Thursday, November 30, 2006

News and Review: None dare call it sprawl

There is a great article in the News and Review today about the failed attempt to turn Natomas into a walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly community.

My wife and I lived in Natomas for 2 1/2 years after we were married before moving downtown. Right away we knew it wasn't something we were going to enjoy. We tried hard as to make it that walkable community by walking to Kings games, walk to Bella Bru or Blockbuster. I've always thought if other people saw us walking places, they would follow suit and give it a shot...but it just didn't last for long. Others never came and it was quite a boring walk that was more of a hassle than enjoyful. Yes, walking to games sounds a little a bit much (it was only about 20 mins though), the first time or two was okay, but after that no thanks.

Now a days, I rarely ever get in my car after making the drive back home from work in the Roseville area. God, I wish light rail ran out to Roseville. Anytime we go out to dinner or drinks, or to see a show we walk. We really settled into the perfect area in the middle of everything which makes it easy.

There were a few items in the article I found interesting and odd:

- “For its time, it was ahead of its time,” Mende said. “It was the smart-growth model, part one.”

It may have been in the plans, but I fail to see how anything that was built in Natomas was ahead of its time.

- North Natomas was one of the first developments to cluster new houses around parks and school sites; nearly 80 percent of North Natomas homes were planned within walking distance of open space.

First of all, open space my mind is critical in creating neighborhood gathering points. As I walk and drive around Sacramento I see some great opens spaces that are used by the public the way it should be. Other times, I come across open space and that's all it really is "open space" with no connection to the neighborhood or community.

Open space should be inviting and have a functional use within the enviroment in which is it placed. Open space in Natomas is open space for the sake of open space.

Even if they did do that right, okay great, but what about the many other items that truly make a walkable community? Food? Shopping? Entertainment? Not having the Natomas light rail line up and running by now doesn't help.

I found it so funny how they even mention that the retail in Natomas isn't walkable. You go to one store in the new "Sacramento Gateway", you get in your car to go to the next..argggg!!

Natomas became a place where you open your garage to leave your house, you open your garage to come back open, only to close it once you pull in. Which I was just as guilty of as everyone else. There is no neighborhood feel in Natomas. There is no connection of anything in the area.

Who do you blame in this case? I was a little young when all the planning began for Natomas, but it sounds like the plan was there to create the right enviroment. So where did it go wrong? My guess is the city messed it up by allowing developers to create what we see there now. Allowing too much rezoning instead of letting it run its course.

The Delta Shores sound interesting, but my guess is it will become another Natomas with maybe a few mixed use, smart growth areas thrown in.

As the article mentions, while the central city is filling in the gaps and creating that walkable community, but the railyard are most likey our last chance to start something from scratch. Let's not mess it up.
____________________________________________________________________

None dare call it sprawl
But just because you call it ‘smart growth’ doesn’t mean it is

Sacramento's favorite daughter, author Joan Didion, once told SN&R that she couldn’t bear to come home to Sacramento and look around the great sprawling developments in Natomas; those concrete-covered acres used to be the most beautiful green spaces in the region.

Just drive up Truxel Road to see what she means. At one intersection, seven lanes of smelly, smog-inducing traffic come to a stop on their way north. Pedestrians wait endlessly at the corners in order to dash from one shopaholic’s paradise to another. They look as edgy as greyhounds waiting for the light to change.

Sacramento's favorite daughter, author Joan Didion, once told SN&R that she couldn’t bear to come home to Sacramento and look around the great sprawling developments in Natomas; those concrete-covered acres used to be the most beautiful green spaces in the region.
Just drive up Truxel Road to see what she means. At one intersection, seven lanes of smelly, smog-inducing traffic come to a stop on their way north. Pedestrians wait endlessly at the corners in order to dash from one shopaholic’s paradise to another. They look as edgy as greyhounds waiting for the light to change

For its time, it was ahead of its time,” Mende said. “It was the smart-growth model, part one.” In the ’80s and ’90s, developers and city staff weren’t plopping smart-condo and retail projects in the middle of the central city, or replenishing the city’s residency-hotel stock in order to preserve diversity, or building 50-story condo towers--which went from new thing to old news in the time it took to get the permits.

