Civic boosters are fond of calling San Diego "America's Finest City".
Using strictly objective criteria, the nation's leading urban planners see San Diego as one of America's most "manageable and sustainable" cities.
They call it "Smart Growth", and some 1,400 movers and shakers in community development from around the country are meeting here in San Diego through Sunday to exchange new ideas and strategies.
As far as they're concerned, this city is quite a role model.
"San Diego is investing in the right things," said Ilana Preuss, vice president of Washington D.C.-based Smart Growth America. "Looking at how you create whole neighborhoods where people can live near where they work, have jobs near shops and schools. We've found that that's really a key to the economic development of the 21st century."
Case in point?
Little Italy, a Trolley-accessible, eclectic mix of residential and commercial facilities that serve the locals and tourists alike.
A tour group from the convention, quartered on Harbor Island, spent Thursday morning taking in the urban architecture and neighborhood attractions.
Among the smart growth advocates, the approaches that our community planners have taken are being held up as a blueprint for cities of all sizes, and their suburban and rural frontiers.
They're regional approaches, guiding growth throughout the county and its 18 cities -- all the while stressing common goals.
"And developing that consensus, I think, has drawn a lot of the investment in transportation issues," says Richard Dial, representing San Diego-based HDR Engineering, Inc. "It's also helped identify potential locations where smart growth can take place in the future."
Economic and environmental issues still pose problems for San Diego's long-range growth strategies.
But the experts in this field say the basic direction in which this city is headed makes sense for many others.
"In many respects, like most ideas, you build on the shoulders of giants," says Dave Davis, communications director for the Sacramento-based Local Government Commission. "And San Diego definitely fits the bill for a lot of the smart growth strategies moving forward into the future."
San Diego hosted the first convention of this kind ten years ago.
The sponsors, New Partners for Smart Growth, wanted to come back for an update and fresh ideas to imitate -- the sincerest form of flattery.