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Jim Scott
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Full Circle

Over next five years there will be a dramatic increase in the population living around our tabletop redoubt.  There are many new multi-family projects underway downtown and Mission Valley. This projected wave of development will house thousands of new residents; in Mission Valley, for example, the current supply of apartments and condominiums is expected to double within five years.

Downtown's burst of residential construction is evolutionary. Projects that were shelved after The Great Recession are coming to back to life. What will happen in the Valley, however, is revolutionary.  Mission Valley will come to resemble more a small town than a haphazard collection of shopping zones, condominiums, and apartments. This sudden growth will be more than traffic congestion and crowds at the beach; the urbanization of the Valley is nothing less than the unraveling of the postwar suburban model. Density replacing sprawl. Walking replacing the car. Shopping where you live.  

This is way it used to be. In 1958 the area’s first major shopping center opened in the Valley. Post-war affluence, the growth of the freeway system, and the affordability of newer homes in the exurbs and suburbs diminished urban neighborhoods everywhere in the country.

The result of this diaspora was no more apparent than in the humbling of the once bustling and prosperous shopping districts along El Cajon Boulevard, University Avenue, and Adams Avenue.  As a child, I can remember my mother taking me shopping on Adams Avenue and to the movies at 30th and University. These were vibrant places where residents worked and shopped and on any given Saturday the sidewalks were full of shoppers. Eventually these corridors became home to second-hand shops, aging motels, dead cars, lost souls, and empty storefronts. The Boulevard, once the gateway for motorists and migrants coming from the east searching for a better life, was best known for the number of street walkers that had set up shop there.

The renaissance of these commercial zones, now so happily apparent, did not come about because 30-somethings discovered craft beer. Boomers, who questioned everything, never fully embraced the suburban lifestyle. Pete Seeger's 1963 satiric hit song, “Little Boxes”, was the first indication that the kids were not going to be happy in El Camino Del Rey Mar Vista Estates. Many in the counter culture gravitated to older homes in mature walking neighborhoods. They were later joined by eastern urban ex-pats that brought their city-ways with them. The old residential housing stock was slowly improved and prices smartly marched upward. What was missing were business districts that could cater to the new demographic order.

Happily, the time machine is running in reverse. The commercial revitalization in these once-middling areas is slowly happening, spearheaded by foodies, millennials, boomers, and the growth of pocket industries like brew pubs and design firms. The residential renaissance is mature; these new urban residents have the spending power to support more local businesses within walking distances of their restored bungalows. The demand for better goods and services is there but the supply is still lacking.

Which brings me back to Mission Valley and Downtown. Using commercial services in the Valley and Downtown will become less convenient for Metro residents. Millennials and baby-boomers want their services close to home and preferably within walking distance. The purchasing power of those living in places like North Park has caught the attention of national retailers. If you doubt this, note that Target is bringing in a store onto an iconic South Park location. I know there is fierce local opposition to this incursion, but I suspect they are fighting a losing battle. Within five years there will be more national retailers (slightly smaller of course given land constraints) sprinkled about the Metro area. As more brand-name companies plant their flag in the very places they abandoned years ago, it will be far easier to shop locally.

The resulting synergy of improving housing stock and commercial prosperity will increase demand for property in the once-forgotten residential heart of San Diego. There will be created soon in the Valley and downtown, a growing population of apartment dwellers. Presumably most will eventually want to own a single family home. This group will be spoiled by their vibrant and walkable environments and will look more to Normal Heights than Rancho Bernardo for their next move.

To see the future of the Metro area, look at the changes going on now Manhattan. Old neighborhoods, once thought as not suitable for tony housing, are being renovated at a breakneck pace. Those at the bottom of the economic ladder are being pushed to the outer boroughs, similar to the way Parisians stick their impoverished out on the banlieue.  The message is clear, values in the corridor than runs from Mission Hills to El Cerrito are going to increase faster than the city and county averages. And this is particularly true of single family homes.  Demand for a traditional home close to downtown will far outstrip the future supply assuming continued population growth. Nearly all new construction will be for multi-family dwellings; it appears houses will a safe and rewarding investment over the medium term.

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