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CREATING A BETTER SAN DIEGO is at the core of everything Martin Poirier does in his work with Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects. From the firm’s 15-year involvement with the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan (Phase 1 is scheduled to be completed by spring 2014) to the federal courthouse project with its expansive public space, from pro bono community efforts to spearheading an innovative program teaching environmental design to elementary school kids, he has been a tireless proponent and steward of smart, efficient and engaging planning. A fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Martin earned his master’s degree at Harvard Graduate School of Design and is involved with an alumni program, Harvard Disrupt, that seeks to more deeply engage local Harvard grads with San Diego issues.

Q: What are some of the highlights people can look forward to with the Embarcadero plan?

A: What I think San Diegans are going to see is just a remarkable quantum leap forward in the quality of the public realm along the waterfront. They’re going to be able to see toward the bay better. We’re creating a 30-foot-wide median in the center of Broadway that will be populated by rows of medjool date palms in a very intricate patterning of very low-water use succulents. What people are going to start to see is one of the first major public infrastructure landscapes that is exemplifying low-water use and doing it in a way that’s going to be just really quite stunning.

Q: Who are some of the artists that worked with you on the project?

A: There are some very elegant light masts developed by Leni Schwendinger. Leni is a very important light artist and lighting designer on our team. Her beautiful, sweeping, curved light fixtures will march down the median, setting up this view to Broadway Pier and to the bay, bringing you to the public esplanade. We have groves of jacaranda on either side [of Broadway], along with some elegant new shade structures that are designed by the artist Pae White and feature really wonderful cutouts of letterforms that put a beautiful, dappled shade on the ground.

Q: What stands out for you about this project?

A: What I like is that you can stop complain-ing about why San Diego can’t do a major public project, because now we have. We will have done it and demonstrated to people that San Diego can have what people have been wanting, which is a world-class waterfront. We are building a waterfront that is deserving of the grandeur of the bay and what the people of San Diego deserve.

Q: You have to balance artists, designers, architects, egos, deadlines. How do you make it all work?

A: I think that the simple answer is vision and passion. Because if you’re reactionary and don’t have the stamina, you’re just going to get winded and beaten up every day. Being able to put what you do on a daily basis into perspective, to be able to be strategic about that and know that everything you’re doing is being guided by these basic tenets, these basic visions and personal goals that also should be community goals, that’s how I do it. And I couldn’t have done it without the kind of alliance and allegiance that Andy [Spurlock] and I have had with each other. We’re both really working to build a better community in San Diego.

Q: Does the election of Bob Filner as mayor mean anything for planning in San Diego?

A: I have high hopes that it’s going to be positive for planning. About 12 months ago, he found out that we were authors of the downtown open-space plan and called me up and said he wanted to come and hear about it. So he came and sat about two hours and was all ears about what it was to create a great public realm downtown — why the parks were needed, why the trails and linkages we were proposing were needed — and it really captured his attention.

Q: So the future looks bright?

A: I really believe San Diego is the city of the 21st century. There’s a tremendously bright future for everything that’s happening here related to biotech, high tech, energy, the kinds of inventions that are going on daily up at UCSD, at Scripps, at the Venter Institute. I think they’re really going to explode and create a tremendous place for continued vitality here in San Diego.

Dialogue: By Mark Hiss • Portrait by Will Gullette • Produced by Phyllis Van Doren


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