Normal Heights’ Walkability: A Testament to Mixed Land Uses

Smart Growth Principle 1

Image generated by Paul Coogan using Midjourney AI

In our last installment, we discussed the overarching vision of Smart Growth and its foundational principles. Today, we will look at the first principle: mixing land uses. The concept of “mix” as an action verb implies a transformative change. Let’s delve into this change and how it applies to the vibrant community of Normal Heights.

Mixed land use, involving the integration of residences, businesses, parks, and libraries in close proximity, fosters a vibrant environment full of social interaction and physical activity. Taking a stroll to a nearby coffee shop, for instance, proves far more conducive to chance encounters and meaningful conversations than the impersonal drive-thru option. The coexistence of services and amenities in close proximity reduces time spent in a car which saves fuel, maintenance, time, and the planet.

A less explored facet of mixed land use pertains to health and safety. Normal Heights has a Walk Score of 89 placing it in the top 10 of San Diego walkable neighborhoods. As walking is an exercise that is universally accessible, incurring no additional cost and having a destination encourages this healthy activity. 

“Walking for 2.5 hours a week—that’s just 21 minutes a day—can cut your risk of heart disease by 30%.”

– Harvard Health Publishing (

Furthermore, placing residential spaces above retail establishments cultivates an informal neighborhood watch system. With businesses bustling during the day and residences occupied at night, the community becomes less susceptible to burglaries and other crimes, fostering a sense of security and camaraderie among its residents.

Normal Heights has inherited the legacy of mixed land use from its inception. Many of the businesses lining Adams Avenue feature residences on their upper floors. This architectural feature makes perfect sense when considering the living conditions of the early 20th century. Back then, not every household owned a motorcar, and public transportation was considerably slower. Thus, products and services needed to be within arm’s reach, effectively merging commercial and residential real estate for enhanced efficiency and quality of life. Smart Growth revitalizes this simple concept, by embracing the integration of commercial and residential spaces for the betterment of the community.

However, mixed land use encompasses more than just retail shops. It must encompass a diverse array of services to fully nurture a thriving community. This includes schools, parks, libraries, and places of worship. In the case of Normal Heights, while it enjoys the presence of two elementary schools, it has room for improvement in terms of green spaces and library facilities. Fortunately, San Diego plans to procure over 8,000 trees, funded by the USDA, to enhance the urban forest. Additionally, the recently approved Library General Plan recommends replacement of the Kensington-Normal Heights Branch Library with a new facility ten times the size of the current one.

The principle of mixing land uses not only enhances the practicality of daily life but also contributes to the health, safety, and overall quality of life of the community. Normal Heights serves as a testament to the benefits of mixed land use by embracing its history while welcoming improvements to create a more sustainable future.