North Natomas was one of the first developments to cluster new houses around parks and school sites; nearly 80 percent of North Natomas homes were planned within walking distance of open space. Within housing tracts, “snout houses,” with their garages thrust forward, were banned, and porches and balconies were added to bring people outdoors. To “create a sense of place,” North Natomas got its own town center, with a satellite community college and a new high school.

The town center also was supposed to have a public community center and a large library, but those have yet to break ground. The community currently shares one tiny library site with high-school students; it even sits on the Inderkum High School campus.

Though residents snapped up the homes far quicker than the city anticipated, the planned employment districts that were supposed to minimize commute hours still could take decades to mature. Without their developers’ fees, there’s no money for community centers. In the meantime, developers are pushing through rezones that turn prospective employment-center land and open space into even more housing and shopping. The small neighborhood-serving businesses that create the diversity found in vibrant areas like Midtown never materialized, neither did some of the small school sites anticipated by residents, but there’s plenty of big-box shopping.

The transition from community plan to sprawling community irritates the hell out of residents like Barbara Graichen, president of the Natomas Community Association.

“In East Natomas, a golf course was proposed. That was the first project that was pulled out,” she said. Bike lanes are inconsistent and stop short at numerous barriers. No one is safe walking through the sprawling shopping centers, and neither are the students who walk to middle schools on streets with no sidewalks and gutters. Though the plan was to get people closer to their jobs and off the roads, Interstates 80 and 5 are at a standstill during commute hours. North Natomas’ “Town Center” was supposed to bring people together, but it’s mainly a big shopping center, one that Graichen equates with “Anywhere, USA.” With no place to walk to within their neighborhoods, residents end up driving to shopping centers for entertainment.

Whatever the developer wants to build, Graichen said, they call “smart growth.”

“Developers aren’t evil,” Mende said. “They’re just responding to their perception of the market.”

Traditionally, say city planners, local governments ask developers to innovate--to push good, sustainable, environmentally responsible design forward--but developers are building what they know how to build and waiting to see how their peers and competitors handle the same challenges. Progress happens incrementally, especially in large undeveloped areas. Suburban developers look for economies of scale and tend to cluster similar uses together, inspiring phrases like “cookie-cutter development.”

Traditionally, say city planners, local governments ask developers to innovate--to push good, sustainable, environmentally responsible design forward--but developers are building what they know how to build and waiting to see how their peers and competitors handle the same challenges. Progress happens incrementally, especially in large undeveloped areas. Suburban developers look for economies of scale and tend to cluster similar uses together, inspiring phrases like “cookie-cutter development.”

But without that kind of diversity, North Natomas resembles nothing more than sprawling neighborhoods facing as many malls as can fit on the landscape. And even the malls aren’t walkable.

“You have to drive your car from one side of the shopping center to the other,” said Graichen. “They couldn’t be less pedestrian friendly.”

“The elected officials have all these wonderful policies,” she said. “They just don’t implement them.”

Though North Natomas is expected to mature and attract more employers, churches, parks and civic uses eventually, smart-growth advocates wonder whether future developments will fail to meet the city’s smart-growth ideals, too.

Delta Shores, 926 acres at the southern border of the city adjacent to Interstate 5, is one of the largest undeveloped tracts of land in Sacramento. Developers who are proposing a “master-planned community” say they’re committed to smart-growth design. If you’re wondering, they say they won’t allow acres and acres of stucco in varying shades of tan and gray. “We hate that,” said Tom Karvonen, SunCal Companies’ project manager for Delta Shores. “We’ve got blues and greens and reds.”

The developer’s early November application to the city described Delta Shores as “a compact residential community of approximately 4,600 new homes oriented in a modified traditional grid pattern and anchored by two mixed-use retail centers--a regional oriented Town Center and Neighborhood Village Center.” Mende said the village will be right in the middle of the project and will provide neighborhood-serving retail.

