Who are we?

Published Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 by Dave Woods

Over the years, Escondido has been — and has tried to be — a lot of different things.

For example, in the early days, Escondido was very rural and agriculture was the name of the game. During this time, the area around Grape Day Park and Grand Avenue started to slowly develop and become the emotional heart of the city — a home to many community gatherings and celebrations, and a hub of activity.

Decades later, the eastward expansion happened, which created the East Valley corridor. With it came a variety of shopping centers and suburban developments, some of which have already disappeared or morphed as time marches on — remember The Vineyard and the Escondido Village Mall? For better or worse, this suburban expansion also meant the end of much of Escondido's agricultural industry as vineyards and orange groves were replaced by houses.

Downtown continued to grow into a more active urban hub, but over the years, even that changed as the I-15 freeway drew traffic westward. Undeniably, the new freeway, coupled with the opening of North County Fair mall in the southern part of the city, significantly changed the character and energy of Downtown Escondido, which had since become only one small part of a much larger urban core.

In response, city leaders and community members suggested and implemented a variety of projects and redevelopment inititatives designed to revitalize Escondido's urban core. These included the development of the city hall / Center for the Arts complex, sidewalk and landscaping improvements on Grand Avenue, and a general emphasis on the arts and cultural attractions.

Which brings us to today... Escondido has grown from a population of nearly 65,000 in 1980 to today's population of almost 150,000. With virtually no vacant land left on which to grow and develop, redevelopment and reinvention of the city's large and older urban core continues to be a popular topic. Various proposals have come forth, including a Chargers stadium, a minor league baseball park for the Padres, a hotel adjacent to the arts center, science and technology business parks, and the creekwalk proposal.

It all begs the question... Who are we?

Are we still an agricultural community at heart, even if our vineyards are now gone? Are we primarily suburban? Are we an urban oasis, with Grand Avenue, Escondido Boulevard, and the core of downtown acting as North County's budding equivalent to San Diego's North Park or Little Italy? Are we an artistic and cultural capital? Are we ripe for reinvention via major redevelopment projects like stadiums and business parks? Are we a destination for visitors, or a place for those of us who live here regularly? Or, are we just fine as-is?

Or maybe the answer is "all of the above," and maybe that's the point — that Escondido is a large and diverse place, that we can be all of these things to some extent, and it's this diversity of people, history, and neighborhoods that really makes us great and sets us apart from our fellow North County communities?

This week in Topics, we're posting only this article because we want you to have a chance to answer the question "who are we?" Whether you're new to Escondido, or if your family has been here for generations, let the world know what Escondido is to you, and what you hope for it to become, by commenting below. As always, all constructive viewpoints and ideas are welcome.

Join the discussion! 5 comments so far...

  1. I think we are a city with a bit of an identity crisis. The city has a rich history, is blessed to have many wonderful citizens who were/are drawn to live here because of the natural beauty of our hidden valley surrounded by the amazing rock lined hills. I believe we have a large group of people who fondly remember the "good old days" and are reluctant to acknowledge that this is in fact a city and no longer a town and that the citizens who live here now represent a much more diverse population than ever before. I would love to see the community once again embrace our agricultural roots and celebrate the rich history that is a part of the fabric of our community. I am proud of the many community based and faith based organizations that contribute great efforts to making this a wonderful place to live . I would like to see the community to continue to be a family oriented city with a vibrant downtown, open spaces for the nature lovers, a well supported arts center and a developed industrial area that will bring up the median income level within our community.

    Comment by Leila Sackfield on August 22, 2011 at 10:36 PM

  2. "Who are we"?
    I AM an Escondido native of 24 years. I grew up in the south end and attended SPHS. I will always consider myself a SoCal boy, and I attended UC San Diego for undergrad. I commuted to school for 3 years (not by choice), but began to realize the La Jolla scene was not for me. PB was fun to visit, but I like the slightly more rural feel to Escondido.
    Now attending UCLA for dental school, I can appreciate the urban feel of a large city, but it rapidly grows old on me. I always appreciate the weekend trips back to Escondido.

    To sum up my recent series of posts about how San Diego (Esco) is better than LA [Including free parking, plenty of roadways, closer community vibe]: We have "Cruising Grand" instead of "No cruising allowed on Sunset Blvd".

    I follow after my father when he says that when you work and live in the same city, you really become a part of it. I look forward to the day when I can move back home to Escondido to start working and become a more permanent part of it once again :)

    Comment by Robert Jungman on August 22, 2011 at 10:50 PM

  3. Escondido's identity is not as lost as some perceive, but it could be made more clear. The Grape Day Festival celebrates Escondido's youth as original wine country, yet the grapes are nowhere to be found. Enjoy the following articles about my suggestion to bring back unity and collaboration to San Diego's Wine Community through a central wine production facility located in Escondido. Not only would it contain premium wine production equipment for the use of county vintners, but it would include lab and class space for Mira Costa's Horticulture Department and a restaurant experience rivaling Stone Brewery! Thanks for reading, John Barlow - johnhbarlow@gmail.com

    08/24/11 - VC men propose regional wine processing center

    7/30/11 - Initial Story - Proposal could make Escondido a prominent wine region

    8/7/11 - Column : A purple Future for Escondido

    8/8/11 - Editorial - A Creative Thinking Rose


    Comment by John Barlow on August 27, 2011 at 8:59 PM

  4. Here's my take as a 30-something who grew up here, moved away for a while, and am now back raising my kids near family...

