Thursday, December 07, 2006

News and Review: Planning beyond Portland

Another good piece in the News and Review today around families and the growth we are seeing in the central city.

The premise is around the need for more affordable family housing in the city. I think we all know that is a major need. Uneasy Rhetoric has commented many times on the need for this.

Part of the problem, along with price, I think we see is that people still fall under the mentality of not raising children in a city, but in the suburbs. I think we are slowly starting to see that change, but is it enough to shift the market so developers see a reasonable size demand for this product? a reasonable price.

I'm sure subsidies will do the trick, but is there another way to accomplish the goal? My guess is Yes. Will policy's and ordnances work? It worked for Vancouver, but would it work here? Not sure.

Also on my mind, I still think many are still only considering downtown the Central Business District. There are many many neighborhoods that surround the JKL area that I feel most people don't consider. The place we choose to live has 3 parks in all directions within a 5 minute walk which suits us well for our family. The school my kids will attend is a short car ride, or a reasonable walk, many preschool and children learning centers for toddlers, with some children theatres, with the Unity Center and Chidrens Museum down the road. Lot of stuff in the immediate area for kids.

The "Living First" (Excellent read) from Vancouver the writer mentions seems to revolve around a lot of very solid principles a couple of which really stuck my eye.

"The first principle has been to limit commuter access into downtown and let congestion be an ally in a householdÂ’s profound first decision to live downtown or in the suburbs."

Well if a traffic problem is one key to getting people to move downtown, we are on our way. The problem is our public transit is behind Vancouver. In addition to that, Sacramento and really most other cites in California and the US tend to use transportation money that seems to promote more use of the auto, versus mass transit. Why else would still not have our DNA line, Intermodal or just now start looking at Streetcars?

"Another basic principle has been to develop a complete neighborhood unit at a pedestrian scale with mixed use, an infrastructure of necessary utilities and amenities, an associated local commercial high street, and phasing to make ancillary amenities available as people move in and need them. It was necessary to include what sociologists call the essential “third places,” after home and work, where people gather to create the tangible society of their neighborhood."

This is an area I think we are moving solidly into this around the midtown area. The infill we are seeing all over the place from the large 18th and L and L Street Lofts projects, the East End Gateway and Crystal Ice, to the small 4 or 6 unit infill at S and 20thish that will include a neighborhood bistro in an area with relatively no gathering points for many blocks, are all creating the "third places" that is mentioned.

The CBD of Downtown still has yet in my mind to really define it's "third places". K Street I think will be a citywide third place, but beyond a place like Temple I think is still to be defined and will be happen based on where high densities of people are placed.

The one criticism I have seen of the "Living First" is that Vancouver is running out of office tower sites that condo towers have taken, thus creating a potential for jobs to move out of the downtown area.

Live, Work, and Play...they all need to go together. I think Sacramento has quite some time before they need to really worry about a shortage of sites though.

I have no doubt in my mind Sacramento is on it's way, but this just shows you how far we truly have to go to really get there. My hope is over the next 10-15 years we can start seeing other cities use some 'principles' from Sacramento.

Planning beyond Portland
By Dave O'Toole

The residential future of downtown Sacramento--like the view from the top of the emerging 53-story “Towers on Capitol Mall”--is likely to astound the beholder. With 20,000 housing units planned or under construction, glamorous residences like the Towers are only the beginning. City Manager Ray Kerridge recently predicted that 60 residential and commercial high rises could be developed downtown over the next 10 to 15 years.

However, unless a truly compelling and inclusive housing vision is adopted, Sacramento may be headed for the downtown destiny of cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Portland: a largely childless, family-unfriendly urban core.

One of our most cited urban examples is Portland, a city whose jewel of redevelopment, the Pearl District, has been tarnished by a major oversight in design and affordability: the near absence of children. In that neighborhood there are, according to news reports, only a few dozen school-aged children among 6,400 units of housing.

This matters because families are an essential thread in a stable and long-term community fabric. Families with children tend to be active in preserving the safety, appearance and amenities of their community. Sadly, many prospective parents downtown feel forced to move out to suburbs to raise a family. They shouldnÂ’t have to relocate.

Vancouver, British Columbia, presents an innovative alternative. In Vancouver, a "Living First" A housing policy led to an unprecedented urban residential transformation that, among other things, required that at least 20 percent of new housing units be affordable, and that 25 percent be designed for families. Additionally, Vancouver created fiscal incentives for developers to build whole neighborhoods where families would be accommodated with schools, child-care facilities, recreation and other amenities.

