Place Making as an Economic Development tool for San Ysidro.

Imagine a Google Campus in San Ysidro, with over 1000 software developers and engineers, most live within a walking distance, there are plenty of cafe’s, craft breweries and other specialty shops for them, they interact with their colleagues that work a few miles south in a Twin Campus in Tijuana, located just across the border in the Colonia Federal district.  If you can imagine it, then you can make it come through, and that is what placemaking is all about. 

According to the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the concept of economic development relates to how local capacities contribute to a community’s progress, based on the opportunities to maximize the potential for individuals, companies and society in general.  Economic development is a function of increasing prosperity and quality of life for residents.  Based on this definition, what can we do to create those opportunities?  This is where placemaking comes in to play. 

The word placemaking is a combination of two concepts, place and the verb making, to create a place, and as all creative actions it is a process, a series of steps than need to be taken.  Placemaking is a collaborative process, it requires the participation of all those who are interested in a particular place, because they use that space, for work, to live in, to play, shop, learn, and grow as humans.  Jane Jacobs, a pioneer of placemaking in the early 70´s popularized the notion of “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody – the eyes on the street”.  

The process starts by developing a Shared Vision, of the type of place you want.  So, if we want to have something like a Google Campus, we need to involve all stakeholders and incorporate that into our common vision.   Project for Public Spaces, Inc. (, a non profit organization that helps communities with community development strategies defines placemaking as a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place, to capitalizes on a local community’s assets.   The steps they recommend are: 1) Define place and identify stakeholders, 2) Evaluate space and identify issues, 3) Place vision, 4) Short-term experiments, 5) Ongoing reevaluation and long-term improvements.   The propose the role of stakeholders as advisor, implementors and bringing additional resources.  They also recommend bringing in experts as facilitators and designers.  The PPS also defines as the top qualities of a great place:  

1. They are accessible and well connected to other important places in the area.

2. They are comfortable and project a good image.

3. They attract people to participate in activities there.

4. They are sociable environments in which people want to gather and visit again and again. Place making example: Sundance Square, Fort Worth Texas. 2013 (Source:



Now back to economic development of San Ysidro, and how we create the opportunities to maximize the potential for individuals, companies, and society in general.  I think we would all agree that high paying jobs and scalable new enterprises would be a good way to increase prosperity, with that as part of the shared vision, the next obvious question is, how do we do it? How do we attract those types of companies and entrepreneurs, and how do we create an environment that facilitates their success?  With the placemaking focus, once we have this clear shared vision, then we need to evaluate our assets, define the gaps, and start working to close those gaps, little by little, project by project.   

Well what are San Ysidro’s assets? The community would be the best one to define its assets, but one obvious one that is very significant is the Border, and its vicinity to Tijuana, a metropolitan area with over 2 million residents and a powerhouse for light manufacturing and medical tourism.  In 2018 the Urban Land Institute, a global leader in urban development policy and education, published a report “Building Bridges; an exploration of a united cross border experience”, based on the results of an assessment for placemaking strategies in the communities surrounding the San Ysidro Port of Entry and the El Chaparral Port of Entry, the first ever binational project of its kind. In this report, the team of experts conclude, based on their observation and interview of key stakeholders, that the binational district offered unique branding opportunities and sense of place, where mixed use and transit oriented development could attract new investment, they highlighted opportunities for pedestrian pathways or paseos, plazas, housing and high value services and retail. 

With this report, San Ysidro has the basis to initiate a placemaking strategy, it defines a vision, evaluates assets and recommends specific steps.  One key element is collaboration and bringing together the community, a great tool for that is the BFusion, which proposes the attraction of value-added innovation and creative industries that will complement the traditional retail-heavy business environment in cross border districts and attract both talent and higher-paying jobs. Get involved!

Post Written By Flavio Olivieri, 05/12/2020

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