Like parts of North Natomas, Delta Shores originally had been zoned for employment--high-tech offices, generally. But employers never materialized. As in North Natomas, the developers want to rezone light industrial land for housing and retail--the “regional” retail along Interstate 5 probably means big boxes and more cars.

Mixed use, as an ideal, means that houses, jobs, entertainment and shopping are clustered together so people can walk, bike and ride mass transit. Like North Natomas, the Delta Shores development bases its transportation plan on the future expansion of light rail.

Delta Shores is a huge opportunity and a tract of land that’s been skipped over for years, said Mende. “It’s closer to the central city than Elk Grove, which can reduce vehicle-miles traveled.”

But unlike North Natomas, said Karvonen, Delta Shores will include enough senior housing, smaller village-style retail, and 40 acres of wetlands. Fifteen percent of residences will be affordable (apartments only) and the development will include a 1.5-mile long walkable, bikeable linear parkway. “This is going to be 800 acres as opposed to 9,000,” he said, “so we can cluster open spaces together.”

Because the development is small enough, developers also can make it very permeable. They won’t have to wall it in, which means bikers and walkers can move freely.

Altogether, Mende sees this as evidence that developers are moving toward smarter growth. “There are fewer cul-de-sacs, fewer gated communities occurring,” he said. Developers also have seen that customers will pay a little extra to have walkable, bikeable trails, so those trails are incorporated into plans.

But there’s still very little of the mixed-use development that’s begun to fill in the holes in the central-city landscape. Attractive, walkable centers with shops on the ground floors and condos or apartments above? That’s something that doesn’t make it into suburban communities, Mende said. “We try to push as much as we think the market will bend. ... To hold Delta Shores to the fine-grained diversity in a downtown project isn’t going to work.”

If the city insists on uses that don’t pencil out, projects may not get built at all.

Developers may not be ready to create the mixed-use spaces planners like to see, but the city is running out of open space and opportunities to get it right. One of the last opportunities might be the rail yards, and if Sacramentans want a particular kind of development, they’ll have to attend city-council meetings and planning-commission meetings to demand it.

North Natomas had a smart-growth community plan that was supported by residents, and look at it now.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ive always thought it was a joke . We have an absolutely spineless city "council" that does whatever developers say . They almost rezoned for yet another Target just last year .

it isnt at all walkable or even close to dense . I often trek out to the natomas marketplace and the lack of planning shames me . How much better an experience would it be if all the retail and food outlets had housing above it ? The place could be a self contained city with residents keeping it goin 24 hours .

Mayor Fargo was the councilwoman for the area before its development, and now she's mayor .

I posted awhile ago that the plan for the railyards was subpar with 10,000 homes , i would say double it to 20 K . who cares if cars have trouble or people cant park . Get on a train and/or walk a little !

Natomas is Folsom is Elk Grove is Roseille . Shameful .

Anonymous said...

Some friends of mine, recent bay area transplants and commuters, who live in North Natomas habor a very strong 'Sacramento sucks' attitude, yet they NEVER venture out of this section of town. I would hate Sacramento too if I had to live in that....

I am perversely curious to see what that part of town will look like in 20 years.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

hear ya...since we moved into the downtown area and started taking them to more places there, my bay area freinds have had a new opinion of Sac..at least parts of it.

Before it was Sac sucks..now it's Sac suburbs sucks, but some parts are actually pretty cool, that being midtown area and parts of downtown. ,in particular

I get a lot of "I never knew sac had these areas"
----

"Who cares if cars have trouble or people cant park . Get on a train and/or walk a little !"

Amen!!!

Anonymous said...

Point 1: I live in Curtis Park (Near enough to downtown), but work in Roseville. So, I hear ya brother on that commute.

Point 2: For any of you who have read James Howard Kunstler's "Geography of Nowhere", you can see how Natomas has failed as a community (if looking at Truxel Road alone doesn't convince you... )

While commendable that you attempted to walk places, the environment simply isn't designed for walking. (We see this in Roseville too.) Sidewalks are almost ornamental, while traffic whizzes by at 45 mph.