    -- COLORFUL -- I think of color when I think of Escondido - colors like those found on the tiles made by school children, now lining the stairwell in the library and the wall near the Children's Museum. Color like that on the decorative "poles" (I don't know what they are exactly) on Escondido Blvd and Grand. Color like the mosaic art (Queen Califia's Garden) left behind for us by Niki de Saint Phalle. Color like that of the traditional art and clothing of Mexico.

    -- COUNTRY-LIKE -- The rocky hills can be seen from pretty much everywhere. I don't think we have to confuse the country with the city as much as we think - why not embrace the best of a city, surrounded by country? Have a vibrant downtown nightlife, yet go horseback riding or mountain biking or hiking on the weekends? It doesn't have to be either-or. Escondido - THE CITY IN THE COUNTRY.

    -- ACTIVE -- Dare I say, MOST people around here get out of the house? Walking, hiking, going to the gym, horseback riding, running, fishing on the lake, playing in a softball league, rock climbing, skateboarding, surfing, playing hockey, biking. etc. A lot of families are out walking around the dinner hour.

    -- SURPRISINGLY SELF-EMPLOYED -- Seems like everyone works for themselves (of course that's an exaggeration), IT, graphic design, landscaping, pool maintenance, photography, small business-owner, car maintenance or customization, restaurants, cleaning services, PR, tutoring, sewing, party-planning, real estate, interior design, web design, software writing, and so on. There are also a high number of stay-at-home moms who are actively running their homes and, in many cases, homeschooling their children. We have initiative.

    -- FULL OF AVOCADOS & CITRUS -- Yup. If you have enough space on your property to plant them, you plant them.

    -- OF MODERATE MEANS -- Escondido certainly has wealthy pockets and poverty-stricken ones, but I feel like most of the people I run into are somewhere in the middle - carefully budgeting, but able to splurge on things they think are important. Often, these splurges contribute to their lives socially or relationally - going out to eat with friends, for example. Attending concerts. A family might wear clothes found on sale at Target or Costco, but attend numerous concerts in a year or dine at a pricey fine restaurant for anniversaries and birthdays. Perhaps the lifestyle is modest, but the family owns a fine camera with professional lenses or a top-of-the-line mountain bike or someone in the house takes cooking lessons and entertains friends. Escondido does not seem to be image-conscious or snooty.

    -- FULL OF FAITH -- This means different things to different people, but it does appear that many folks are affiliated with a church community to some degree. And we have diversity in that, too...the jade Buddha even comes to town! This means, too, that a lot of us are volunteering within our church communities...and a lot of these church communities are using their volunteer labor to serve the civic community - cleaning up schools or hosting food pantries, for example.

    -- ARTSY -- People may not be making a living in the arts, but many of us dabble in photography, painting, sewing, ceramics, jewelry-making, fashion-design, and graphic design. Grand Ave hosts a few galleries for those blessed with talent (or the will to get out in public!), but many of us do it for ourselves or those we love. Musicians also fill our population - small bands that play around the county.


    -- FRACTURED -- It seems that folks around here have a hard time agreeing on things. This is a hurdle in any community or organization, especially when the mission/values/identity are not clear. Perhaps if we can better define who we are and where we want to go, the solutions to our challenges will become clearer, and greater agreement can develop regarding how to get where we're going. It also appears that all these groups attempting to do things for/in Escondido do not have a clear plan for how they interrelate (City Hall, DBA, Chamber Of Commerce, BID, Bravo, Esc Creek Conservancy, the committee that oversees public art, etc). Information is disseminated haphazardly, some types of activities/duties fit into multiple groups, others should incorporate several of the groups for better input and do not. Do we have a city plan? Is it current and directing us to a future where all these parts fit?

    -- NOT VERY GOOD LISTENERS OR COMMUNICATORS -- I noticed the listening part at a town hall meeting I once attended. Despite clear directions that were given, multiple people chose to disregard the guidelines or to interrupt. Some folks appeared to have come to the meeting more concerned about what they wished to say, than what they could have learned. If this is typical of our civic forums, then becoming more cohesive will prove very challenging. Our leaders can do a better job of listening to citizens, and our citizens can do a better job of politely listening to our leaders, and to one another. Communication needs to also be stepped up (see end of previous paragraph) from the top down as well as amongst those at at the top. (This might be improving of late...)

    -- DO YOUNGER FOLKS HAVE A VOICE? -- I don't know the answer to this, and I have had limited exposure to those working behind the scenes in Escondido, but I have this impression that the majority of folks serving in leadership positions are over the age of 50. Do we have a strong contingency of late 20, 30, and 40-somethings? Successful city centers often have a culture where adults across the age-spectrum participate and add value. If Escondido lacks this, we should ask ourselves why, and then set out to change our culture of leadership.

    Comment by Jessica Petrencsik on August 31, 2011 at 5:21 PM

  5. I just reread my post, and I want to make sure that the "potential for growth" part of it did not come off as arrogant or negative (not my intention)...in my limited experience and in knowing folks in some of these positions, this is some of what has been said or observed - and I only mention it in order for us to be reflective and to ask ourselves constructive questions. It is a gigantic job, running a city.

    I see really cool things occurring - like Mayor Abed meeting with people, or leaders from a variety of areas getting together regarding the creekwalk improvements...that's great! It feels like a really good beginning that we can now run with...

    Comment by Jessica Petrencsik on August 31, 2011 at 5:32 PM

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