Vancouver has transformed popular notions about density, urban-housing design and the role of families in populating a city. It now boasts a broad demographic cross-section of more than 20 percent of its population living in the downtown core (SacramentoÂ’s share is less than 4 percent) and recently has been named the most livable city in the world.

Portland and other attractive urban models also signal a warning for Sacramento’s downtown residential future. For a more compelling and inclusive model, our city should look north to Vancouver and pursue “Living First” principles as a key component to shaping our downtown destiny.


Uneasy Rhetoric said...

Great post. I'm looking forward to digesting it later, and I think I'll post on it, provided the little guy calms down a bit.

I fell in love with Vancouver when I visited waaay back in 1988. From what I understand, it's gotten even better since then.

Subsidies will help, policies might, but the real key is for developers and the moneybags who fund them to realize that they can sell their developments just as easily by marketing to more moderate income folks. I don't need flashy marketing, Viking ranges, Sub Zero fridges, granite countertops, and a toilet that makes coffee in the morning, I just want to live and raise my kid in the urban core and still have money left over to eat.

Wait a sec, did I just suggest a market solution? Darn it, there goes my liberal credibility.

Anonymous said...

"I don't need flashy marketing, Viking ranges, Sub Zero fridges, granite countertops, and a toilet that makes coffee in the morning, I just want to live and raise my kid in the urban core and still have money left over to eat."

That is near-verbatim of how I feel. I went on a road trip through Portland, Seattle and Vancouver recently and there is a marked difference between the demographics of these cities. Portland and Seattle seem to be loaded with childless 20/30 year olds, more of a playground for adults rather than places to put down roots.

I was amazed how many kids there were in Vancouver's central city, especially amazing considering Canada's much lower birth-rate than the US. I don't want to give up the city to raise kids and vice-versa. Let's follow Vancouver's model and not become just another DINKY ghetto...

LivingInUrbanSac said...

I feel in love with Vancouver as well. Loved the street scene and the design of sleek buildings that were mentioned...and a noticable amount of kids like Anonymous mentioned.

I went to Portland last year and Vancouver a few months ago and as you said, there is a big differance between the two.

"I don't want to give up the city to raise kids and vice-versa."

I don't think you need to, you just need to find the right area. Some areas are better than others, and some I would not even thnk about it at this point. I have quite a few kids in the area I live that I see at the park on the swings or just walking with parents, which makes me feel good about where we choose

I even see some kids (pre-teen) waiting for the bus and I have always wanted to stop and ask if they live in the area and where they were going to and from, but I figured that might put me in jail...

"I don't need flashy marketing, Viking ranges, Sub Zero fridges, granite countertops, and a toilet that makes coffee in the morning, I just want to live and raise my kid in the urban core and still have money left over to eat."

While a toilet that makes coffee sounds pretty bad ass, I have always wondered why someone doesn't try a "regular" unit.

I get that a developer can put this stuff in and charge a lot of money for it..notice how it's not even an option in these new places. They put them in and charge a huge profit over what they pay for them, bumping up profit margins.

I get that with land prices, materials, and labor that might be only way to go without a subsidy, but there has to be a way for a normal unit with carpet instead of hardwood, coran instead of granite, linoleum instead of tile in the bathroom, ect, ect. to still make the money developers want.

Anonymous said...

Portland, Seattle and Vancouver are historic cities that have had a vibrant downtown fueled by private enterprise for close to 100 years. Portland was driven by regional banking and commercial headquarters (lumber, shipping, agriculture) and the accompanying consultants to those private enterprises. (Textronic, the inventor of the Oscilloscope in the 30s is based in Portland and more recently Nike moved from Eugene to Portland) Portland also has at least three major private colleges, Reed, Lewis and Clark and Portland U (division of guys from Notre Dame and the Pilots play with Santa Clara/Saint Marys/Pepperdine....) and Portland as well is home to the biggest public university in the state, Portland State and also houses the University of Oregon Medical School.

Seattle and Vancouver have the same business, educational and business environment.

Sacramento lacks most of these attributes and that is the reason for it's development.

Depend on the State for employment and to be the major player downtown and you get Sacramento.


wburg said...

