My First Date with San Diego

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San Diego happened recently. I was there for a total of five days. One day was dedicated to a grueling 8-hour long technical engineering interview. The other four days were left for recovery from said interview and some good old fashioned city exploration. My two objectives in prioritized order were to stuff my face with Mexican food and evaluate the city as a future home. Prior to arriving I did all the homework that any self respecting data nerd would do; things like population density, demographics by zip code, population projections, average levels of precipitation, and murder rate by census tract were devoured. I looked at the transit infrastructure, distribution of the local freeways, and the fare system of the local commuter rail. You know, normal stuff.

Once I got to the city I did my boots on the ground tour and studied the human factors of the city. I got to know a bit about the locals. San Diego is a city full of sun-bronzed bodies and friendly dispositions. Or at least friendlier than what I’m used to on the East. Mid-day in downtown was a leisurely pace, the bustle of a city center strangely absent. Well manicured stucco high-rise condos erupted from lots that I’d expect a bodega to be. Homeless loiter on a separate plane of existence, utterly ignored by passersby.

I try to get to know cities on at least two levels. The first level being the numbers. Where is this city going? What drives it? And the second level would be based on gut feeling. What are the people like? What is the general disposition or feeling of the city? Maybe my way of evaluating cities is flawed. I may very well be missing out on ton of details. But looking at cities in this fashion is what makes sense to me so I have no choice but to obey this very personal method.

  • Transit Infrastructure – Small and ineffective but steadily expanding. The city has not reached the critical population and infrastructure density for mass transit to really be effective but I see steps in the right direction.
  • Demographics – For one of the largest cities in the US I saw that diversity was surprisingly lacking compared to other major US cities. There is a strong Mexican presence and pockets of Asian but other than that it lacks the ethnic potpourri of LA/NYC/Toronto.
  • The People – This is unscientific but the local bartenders are my litmus test for the personality of a city. And my bartenders during my late afternoon lunches were friendly and laid back. They flashed real smiles accented by crows feet. They were a pleasure.
  • The Feeling – Laid back So-Cal vibe but just far enough from LA to have its own thing going on. New York has its Boston. Los Angeles has its San Diego.

I’d have to spend more time in San Diego to really understand the place. My initial impression is that San Diego is a fantastic place but if I want to make it work for me I’d have to put some serious elbow grease into it. This would involve some serious tuning of transit expectations and perhaps even finally learning how to swim (gasp). This sounds pessimistic but I offer this question. What worthwhile relationship doesn’t take effort?

Hey, San Diego. I had a great time. I’ll give you a call later in the week if you’re free again.

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