The historically black community of Southeast San Diego has been experiencing economic and cultural shifts as local demographics have rapidly changed. The community’s approximately 165,000 residents are 52.4% Latinx, 19.4% Asian, and 14.4% black, with a median household income of $50,612. The neighborhoods of Southeast San Diego rank among the highest percentiles in the state for pollution burden and population characteristics that can result in increased vulnerability to pollution, such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, low birthweight, educational attainment, housing burden, linguistic isolation, poverty, and unemployment.
There are several local nonprofits and community-based organizations helping residents take pride in both the history and future of the community while processing demographic and cultural shifts. One such organization is The Urban Collaborative Project, which has grown since its founding in 2012 through an emergent process responding to longstanding needs for addressing toxic trauma in underserved communities. Its vision is to transform Southeast San Diego from a community of concern into a community of resilience and power by healing this trauma, building connections, developing interdependence, and taking control of the future. Over the last five years, The Urban Collaborative Project has used The Self-Healing Communities Model to address community trauma and resilience. This systems approach to changemaking aims to address the adverse impacts of intergenerational trauma on community health and culture by having community members own the work of identifying their own priorities, challenges, and solutions.
To achieve these goals, Southeast San Diego needs to coordinate and collaborate with larger efforts occurring at the city, county, and state scales. Both the City and County of San Diego have climate action plans focused on the public health impacts of climate change, as well as a commitment to a 100% clean energy future. The City of San Diego has promised to prioritize action, investment, and opportunities in communities of concern, and California’s cap-and-trade program offers potential funding streams for climate and energy solutions.
The Urban Collaborative Project joined the Institute for Sustainable Communities’ Partnership for Resilient Communities in early 2018 and is focusing on revitalizing a previously vacant lot in their neighborhood. In the first phase of this work, they transformed the lot into a community gathering place with two family meeting spaces, a stage area, an art workshop, a basketball hoop, a landmark mural, and a garden with drip irrigation. The team’s primary focus at this workshop will be the goals of the second phase of the Gathering Place Project: incorporating solar energy generation and energy storage, paired with community education on climate justice and resilience. This will be a demonstration project, inviting collaboration with several community groups and providing opportunities for climate resilience education and training.
- The Urban Collaborative Project is building resilience using the Self-Healing Communities Model. The four-phase transformational process centers on the core values of inclusive leadership, community engagement, and capacity building. The organization has used this model to effectively increase kindergarten readiness for pre-k students and families, work with Southeastern San Diego’s largest grocery store to improve the quality of healthy food, convert numerous vacant lots into safer formal trails and gardens, provide neighborhood groups with numerous capacity building tools, and conduct community outreach and placemaking events.
- The Urban Collaborative Project has been successful in collaborating with local artists to integrate art into the community in ways that celebrate the past, present, and future of the community.
- Vacant land policies – As the community works to reclaim and revitalize vacant lots in ways that improve public safety; provide opportunities to grow healthy, local food; and create community gathering spaces, they are facing challenges that include gaining long-term control of the sites, ensuring compliance with city codes, and navigating the complex bureaucracy that makes decisions about development in the community.
- Climate education – Southeast San Diego communities are unsure about what the climate crisis means for them and how to proactively prepare. It is not well understood how learning about energy independence, water conservation, and urban farming can help residents survive and thrive. Residents feel that the City and County of San Diego have not adequately conducted outreach about the potential impacts of climate change.