building community in barrio logan

Architect Ted Smith views the housing market's rough patch as a window of opportunity for small developers. The reason is that when the larger housing economy collapses, smaller entities can pick up the chunks of land being deconsolidated and use sweat equity instead of cash to speculate on the future. He and nine architect friends recently formed an LLC to purchase nine such properties in Barrio Logan, a working-class industrial/residential neighborhood on San Diego's south side. The group is hoping to build small, affordable spaces that could be sold or leased and that would flex for residential or entrepreneurial use.

But it's not just the tag sale Smith is after. He's trying to figure out how to improve a neighborhood without gentrifying it. "One of our big goals is to demonstrate how owners of very small properties can develop without consolidations or evictions and build with low infrastructure, so the people who live in Barrio Logan can afford to be in our project," he says. It's the antidote to the big developer model of maximizing profits by building high-rise condominiums that include weight rooms, fancy elevators, security gates, and maintenance personnel - all the costly amenities that have become status quo. A previous demonstration project he spearheaded in Little Italy didn't play out the way Smith had hoped. "When the housing block was finished, real estate prices shot up so much that all people were building were luxury condos," he says.

Smith expects the Barrio Logan project will be phased in over five years. The lack of neighborhood comparables makes it hard to convince bankers to lend money, so incremental building becomes important. He foresees getting his graduate students at Woodbury University involved in building a series of light, open, inexpensive warehouselike buildings that can be partitioned or added to later. "I don't think of these buildings as residential or commercial," Smith say. "I'm just trying to find people who can afford to pay the rent and put some activity on the sidewalk."