"Uptown District" San Diego, California

Client: City of San Diego

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Uptown District with Balboa Park and Downtown San Diego in Background

Uptown District is a pedestrian-oriented mixed-use retail center and residential development on the 14-acre site of the old Sears store in San Diego's Hillcrest neighborhood. Construction of the $70 million project followed a complex planning process with extensive community involvement. The project has attracted national attention as a model for redeveloping low-density, obsolete commercial sites for new housing and community uses Its significance lies in its success in repairing an older city fabric that was damaged by 1950's commercial "strip" development, restoring density, physical connections, economic and social vitality to an urban neighborhood.

The urban design concept for "Uptown District" emphasized transforming the site into a pedestrian environment closely linked to the adjacent blocks of the Hillcrest business district and residential neighborhood. University Avenue, a major thoroughfare lined by neighborhood shops and services, was damaged by the older Sears shopping center on the site. Typical of commercial centers of the period, the Sears center was isolated from the adjacent neighborhood by a sea of parked cars, robbing University Avenue of its pedestrian activity.


The project comprises a neighborhood retail center with a major supermarket and small shops, a public community center for the Hillcrest neighborhood, a section of live-work lofts and 313 dwelling units, many located above retail shops. The project forms a strong edge on University Avenue, a major transit street, by placing new retail buildings at the sidewalk to provide active street frontages. Parking is located below the market, and in a "parking court" behind the street-fronting buildings. Along University Avenue, courtyard openings allow views into the heart of the shopping district, visually linking it to the activity of the thoroughfare.

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Retail shops with upper level dwellings (left). Joyce Beers Uptown Community Center (right)

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Vermont Street extended into site from University Avenue.

Residential Component

A series of enclosed public courtyards and gardens provide a strong internal focus for the residential portion of the site. An existing adjacent street, Vermont Street, was extended into the site to provide a link with the existing city grid. The residential units are a mix of townhouses and apartments in two to four story buildings with balconies, gardens and access to outdoor courtyards. The residential density is approximately 45 dwellings per acre (313 units, 7 acres). Residential parking is located under the dwellings, taking advantage of a grade change on the site.

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Residential courtyard

Project Team

Gerald Gast, Principal-in-charge. Williarns-Kuebelbeck Associates Inc., Economic Consultants. Urban Systems Associates, Transportation Consultants.

City of San Diego: Yvonne Larsen, Planning Commissioner and Chairperson of the Citizens Advisory Committee. Michael Stepner, Acting Planning Director. John Wilhoit, Project Manager. Paul Curcio, City Urban Design Director and Assistant Planning Director.

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Richmond Street Townhouses