/Border Report: Rethinking Public Space in Friendship Park

Border Report: Rethinking Public Space in Friendship Park

Juan Aguiar holds his daughter, Sinay, as they visit with family members through the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friendship Park. / Photo by David Maung

The nonprofit Friends of Friendship Park is soliciting ideas for a redesign of the public space along the border and hopes to put together a new vision for the park’s 50th anniversary in August.

Jim Brown, an architect and member of Friends of Friendship Park, which advocates for increased public access, said he first started thinking about a binational park in San Diego-Tijuana in 2008. Brown said he was inspired by the many bridges used to cross the Rio Grande River in Texas, which created space between border checkpoints that have over time turned into gathering places.

Until now, Friends of Friendship Park has been mostly engaged in maintaining the space and public access to it, often through negotiations with Border Patrol.

But for the 50th anniversary, the group is hoping to unveil a design that will encompass 40 acres in each country and be a truly binational park, one that is accessible to people both in Mexico and the United States and will include an international pedestrian crossing.

As designs come in, Brown said, the group will be pulling some of the best ideas into a master conceptual plan. There will be exhibitions both in San Diego and Tijuana.

A conceptual site plan for the Friendship Park design challenge / Image courtesy of Jim Brown of Friends of Friendship Park

There are four different phases of the competition, which the nonprofit has been referring to as a challenge. The first will be to design the international pier extending out into the Pacific Ocean. The second phase will be a 200 square foot “Courtyard for Free Speech” that will be centered on the border line. The third will be a redesign of the boardwalk that already exists on the Mexican side. The final phase will be redesigning the historic bullring, so it can be used for large gatherings, like concerts or lectures.

Brown said that they were careful when creating the framework of the challenge to not change any existing uses of the land and will not be asking for changes in ownership from either the U.S. or Mexican government, the state of California or any of the private landowners on the Mexican side.

“We’re very excited and expectant about it,” Brown said. “We have high hopes. It really starts with the people. If we can get the ordinary U.S. and Mexico citizen to talk about this, then there will be striking momentum to actually make it happen.”

Brown said he’s every more hopeful given the new presidential administration.

“These things often seem like terribly difficult uphill battles, but when these things happen, they tend to happen overnight after 10 years of hard work where you think you’ve gotten nothing done,” he said. “That’s the way things work in this world and I believe it will happen with that project.”

A New Presidential Administration Brings Hope

Asylum-seekers who’ve been trapped in Mexico over the past few years thanks to Trump administration policies, such as the so-called “Remain in Mexico” program, as well as pandemic-related closures are hoping that Biden will soon allow them into the United States, the Union-Tribune reports.

Advocates on the California side have also helped push the Biden administration to take immediate action on other immigration issues, KPBS reports.

The U.S. Justice Department rescinded its “zero tolerance” policy, which required prosecutors to charge all migrants who crossed the border between ports of entry with illegal entry and resulted in thousands of family separations, AP reports. In practice, though, this might not change a lot, since the federal government during the pandemic has been immediately turning back everyone caught crossing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego told me that its illegal entry charges had already significantly decreased.

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