Natomas (like other suburban environs) is scaled for automobiles, not people. Next time you walk through that mega-parking lot at Home Depot, Wal-Mart, thing out there looking at the rows of cars, ask "how much of midtown could fit in this parking lot?" Think about how much more human-scaled and humane the space is in the grid of Midtown, compared to the sprawl.

It's not suburbanites' fault that they don't enjoy walking around Truxel. (No one should). It is their fault for buying into the suburban myth though.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

"the environment simply isn't designed for walking"

Yup, we figured that one out pretty darn quick.

Speaking of walkable and Curtis Park..anything new with the Curtis Park Village? When my wife and I were looking for a new place, that was one that peeked our interest, but we realized it wouldn't happen for quite some time.

That could really become a really nice walkable addition to Curtis Park.

Zwahlen Images said...

The Curtis Park Village won't be happening in the near future. The two signs that were posted at the site have been removed and there has been no movement on the project within the city. Another rail yard debacle.

TowerDistrict said...

yeah Kunstler paints quite the dystopian vision of suburban planning - and i'd love to disagree with him - but i found myself cringing at his descriptions because i've experienced poor planning first hand.

when i first moved to the sac metro, i lived in rocklin. i picked out an apartment next to a shopping center with the plans of utilizing my two feet more often. but the experience was so painful, i couldn't bring myself to walking anywhere. i just felt vulnerable and alienated like i was walking on the freeway. so thanks for sharing your Natomas experience. it's at least assuring to know that it wasn't just me.

when i moved downtown i really began to find a sense of place - i become so much more involved in my surroundings, and i attribute much of that to being outside of my car and on foot. but the pedestrian-friendly atmoshpere is not confined to midtown and downtown. Curtis Park is a perfect example of a walkable community due to it's streetscaping, sidewalks, trees and the general scale of development... and talk about well utilized park space.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

I would add East Sac into that fold of places where you walk to many places, like if you live close to J Street, in the 50's around H, or off of Folsom, plus McKinley Park is awesome for running!

If I were to move out of the central city, I would only move to the East Sac, Land Park, or Curtis Park area.

Anonymous said...

(the Curtis Park guy again)

In response to the Curtis Park situation, there is a website: www.curtisparkvillage.net that details what's happening in the project. It appears that we have a meeting coming up soon, on Dec. 7th.

Interesting that you bring it up. I've been to a handful of community meetings, and it's painful. We have a lot of NIMBYs in our neighborhood, and a number are attorneys and whatnot who have been fighting Petrovich all the way. They are concerned about traffic, etc., and seem to be clueless to the idea that such a valuable piece of land in a rapidly growing metropolis CANNOT be ignored. (It's between two very desirable neighborhoods, next to a college, near downtown, and has a light rail station- do the math).

Anyway, I am in total agreement. My wife and I talk all the time about a Saturday morning walk to the coffee shop, or walking to light rail to go shopping on K (this is in five years or so). Convincing my neighbors is the trick- they can't seem to differentiate urbanism from light industrial development or tract house subdivisions.

Carl said...

I live in North Natomas and there is almost literally NOTHING smart about its growth. The article spends a lot of time talking about walkability, and indeed, the area is simply not walkable.

The article doesn't say much about bicycling, which is another area where North Natomas is a dismal failure. Off-street bike paths are nearly non-existent in my area of Natomas. The paths that do exist run for less than a mile and dead end into a main street. There is a bunch of land zoned commercial near the house, and there's absolutely nothing on it.

As other people have mentioned, there is nothing smart about the big box that's been built in Natomas. We're as Generica as anywhere in the country. And don't even get me started on the Natomas Marketplace from Hell.

All that said, I need a yard for the dog and I really like having two bathrooms. I'd pay $100K to $150K more to get those two things in Downtown, East Sac, McKinley Park or Land Park and that's simply not in the budget. We can and do walk to the park and to the grocery store, but only about a percent of our neighborhood's population does the same.

Natomas is Folsom is Elk Grove is Roseille indeed.

wburg said...

