Civitas in San Diego: Creating Beautiful and Functional Spaces That Connect People and Businesses With the Water


civitas san diego north embarcadero design

Central to Civitas’ purpose is our goal to create places that engage people with the land, and as a result, improve health, sustainability, and equity. In many places, water is as essential as the land. San Diego is one of those places, fortunate to have a strong connection to the water of San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

For many years, we’ve been proud partners of both the Port of San Diego and the City of San Diego, working together to create beautiful and functional spaces that connect people and businesses with San Diego’s waterfront, and that make the city and its inhabitants healthier. Here are some examples of the work we’ve been doing:

North Embarcadero: Opening a Window to the Bay

San Diego Bay is active with cruise ships, tour boats, water taxis, commercial fishing, two popular museums, as well as the San Diego International Airport. With such diverse and dynamic uses, this project required a lengthy series of public meetings with the Port of San Diego to define the issues, program, and possibilities, but the results were clear: there was opportunity to make improvements along the waterfront to ensure it is more welcoming for visitors and residents and to maximize views and experiences. The initial phase completed in 2014 reduces the width of Harbor Drive to create a 105’-wide continuous public esplanade; adds green space between the road and the water; creates a soft-surface running path and improves pedestrian accessibility. A key strategy of this 1,000-foot linear park and promenade was the implementation of a comprehensive green stormwater infrastructure system, new shade pavilions, ticket kiosks, café, flexible seating, and a public restroom providing users with much needed amenities and placemaking.

civitas san diego north embarcadero design

The pedestrian experience has been a leading design driver, balancing aesthetics with comfort. And given the fact that cruise ships can bring in 250,000 passengers in a typical year, often 10,000 people at a time, the flow of people must be efficient, and the space must be durable. The delicate relationships between the ocean, the bay, and the coastal land are critical as well. Setting new precedents for sustainable waterfront design, an underground water quality band cleanses the urban water that flows to the bay using structural and biological cleansing.

Lane Field Park: Honoring an Historic Home Plate

Adjacent to the North Embarcadero, at the corner of West Broadway and North Harbor Drive, we helped to envision an urban park on the site of Lane Field baseball stadium, which was home to the San Diego Padres from 1936-1957 when the team was part of the Pacific Coast League. This history inspired the park’s design with details marking the original pitcher’s mound, base paths lit by in-ground LEDs, and home plate, which now has a granite marker featuring the silhouette of and quote from Ted Williams.

Lane Field Park has the same palm trees, plantings, paving patterns, and site furnishings as the Embarcadero to have connectivity and visual continuity. Yet its flexible, open lawn space offers a nice contrast to the Embarcadero’s hardscapes. The park is the current home to San Diego Food Markets with food and drink vendors, musicians, lawn games, and picnic spaces in a family-friendly atmosphere.

lane field park design

Port of San Diego Master Plan: Aligning Systems for Long-term Success

Both of the projects above (and several others) are tied to the Port of San Diego’s Master Plan Update (the PMPU), which recommends policies that will govern the development of the entire Port District for the next 30 years, including 34 miles of shoreline, 2,650 acres of land, and 1,636 acres of water uses. It’s important to us that the policies created result in a dynamic Coastal Tidelands that are functional and purposeful for the long term. Tasked with testing the various policies developed by the PMPU Team, Civitas Principal Scott Jordan explains: “We looked at the entire waterfront area holistically and rebalanced open space, potential development, and circulation systems to take advantage of the space available. We maximized the publicly accessible open space while making sure the rest of the urban systems, such as stormwater, mobility, resiliency, parking, universal access, and human comfort all function smoothly.”

As part of the PMPU, Civitas led a series of test fits exploring the potential long-term improvements that could be achieved along the unimproved mile-long section of the North Embarcadero based on the policies being proposed in the draft document. These studies explored relocating parking to nearby mobility hubs that integrate parking with mass transit, ridesharing, bikes, scooters, and electric vehicle charging. The area’s history as a working waterfront with a renowned tuna fleet is reflected in the studies, with a terraced pier inspired by tuna boats, and lounge areas that reference fishing nets. Other experiences have been explored to get people close to the water, including a Veterans’ walk adjacent to the USS Midway Museum. This comprehensive, systematic approach resonated with Port commissioners who called the studies “absolutely stunning” and “a placemaker’s dream” when we presented it in 2019.

san diego master plan design

Imperial Beach Pier: Merging Function and Art to Attract (even more) Foot Traffic

Due south of the Embarcadero that stretches along the San Diego Bay, California’s southernmost pier extends 1,500’ into the Pacific Ocean at Imperial Beach. Originally built in 1963, the pier was rebuilt in the 1980s after a destructive storm and updated again in 2006. For decades, the pier has been a popular destination, but the Port of San Diego is investing to make it even more relevant and resilient, to attract even more foot traffic with a more comfortable and engaging experience.

Our designs merge function and art, with custom furnishings, shade elements, and graphics that celebrate different ocean experiences. Each is designed at different spots along the pier to draw people further out over the water, creating a sense of rhythm and movement along the way. New, dedicated facilities for anglers – including rod holders and fish cleaning stations – complement the pier’s improved lighting and furnishings, and shade amenities – including two large canopies that references surfers’ sensation of being beneath the waves.

imperial beach pier sun shade

San Diego Convention Center: Creating A More Valuable Event Venue With 5-Acres of Outdoor Space

Thanks to its prime waterfront site on the slice of land between Harbor Drive and the bay – in the Marina district of downtown San Diego – the city’s convention center has been a popular venue for conferences and other events since opening in 1989. But the community has complained that the building blocks the bay, even as its owners wish for the convention center to become even larger to attract more events in a competitive marketplace.

Civitas has teamed up with Fentress Architects to renovate and expand the existing convention center to help it remain competitive. Our design scheme shows that it’s possible to make the building even larger while greatly increasing public access and enjoyment of the waterfront. Although the building is expanded, its interior uses are consolidated to maximize space and create an opportunity for a new fully accessible public park on the building’s roof, with direct connections to the Embarcadero waterfront and the adjacent hotels and marina. The space will include a bio-cleansing system that takes existing groundwater and runoff and filters it through a saltgrass marsh, replicating the dramatic experience of San Diego’s coastline in an urban waterfront setting that’s walkable from downtown.

san diego convention center plan
san diego convention center plan

We’re pleased that ULI’s Spring Meeting takes place in San Diego this year. Reach out if you’ll be there. We’d love to show you around these and other favorite spaces.