Leveraging Local Events: San Diego’s Potential for Social Good

How well do you remember 1998?  If you were an impressionable youngster like me, you can’t forget it.  That year it felt like San Diego was the cultural center of the world: a Favre vs. Elway Super Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium; X Games introducing a new era to over 240,000 fans in Mission Beach; the Padres sweeping up the hearts of the city before getting swept in the World Series.  Although my age at the time limited my ability to completely comprehend reality, the emotions from this year of community and cultural vibrancy are still palpable today.  And while a lot has changed in the world during these past twenty years, 1998 was surely not an outlier in terms of San Diego’s live event scene. 

It doesn’t seem possible these days to take a weekend drive through any of the city’s neighborhoods without stumbling into multicultural fairs, parades, festivals, or the live music, fresh food, and cold local beer that accompany them.  These may serve as the glue to the San Diego entertainment scene, but our mega-events are also surging.  While staples such as the Miramar Air Show, the San Diego Pride Parade, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, and Comic Con continue to reign, other large festivals that draw event tourism are slowly adding more to the city’s repertoire.  CRSSD Fest and numerous 91X-sponsored events have turned Waterfront Park into electrifying, music-fueled theme parks for adults.  The amount of A-listers performing at Del Mar’s 2019 KAABOO is giving Coachella a serious run for its money.  World Beach Games will be taking over Mission Beach in 2019 and captivating adults and children alike, just as I was captivated there by X Games twenty years ago.  Our buzzing beach culture has changed very little over the past two decades; however, the same cannot be said for many other characteristics of San Diego.  

The San Diego of today is faced with many challenges, most of which have long been in the spotlight but others that too often get buried in the sand.  Due to an affordable housing crisis in which 50% of our residents face affordability challenges in regards to housing, we have seen spikes in the gentrification of historic neighborhoods such as Barrio Logan, the displacement of hard working residents, and the fourth highest homeless population in the U.S.that has resulted in ethical and public health issues, such as last year’s Hepatitis A outbreak.  Although San Diegans have relatively light work commutes compared to other major U.S. metropolitan areas, any resident will tell you that traffic congestion is increasing, putting a strain on business productivity, personal stress levels, and global climate impacts.  These climate impacts are revealing themselves in San Diego as more intense drought, more frequent wildfires, and rising oceans, which are threatening the long-term economic potential of the city.  Speaking of economic potential, the cross-border relations between San Diego and our brothers and sisters to the south are being threatened by distant powers who do not fully grasp our economic and cultural interdependence with Baja California.  We are obviously not immune to our world’s problems, and these challenges must be addressed if we want to remain America’s Finest City.   

Fortunately, government policies and grassroots movements are addressing our city’s challenges on nearly all fronts.  Mayor Kevin Faulconer has called for his “Housing SD” plan to increase affordable housing throughout the county while non-profits such as Alpha Projectare helping our homeless find shelter, jobs, and other resources.  Traffic is being addressed through efforts to improve public transportation, including slow-going but vital expansions of our bicycleand trolleynetworks, and our climate impacts are being reduced by a booming Cleantech industry attempting to decrease the city’s dependence on fossil fuels.  Despite San Diego being ground zero for the proposed border wall, 2015’s completion of the Cross Border Xpressresulted in the world’s first binational airport and demonstrated our collective understanding of the economic and cultural importance of a strong Tijuana-San Diego relationship.  Although we have a long way to go, this list only scratches the surface of the great work being done around town.  

Wait, wait, wait—weren’t we just talking about how much fun we have in our city?  Well, perhaps the connection between our city’s entertainment and its resiliency to internal and external forces is deeper than traditionally assumed.  These live events actually provide a perfect opportunity to engage the community in issues that matter, preserving culture while simultaneously providing a platform to inspire us into action.  If we can leverage the passion brought to our events and educate attendees to continue caring about our city’s issues when they return home that evening, we will more easily achieve the goals set forth by our leaders and community activists. While fun and entertainment can still be the primary objective of attending events, there exist too many opportunities to preserve our natural resources and improve social justice, which will ultimately help the community, our environment, and even the events themselves.

We need to host the right events and festivals and we need the right leadership within the event production companies who will understand community needs and bring activism to life through the event.  The events and event-driven tourism can often require massive resource inputs (e.g., raw materials, energy, transportation emissions, etc.) and therefore the events should mitigate their impacts on our local resources through operational efficiency. And while we need to offset these negatives impacts,  we must also take our events one step further by leaving a lasting legacy behind.  This can take many forms; for example, perhaps a large event can use its clout to push for more advanced composting services for food waste throughout the county, which is not provided by city waste haulers and, until this year, has been illegal for small-scale operators to handle.  Or, the event can engrain social messaging into the core of its purpose.  Rise Up As One, a 2016 music festival on the Tijuana border which our company, Kilowatt Events, helped produce, set out to improve cross-border relations, intercultural unity, and human rights activism through the power of music and dance.  It’s about simultaneously having fun and shifting perspectives for long-term change.

There are many ways to help us overcome the challenges our city faces, and it will be the responsibility of each of us in our own respective industries and societal roles to pitch in.  But by attending local events and supporting local creators and artists curated by responsible event production companies that deeply understand local issues, you will be exposed to the movements that matter so that you can help keep our city America’s finest.  Let’s get out there and demand positive change so that twenty years from now, and twenty years from then, we can still be soaking up the sunshine with friends, family, and good shows in our beautiful city.