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Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - Canvassed | Art & culture

San Diego's Little Saigon

A community photo project is the first step toward building a distinct new cultural district

By Kinsee Morlan
littlesaigonsandiego An image for the Little Saigon project
- Photo by Kinsee Morlan

There are plenty of cultural hot spots along El Cajon Boulevard, but perhaps none so noticeable as the stretch between Highland and Euclid Avenues in City Heights.

The Little Saigon Foundation is fully aware of the area's potential and they've made it their business to get the section of El Cajon Boulevard officially recognized as the "Little Saigon Business District" by fall of 2012.

For the past months, foundation members have been busy gathering community feedback. They show up at events like the Lunar New Year Festival and ask people who live in the neighborhood what they like, what they don't like and how they would want to see the neighborhood change.

"We want to give the community an opportunity to directly inform the design guidelines for Little Saigon," said Stephen Weidlich, an ethnographer and environmental analyst for AECOM, a San Diego based environmental consulting firm working closely with the Little Saigon Foundation in building the new business district.

Weidlich and other AECOM employees have volunteered to help the Little Saigon Foundation come up with design guidelines, which the foundation can then use for securing funding and moving forward. A recent step in that process is something Weidlich and others are calling the Little Saigon Photovoice Project. Both residents of City Heights and interested community members were asked to grab a camera and head to the stretch of El Cajon Boulevard to put together photo essays, which could eventually influence the design of San Diego's new Little Saigon.

"The idea is that, yeah, the photos will eventually lead to color palettes or plant types or street-scape improvements," Weidlich said.


This is where I come in. 

A few weeks ago, Beryl Foreman of the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association mentioned the Photovoice Project and asked if I'd be interested in shooting some photos.

I said yes, and here's what I came up with. I hit the streets thinking my series of photos would be people-driven, but I didn't anticipate the anxiety a stranger with a camera seems to cause. Most business owners declined to be photographed as did the people I encountered on the streets. 

Color schemes—blue, red, teal and gold—definitely emerged and there were objects like lanterns and incense holders that caught my eye as something that could simply be increased or played up. Seafood and car-repair shops are the two things that stuck out most to me in terms of the dominant form of commerce and activity.

The rest of the photographers and volunteers participating in the project will present their photos at a meeting this Saturday.  If you have any questions about the project, contact Weidlich or Foreman.