, to refreshing the signage, common areas and exterior paint, the goal was to create a waterfront for locals and tourists to gather and enjoy time together.
The interim activation efforts included a strategic series of near-term interventions, edu-tainment and arts partnerships to enliven the village while testing ideas for the future of San Diego’s waterfront.
For each of the placemaking initiatives, goals were matched with tactics. For example, one goal was to enhance the connection to the bay. The tactic was to remove overgrown hedges that divided the common areas from the boardwalk, and replace them with an urban beach, allowing for sightlines and a smooth link between the two. Another goal was to create flexible, functional and welcoming spaces. Through the removal of fixed, heavy, concrete benches and use of lightweight, colorful, moveable furniture, visitors can adjust the spaces to enrich their experience.
Genuine community engagement is a central part of effective placemaking and urban planning. One specific goal was to connect with local arts and culture institutions to create meaningful and relevant programming for local families and animate vacant retail spaces with temporary uses. This proved to be a very successful concept and included a close collaboration with the New Children’s Museum to create a “Studio by the Bay” with opportunities for artists in residence to exhibit their work, create new work, and offer art classes for families.
In the category of Edu-tainment, the biggest success was a week-long Ocean Optimism event, timed to coincide with the international Ocean Sciences Meeting in February 2020. In a ground-breaking ‘art interpreting science’ series of installations, podcasts, lectures, performances, and immersive experiences that allowed OSM attendees, local artist Jessica Ling Findley, activists, professors, professionals, and lay people of all ages to intersect around topics vital to marine conservation and climate change.
Finally, there is a close correlation between successful placemaking and economic development. Many small businesses at Seaport Village have been there for decades. One key initiative was to support their vitality and attract new tenants to fill the vacant spaces. One of the most meaningful measurements of the success of the collective efforts has been the additions of Mike Hess Brewing, Mr. Moto Pizza House, Spill the Beans and Geppetto’s, among others.
These integrated efforts pre-pandemic positioned the property to not only quickly pivot to online programming and become a leader and innovator in that space among its peers but to also provide a haven for locals in need of safe, outdoor spaces to break up the monotony of stay-at-home orders.
For all these reasons and more, the revitalization of Seaport Village is an exemplary urban planning project.