What's funny is that there is a third "railyard" in central Sacramento: the Sacramento Northern locomotive service yard on 17th and D Street. It was paved over and used as loading/parking for Libby Cannery and Blue Diamond, now it is sprouting some pretty nice three-story townhomes. Perhaps the secret is more small-scale projects, instead of a handful of big ones that take decades to actually appear?

dan said...

A lot of the power lies with home-buyers. For the most part developers will build what they know will get the best prices. The City's roadway level of service policy encourages suburban auto friendly development too. (It should be at least a little better after the General Plan update which is in the works now.)
I don't understand why a development like detla shores couldn't be entirely mixed use. Like a brand new midtown. As some of the rest of you mention, I almost never leave midtown/downtown, so you could have a remote development that captures almost all of its own trips. I like that comment... "how much of midtown could you fit in that parking lot"! The sad part is that most families feal it is hard to raise children in an urban environment, so they think they need suburbia. The challenge is to make urban development that people will want to raise their kids in.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

Thanks for all your comments everyone...let's keep this going!!!! This is an important topic!!!

Also, sorry for the delay in getting everyones comments posted late…

Couple of comments:

'We have a lot of NIMBYs in our neighborhood, and a number are attorneys and whatnot who have been fighting Petrovich all the way. They are concerned about traffic, etc., and seem to be clueless to the idea that such a valuable piece of land in a rapidly growing metropolis CANNOT be ignored."

Unfortunately, I knew this was the case up until now, but wasn't sure if this is still going on. It seems that “traffic problems” will always be in the minds of neighbors in existing neighborhoods. There needs to be a way to work around this! After the downtown railyards, this is probably the next biggest infill project.

“It appears that we have a meeting coming up soon, on Dec. 7th.”

Please report back what happens. I will make sure to highlight your findings so everyone can see.

“A lot of the power lies with home-buyers. For the most part developers will build what they know will get the best prices.”

Completely and utterly agree.

“I almost never leave midtown/downtown,”

Me too!!!! Only for work and to see my parents or in-laws!


“And don't even get me started on the Natomas Marketplace from Hell”

The architect for that development should be shot. Why would you only include one way to get in and out?

“Perhaps the secret is more small-scale projects, instead of a handful of big ones that take decades to actually appear?”

In my opinion, all midtown needs in mixed use infill, that is it. Downtown, that is a different story. I think we need large impact projects.

“The sad part is that most families feel it is hard to raise children in an urban environment, so they think they need suburbia”

While I agree that is how most people think. I totally disagree. I just recently had my first child and I have no intentions of moving out of the central city. I prefer my kid to grow up around diversity and an urban way of life than a suburban way, even if it costs a little more money.

Zwahlen Images said...

Shows what I know about the Curtis Park railyard.

Curtis Park railyard plans back on track
By Mary Lynne Vellinga - Bee Staff Writer

Last Updated 6:59 pm PST Friday, December 1, 2006

Print | E-Mail | Comments (0)

Plans to redevelop the Curtis Park railyard in Sacramento are back on track, says the developer who owns the land.

Paul Petrovich said the cleanup of the state Superfund site was stalled for 18 months while he negotiated a new agreement with Union Pacific Railroad to haul out toxic dirt.

A new agreement became necessary after Petrovich bought an additional 7-acres from the railroad, bringing his total holdings to 72 acres. UP still runs a main freight line and switching operation adjacent to the shuttered railyard, which it sold to Petrovich in 2003.


Outside of the downtown railyard, the Curtis Park railyard is considered the most significant development site near Sacramento's downtown core. It stretches from Fourth Avenue to Sutterville Road, separating the Curtis Park and Land Park neighborhoods.

In the past, Curtis Park residents have raised concerns about traffic and weighed in on architectural design in the neighborhood association newspaper.

For a complete story, see Saturday's Bee.

Anonymous said...

Update on Curtis Park meeting:

I must remember to read the entire date on invitations. Turns out the meeting was for December 7th, 2005. (Way to update your site, Petrovich).

So I wandered around like a vagrant for 15 minutes. Oh well. At least it's in the public eye again and moving forward.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

2005? Man, sorry to hear about that. Thanks for filling us in though