After the Fires: San Diego Rises from the Ashes - Page 2

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San Diego and Tijuana have been influenced by a number of disparate cultures: Native Americans called the area home as long ago as 12,000 b.c. Nearly 14,000 years later, Spanish missionaries claimed the land—and the souls that inhabited it—as their own. But it wasn't long before Mexican revolutionaries fought for their independence from colonial Spain, only to have U.S. forces take massive tracts of territory for the pioneers who believed it was their divine right to move west. Since that time, immigrants like Chinese workers in the late 19th century, Portuguese fisherman in the early 20th century, and Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s have thronged to San Diego to pursue their own manifest destinies.

The cultural identity of San Diego and Tijuana have been enriched and enlivened with each successive wave of humanity, and this has made for a truly hospitable social climate. Citizens on both sides of the border are quick to greet visitors with a smile, and long-timers welcome newcomers—albeit grudgingly on the increasingly congested beaches and freeways. Under clear skies and unrelenting sunshine, San Diego locals congratulate each other on living in what most believe is the best place in the world.There are a lot of locals to make this argument, because San Diego is the second most populous city in California and the eighth largest in the country. But unlike many East Coast cities that are tightly packed and have had little choice over the years but to grow upward, San Diego has sprawled outward; the county covers more than 4,000 square miles, and it takes hours to drive from one end to the other. And drive we must, because the county is actually a collection of neighborhoods strung together amid a spider web of freeways and highways. Over the past decades, developers have filled in the spaces between, and now it is nearly impossible to distinguish where one neighborhood begins and the other ends. Despite the increasing congestion, San Diegans jealously guard their quality of life—articulated by many simply as "we don't want to become another LA"—and are thankful for the buffer against blending into a megacity with Orange County/Los Angeles that the enormous Camp Pendleton marine base in the north provides.

The diverse geography around which San Diego is built ranges from miles of dramatic coastline in the west to mountains that rise up east of the city. Beyond the mountains lie vast expanses of desert that extend past the eastern border of the state. The semiarid climate that results from this proximity to the desert is world-famous for its mildness. Average precipitation is less than 10 inches per year—which translates into a serious water shortage and cyclical droughts. Because of the hilly topography punctuated with low-lying valleys, on the rare occasions when it does rain heavily, portions of the city are subject to floods and mudslides.

But as any sun worshipper knows, this mostly dry, sunny weather has its upside: The region is an outdoor sporting mecca, and the economy is fueled by tourists who want in on the action. Although the growing population and the ever-rising costs of real estate have driven out most agriculture, many parts of the county are still prime for growing flowers, strawberries, citrus, and avocados. With the natural beauty of the region, and the bounty possible with irrigation, it's no wonder why people throughout history have felt a primordial pull to settle here.

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