“Unity in the Community” Mural is Unveiled

The six-year project, co-led by IPS’ sister agency, demonstrates the value of public art to community health

SAN DIEGO, April 2023 – On Saturday, March 25, residents and city leaders gathered at Teralta Neighborhood Park in San Diego for the official unveiling of a 270-foot mural depicting the City Heights neighborhood. The project, co-led by IPS’ sister agency, the Global Institute for Public Strategies, was the culmination of six years’ work and was designed with beautification, health, and safety in mind.

“The mural intentionally reflects City Heights’ diversity, aspirations, harmony, landmarks, and progress,” said IPS-affiliate and volunteer manager of the project, Dan Tomsky. “Subsequently, this beautiful mural has increased pride and ownership so that residents feel they can actively recreate in Teralta Neighborhood Park.”

Ideas for the mural’s content were sourced from within the City Heights community and are reflected in choices like the inclusion of the mural’s title, “Unity in the Community,” in both Vietnamese and Somali—languages familiar to the neighborhood’s residents and families. It showcases the faces of community members, institutions, and schools, and even the park’s dog-friendly policies to remind park visitors that Teralta is part of a broader community.

The buy-in of community members was essential to creating and sustaining the impact of projects that improve conditions. This is made clear through the passion and enthusiasm of local advocates like Maria Cortez, a decades-long resident, schoolteacher, and key advocate for the mural.

“We are in an underserved community,” said Cortez. “Projects like public murals remind residents that they deserve safe, healthy, and clean public environments.”

Teralta is one of the few outdoor spaces in City Heights and has a history of litter, graffiti, petty crime, and gang activity. City Heights residents eventually adopted a comprehensive approach to addressing the problems, including with Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), a multi-disciplinary approach to crime prevention that uses urban and architectural design. CPTED can also encompass public art. Research increasingly shows arts and culture can provide communities with a sense of self-efficacy, emotional and social engagement, expression, and true stakes in their environment.

City Heights residents familiar with Teralta Neighborhood Park desired a mural in order to transform its blank sound wall – frequently tagged with gang-related and other graffiti – into an uplifting art amenity. With the support of the Parks and Recreation area manager for City Heights, the community embraced a mural project as an integral part of a comprehensive CPTED-based initiative that already was favorably impacting the park.

On one end of the Teralta Park mural, there sits a bright orange and red bird — a Phoenix — meant to symbolize revitalization, resilience, and a new birth for the park. This is the message Cortez wants her community to understand and embody: “We want to show that we matter, and that the youth matter.”

Paul Levikow
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 112