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Former Pittsburgh mayor challenges San Diego at annual ULI awards

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In nurturing an innovation-based economy, San Diego has positioned itself to become "the 21st century city."

Now the city needs to educate and train a work force that meets the needs of such an economy.

At the local Urban Land Institute chapter's "Awards of Excellence" program, Tom Murphy, four-term mayor of Pittsburgh, Pa., and ULI's Klingbeil Family Chair for urban development, argued that America's competitive advantage globally is its power to innovate.

"Those communities that become 21st century cities will be those that understand and embrace that innovation," he said.

The challenge facing cities, he said, is in recognizing knowledge-based sectors as the raw material of tomorrow's economy.

In a report he authored, "Building on Innovation: The Significance of Anchor Institutions in a New Era of City Building," Murphy shows the creep of employment in 10 major cities from manufacturing to professional, business, education and health services.

Manufacturing employment in San Diego fell from 123,400 in 1990 to 90,700 in 2010, a 26 percent decline, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provided in his report.

During the same period, jobs in professional and business services grew 60 percent, from 124,100 to 198,800. Employment in education and health services likewise increased 75 percent, from 84,100 in 1990 to 147,400.

Citing this, Murphy called San Diego one of the nation's great success stories.

"You went from a sleepy naval town, to one of the top tech powerhouses in America," he said.

He also pointed to recent data showing San Diego as the fourth largest recipient of venture capital investment, behind San Francisco, the research triangle, and Boston. The majority of VC funding flows to those three areas, but San Diego's emergence behind them is meaningful still, Murphy said.

"You have a remarkable story to tell, and you need to do that better," he said.

But the city is failing, according to Murphy, in providing one of the threshold requirements for success in the new economy: an educated work force.

According to data from the American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of San Diego's population with a high school degree has increased from 82 percent in 1990 to 85 percent in 2010.

The city's current 85 percent rate is lower than seven of the other nine cities featured in Murphy's report (research triangle, Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, Denver, Baltimore and San Francisco). San Diego has the same percentage as Pittsburgh, and is greater than Houston's 80 percent.

Twenty-two percent of the city holds a bachelor's degree, up from 16 percent in 1990. Still, that percentage places it below all but Philadelphia (19 percent), Houston (18 percent) and Pittsburgh (17 percent).

In graduate degrees, San Diego is middle of the pack. At 13 percent -- up from 9 percent in 1990 -- it trails the research triangle (18 percent), Boston (18 percent), Baltimore (15 percent) and San Francisco (17 percent).

"The 21st century city will assume an educated work force in order to take advantage of those new jobs," Murphy said. "In the last 20 years, you've lost 20,000 manufacturing jobs and gained 75,000 jobs in tech and health care."

After his comments, five local developers received awards from the local ULI chapter. A jury of local developers selected the winners from 21 nominees. Hillcrest's Centre Street Lofts -- developed by Lloyd Russell, AIA as owner, architect and builder and Andrew Malick as project manager -- won the year's Urban Infill Award. The project proved that you "don't need a high rise to provide maximum density," said jury member Bill Anderson, FAICP, planning director for the city of San Diego, in presenting the award. Russell said he was reminded while watching the HBO movie "Too Big To Fail," that he secured the loan for Centre Street Lofts at the height of 2008's financial collapse.

"It takes a team, especially for urban infill, because there are so many adversaries out there," he said. The award for Innovation in Affordable Housing went to Ten Fifty B, the downtown development by Affirmed Housing Group.

The developer acquired the property after it was intended to be used for market-rate condos and opted to keep the initial structural plans while altering them to allow for a high density, efficient and affordable project.

It is constructed to use 21 percent less energy than allowed under Title 24 requirements. The development reached full occupancy in two months and "is the first completed transit-oriented development funded project in the country," according to the jury's description.

"This shows the need and acceptance to bring density, adjacency to transit and sustainability into the market," said jury member Charmaine Atherton, senior vice president and client manager for Bank of America's (NYSE: BAC) Community Development Banking Group in Southern California.

The Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge, developed by the city through the Centre City Development Corp., received the ULI's Urban Infrastructure Award.

The project was credited with creating a better connection between downtown and the waterfront, while providing safe passage over a busy intersection. The jury selected it as a winner due to "incredible aesthetics and design."

"I wish I could pull back all that bad press we got now," said Scott Johnson, senior project manager at CCDC.

Mike Burnett, AIA, won the Mixed Use Award for his project, mxd830 creative space, located on 25th Street in Golden Hill. As the architect, developer, owner and contractor, he developed the project as part of his master's thesis at the Woodbury University San Diego School of Architecture, which hosted the ULI event.

The jury commended it as a creative mixed-use project at a neighborhood scale.

Greg Strangman, founder and CEO of the L.W.P. Group Inc./San Diego, won the inaugural Wayne Buss Urban Creative Award.

The Buss Family Trust established the award this year in the memory of Wayne Buss, who was among the first to name the East Village and whose mixed-use ReinCarnation Project at the Carnation Building at 10th Avenue and J Street exemplified his belief in recycling urban environments, to recognize emerging urbanists, planners and designers.

Strangman worked in the early 1990s with Buss, who encouraged him to pursue adaptive reuse of existing urban buildings.

The jury noted his use of local artists to shape projects, such as the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.

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