October 15, 2012 by Omar Passons
We created the Understanding San Diego project with a simple goal in mind: make it easier to understand the physical assets that make our community function so that we can be partners in the discussion about our city’s future. How much do things cost, what things matter when we make decisions and how do we take a bigger role in those decisions?
We use the term ‘infrastructure’ to mean all of the roads, street lights, pipes, bridges and buildings we own as a city. This ‘infrastructure’ is like our human skeleton or internal organs, it’s the building block for what makes us a city. We don’t function at full strength with a broken leg or a heart that doesn’t pump at full strength. And similarly we can’t function as a city at full strength if the physical infrastructure is broken or not working properly. I use the term ‘we’ throughout this site because after all, as neighbors, small business owners, teachers, government employees, elected officials and so on, we are the City of San Diego and we own this infrastructure. If we are to be involved in a meaningful way it’s time we all made sure we understand the basics of our physical environment and the real costs associated with making decisions about our future.
The maps on this site are designed to be simple and informative. Everyone knows what they think about the roads they drive or ride bikes on, but city engineers actually measure the quality and we’ve added the objective information on these maps. But infrastructure is more than pothole-free roads. So our site lets you look at the condition of city buildings like fire stations and police offices as well as storm and sewer drains and many other types of infrastructure we need to make our city–and its neighborhoods–work. The other big thing these maps do is provide basic information about where we (through our elected officials) have spent our money over the last five years. Understanding the different restrictions on our money is an important part of each map and we are careful to link to easy videos and add quick explanations so that you can have a full picture to be an informed part of decisions for the future.
Because this is a volunteer project done during our free time, these maps have some limitations. We only provide some of the information about how much it costs to maintain the infrastructure because we had limited time and that information wasn’t as readily available.
The cost to maintain things is important when we talk about building something new because it impacts the real long-term cost. It’s alot like buying a car, where we figure in the cost of oil changes and tires and engine service that way we really know how much car we can afford. We hope to be able to add more of that information in the future, but for now we’ve left it off. The other limitation is that this only deals with physical infrastructure and so there isn’t information about trade-offs like how many police we need or how often we trim trees, clean parks, keep libraries open or even process business permits. Those things all require money too and so bear in mind this site does not attempt to say how much we can or should be spending on any given area. Those budgeting decisions are difficult ones, but our focus is on making sure we can have informed and involved discussions about the infrastructure on which our city is built.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and to visit our site. We believe whether you are a concerned citizen, a government employee or an elected official you should have access to all the information necessary to make informed decisions about our city’s future. San Diego belongs to all of us and with this information we can all participate in making our city the type of place we want it to be.