San Diego, Neighborhood Next, 3XN/GXN, Gehl Architects
#city planning

Where the future is radically car-free

The city of San Diego in Southern California has plans for a new district, one that will be entirely void of cars. Known as Neighborhood Next, it must be one of the most radical projects in the USA.

No other country has encouraged personal motorization as energetically as the USA. The number of cars there has spiralled since the 1960s. And in 2015 it had the world’s highest proportion of vehicle ownership at 788 cars per 1000 people. As a result, the automobile has become a symbol of personal freedom. This mantra has been followed by urban planners. Indeed, their designs have corroborated the car’s status as the principal mode of transport. In many places, pedestrians have been eliminated completely in a kind of preselection process within society. Inaccessible on foot, these places have neither sidewalks nor crossings, and sometimes it is even against the law to walk along the side of the road.

Aerial view, Neighborhood Next, San Diego, 3XN/GXN, Gehl Architects
The area around San Diego’s old sports arena is destined to become a car-free residential zone.

The 15-minute community

With this in mind, the new master plan for San Diego seems like a bulwark against the American way of life. The concept for a new urban quarter called Neighborhood Next envisages complete exclusion of motorized travel alongside the establishment of a 15-minute community. This means that everything required for day-to-day life is reachable on foot within 15 minutes at most: from schools and various stores through to leisure facilities and offices.

Everything is connected by green promenades and numerous public parks where residents can enjoy their lives as radical pedestrians to the full. Bicycles are the only form of transport included in the mobility concept. According to the master plan, “the scheme emphasizes the ‘15-minute living’ concept and allows residents to live, work, socialize, and commute without the need for a car.”

The scheme emphasizes the ‘15-minute living’ concept, allowing residents to live, work, socialize, and commute without the need for a car.

Master plan, 3XN/GXN, Gehl Architects

GreenLane, Neighborhood Next, San Diego, 3XN/GXN, Gehl Architects
The GreenLine Promenade is the main route through the quarter and serves as a green lung for the neighbourhood.

Built in 1966, the site of San Diego’s sports arena has been selected for the development of this innovative, new quarter. The city council wants to turn the industrial park into a sustainable, European-style residential district. Experts from Denmark – the architectural offices 3XN/GXN and Gehl Architects – are responsible for the Neighborhood Next master plan. The developer ConAm Management Corporation is a project partner.

The most liveable urban quarter in the world

Around 5,000 residential units for all income groups are planned for this car-free quarter. The city has specified that 25 percent of all apartments must be allocated to the “affordable living” sector. Its aim is to create a complete ecosystem for residents of the “most liveable urban quarter in the world”.

A bridge will extend the pedestrian zone across the freeway to connect the site with the river. Lush vegetation along the GreenLine Promenade will connect all corners of the neighbourhood and serve as a green lung. As shown by visualizations for this exemplary urban quarter, there is also greenery on the roofs of the individual buildings.

Pedestrian zone, Neighborhood Next, San Diego, 3XN/GXN, Gehl Architects
Pedestrian zones as far as the eye can see: the future residents of this new urban quarter will not just be enthusiastic pedestrians, but also enjoy inexpensive living.

It is not yet clear if the existing arena will be refurbished, rebuilt, or moved to a different location. But whatever happens, the Danish master plan has placed it at the heart of social and cultural life. The planners have allowed space for a school, library, childcare facility or art centre. And rooms for flexible, community use will be found here as well.

Combatting urban sprawl

The proposal by 3XN/GXN and Gehl Architects was chosen ahead of its rivals in the very first round. And so it seems that San Diego is seriously considering a car-free way of life.

Arena, Neighborhood Next, San Diego, 3XN/GXN, Gehl Architects
An ecologically designed arena has been placed at the heart of social life in the master plan.

However, the local press has been quite critical of the proposal so far because such a high population density is otherwise only encountered downtown. Besides this, the many apartment complexes are a harsh contrast to the detached house, which symbolizes the American quality of life.

Nonetheless, urban designers are realizing that the overdevelopment typical of recent decades cannot be reconciled with US climate goals. This is also because building detached houses increases the number of cars and the related carbon emissions. And so – at least on paper – the car is being slowly jettisoned.

Text: Gertraud Gerst
Translation: Rosemary Bridger-Lippe
Visualizations: 3XN