The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Summer 1995, Volume 41, Number 3
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Big City Vision (1970-1990)

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Population in 1970: 696,769
Population in 1970: 852,000
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San Diegans witnessed tremendous changes citywide during the 1970s and 1980s. The process of suburbanization that had begun in the 1950s continued on a massive scale, transforming the landscape. New subdivisions, freeways, retail centers, and business parks seemed to mushroom overnight. The city experienced rapid growth, escalating land and housing prices and the rebirth of downtown.

Of all the dramatic transformations which took place, downtown redevelopment truly characterized the big-city image many San Diegans wished to project. The development of a large retail complex, high-rise hotels and commercial buildings, residential projects and a convention center, were key elements of San Diego's urban renaissance.

When San Diego emerged in the late 1980s as the nation's sixth largest city, it had not only achieved its goal to become a thoroughly modern city, but had retained its image as the "City Beautiful." Like many American cities, San Diego had experienced the familiar cycle of suburbanization, urban decay and urban renewal. Unlike other cities, however, San Diego chose an alternative method for funding its urban renewal projects. Instead of federal urban renewal aid, the city funded redevelopment projects through other means such as public bonds, special tax assessments and private investment. Civic leaders, city planners and a non-profit development corporation worked with investors and other members of the business community to gain their support. Their cooperation and business capital made possible the development of the Gaslamp Quarter, the San Diego Trolley, Horton Plaza, the San Diego Convention Center and a host of other projects which had completely transformed the city's skyline and waterfront by 1990. With the success of urban revitalization, San Diego now promoted itself as "America's Finest City."