North Park, A Changing Neighborhood

North Park: A Neighborhood that is Changing.

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North Park Sign, Early Tuesday Morning, in February




Nadin Abbott

Photos: Tom and Nadin Abbott


(Insert Image 1473  Caption: North Park sign)


North Park is one of the core neighborhoods in San Diego, and has seen many changes over the years. It is nestled between Interstate 163 and Interstate15 near Balboa Park, and over the last two decades it has seen a revival. It has become a hot hip place to go for the nightlife scene. 


This has led to important changes in the character of North Park, which is very obvious to long time residents. This is not the place they grew up at, and while it might not be as edgy as it once was, it is becoming unaffordable for people of lower incomes to live at. It traditionally has been a lower income community, with a varied ethnic makeup. Therefore, this traditionally mixed neighborhood is becoming hip, and whiter. 


On the surface, at least to major corporations, such as Starbucks, this is a good thing. People want their products and want to have access to the goods and services they have become accustomed to. Yet. this is also the kinds of services that many long time residents do not want, nor can afford. 


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Parking Structure, Black and White Study

Kristen Green of the Union Tribune reported this exact phenomena in her article detailing the closing of a popular barbershop.


A popular barber and book shop has closed after rent more than doubled at its North Park location. Since it opened 2½ years ago, R. Spot Barber and Books has been home to bimonthly poetry readings that have drawn dozens. People dropped by to play chess, peruse books about black culture and soak up DJ-spun music while getting a haircut.

The owner, James Richards, said he was located in North Park because he liked the affordability, diversity of cultures and level of foot traffic. But the things that interested him in North Park also have attracted developers and national chains like Starbucks, which plans to open four coffee shops in the neighborhood in the next year.


This was not the first time or the last time that popular spots have closed up shop due to higher rents. I suspect this will be far from the last. 


In fact, according to the Voice of San Diego the latest of these businesses to be kicked out of the area is Pat, the owner of “North Park antique-and-collectible shop Pat’s Corner.” 


This store is no more. She lost her lease in December. This was a month to month lease, and now the property has been leased to an architectural firm.


This happened this December, which was a shocking change for people accostumed to see this long standing business. 


This only points to a process of gentrification that is accelerating, where old stand byes, some of them decades old, are being replaced by new store fronts run by people moving to the newly gentrified neighborhood, or worst, national chains that are not headquartered in San Diego. 



While city leaders and others in the real estate community see an area that has lagged in economic development for years, finally getting revitalized, there are problems with this process. The neighborhood is becoming increasingly expensive to live at, and when most of the old time residents living in North are of limited means, affordable housing is starting to become a problem.  The end of the Redevelopment Agency also brings new challenges, such as continuing projects such as Kalos which:


CHW (Community Housing Works) financed the development with funding from the San Diego Redevelopment Agency, the San Diego Housing Commission and the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. According to a study conducted by the National Association of Homebuilders (2010), the new construction will have positive impacts on the San Diego economy and on the North Park neighborhood itself:


This ground breaking community is modeled on a successful model to move people into home ownership, but many of the funds necessary to continue these worthy projects are gone. Thankfully the Kalos development, is still going to continue, under the aegis of the Oversight Board Successor Agency. It is part of the approximately 800 projects that were already in the pipeline. They are part of the Recognized Obligations Schedules (ROP). But what about the future? With the end of the Development Agencies, as of December of 2011, money is now quite tight for redevelopment. 


To some old time residents this might mean a sight of relief, since it was Development moneys that were used to push for the gentrification of not just Down Town San Diego and the Gaslamp Quarter, but also North Park. The process might be impossible to stop at this point, assuming the funds are found, either in private hands or government. 


Crime and Homelessness.


DSC 0029Homeless Woman walking on North Park,


While we know that there is an effort to gentrify the area there is another serious side of the coin in North Park. While the area is not as edgy as it used to be, it still has a higher crime rate than other areas of the city of San Diego, including core communities. It also has a homeless population that is chronic and tries hard to remain under the radar. 


The reality is that North Park is patrolled by both the San Diego Police Outreach Team and the Alpha Project. Both share the goal of helping the chronic homeless get off the streets. Joining the Alpha Project and others is Home Again. This is a pilot project, and a public-non profit initiative meant to help the city deal with the chronic homeless. According to the Home Again project:


The answer is one simple notion – housing first. If we start by giving the chronic homeless a place to call home, then we can create structure to offer support, services, mental healthcare and job readiness assistance in a smarter, more successful way. This will saveSan Diego County a significant amount of money and, more importantly, help to keep these people off the streets and on to a better, fuller life.


This is one of many solutions to the homelessness problem, as proposed by the city. It is also known that many of our chronic homeless are veterans of the Armed forces. During the Mayoral campaign Mayor Bob Filner said that one of his objectives would be to help these veterans to get off the streets. Part of it is by increasing the employment of these veterans. We wish the Mayor well in these worthy efforts. During the Democratic State Convention, during the Veteran Caucus, Filner mentioned that upwards of half of our Homeless are Vets. Dealing with just the Vets will reduce the homeless population by a large margin.


As far as crime is concerned, North Park has had issues over the years with gangs, and petty crime. San Diego PD reports that in fiscal year 2012 there were 1,121 property crime, (prosecuted) and 1,323 other crimes. There were no murders, but the area saw eleven rapes, twenty four armed robberies, one hundred and twenty three assaults and two hundred and two violent crimes, for example. If you happen to have an app called crime map you might notice a discrepancy and many more reports than the final numbers, in fact, for the last sixty days I hit the max court of five hundred. The explanation is simple: Car break ins are for the most part never prosecuted since these have to be caught “in the act.”So these crimes are reported, for insurance purposes, but are rarely prosecuted. 


(Insert Image 1484: Caption, Water Tower showing a home with barred windows)

You might ask, how do these statistics compare to other areas of town? Hillcrest had seven hundred and seventy nine property crimes and nine hundred and three other crimes. These statistics are freely available here.


Tagging has gone down as well, but only because the city implemented a program to immediately paint over the graffiti, or as soon as possible. This made it very difficult for us to find any, though we managed. This program has actually been a success, and one that has to be encouraged. 


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 Graffiti near the 805 Overpass





These are issues that affecting the character of the area and changing it. Crime is a well known problem. This is one that the city is successfully dealing with, with numbers remaining more or less stable. But the revitalization of the area is changing the character and affordability of the neighborhood. 


Gentrification is a double edged sword. It helps a neighborhood to improve it’s lot, and to revive a flagging economy. But on the down side it drives out long time residents since the area becomes less and less affordable. 


What is clear is that the end of the development agencies may slow down the process or stop it. It is also clear that going to North Park to enjoy the night life avoids the side streets who’s houses are still decked out with barred windows. Nevertheless younger families ere moving in, and inevitably this will change the nature of the neighborhood. 

Categories: labor, poverty

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1 reply

  1. Just a note, article was submitted to the Free Press in early February. So we decided to run it. Given that North Park is a working class neighborhood, this fits the theme of the blog

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