Sacramento is a historic city, it had a vibrant downtown until a series of postwar decisions that gutted the central core and encouraged growth far away from a formerly lively and vibrant city. Locating CSUS away from downtown denied Sacramento an intellectual center in the heart of downtown. Relocating shopping centers even farther out (starting with Town & Country Village) drove out major downtown businesses. "Urban renewal" destroyed working-class and ethnic neighborhoods, destroyed the housing base and forced overcrowding into the neighborhoods that remained. Freeway expansion destroyed even more working-class neighborhoods and provided massive public subsidy for suburban living. This depopulation drove out much of the workforce for Sacramento's original economic engines, railroads and food processing industries, leaving only state government and its ancillary industries in its place, staffed mostly by people who lived in the suburbs and commuted downtown.

In a sense, Sacramento's vibrancy and greatness was wasted through a series of poor planning decisions and outright xenophobia. We have the potential to turn things around, but only if we take some time to figure out what went wrong and avoid the same mistakes--lest the next series of bad decisions destroy what little remains of Sacramento's vibrant character.

Anonymous said...

...Couldnt have said it better myself Wburg ...

LivingInUrbanSac said...

Well said, Wburg...

The old adage that there are only state jobs in Sacramento is very outdated.

While Sac's largest employer downtown is still the state, it's is no where near the level is was even 5-10 years ago.

Private business are also beginning to find downtown again though. According to Grubb and Ellis, there are three greater than 100,000-square-foot private sector leads that have indicated preference for the Central Business District as their submarket of choice.

That's a lot of jobs..

Carl said...

Speaking of kids in the Pearl District, wifey and I were in Portland on a 95 degree day in August 2005, and there were probably 30 children playing in the Jamison Square fountain, smack in the middle of the Pearl. That's anecdotal, but I have a hard time believing there are only a few dozen kids in the whole area given the number we saw in one spot on that day.

Anonymous said...

I was just in Vancouver in May, and it is quite a city, from the standpoint of liveability. It's a little different from Sacramento in that:
1.It's postcard-quality location is amazing (picture San Francisco, only instead of Oakland, put mountains there).
2.There really isn't a highway system there,particularly near downtown. It's a lot of surface streets- to get to downtown from the airport, you go down a street much like Eureka Road in Roseville.
3. It's Canadian. (Canadian cities tend to rock and they are a little friendlier with transit).
However, there were parts of the place that reminded me a lot of Midtown.

Uneasy Rhetoric said...

Carl -- a lot of people take their kids to Jamison Square even if they don't live there because it's so groovy.

I'm not willing to say that Sac is doomed just because its biggest employer is (and always will be) the state; I think the monolithic nature of downtown employment is a problem, but not an insurmountable one. Besides, there's also all the nonprofits and lobbyists and law firms and consultants that serve the state in some way.

I thing wberg said it pretty well.

Anonymous said...

There is so much Ray Kerridge driven BS floating around it's mind boggling...maybe Fargo has to go...

Pearl (most Portlanders don't know the term and those that do DESPISE it, like calling SF "Frisco") District is no big deal, the ACTION is on 23rd Street up from the "Pearl District" a historic street, NOT in the Pearl District...

Portland downtown is driven by historic trends for that city...(Lawrence Halprin, Charles Moore, SOM highrises and great landscaping, Forecourt and Lovejoy Fountains and before that Belluschi and John Yeon and before that...)...

Seattle with twice the population of Portland is also driven by historic trends that have washed over that city including the recent wave of 30 to 40 year old Microsoft/Starbucks/Real millionaires and the historic cool neighborhoods, Fremont, Greenlake, Queen Anne, University....Fremont naked girls on the solstice, walk from Lake Union to the great REI store to climb the rock...

Sacramento has also had historic trends, as pointed out, including such luminairies as Garret Eckbo closing off K Street and creating a magnificent Urban Slum (Eckbo's old firm is now advising the City on Design Guidelines, hoot, hoot)..

Sacramento has to have it's own identity based on the circumstances or lack thereof happening in Sacramento...

Such as some kind of coherent public urban spaces instead of the shotgun approach now employed,

but then that's called URBAN DESIGN, something sadly lacking in Sacramento

dan said...

lack of urban planning?

no way!

why at the new Peets next to the Safeway on 16th or 19th on R the lack of outdoor seating is on purpose! See, that way everybody needs to sit inside because Sacramento is not very conducive to exterior seating! It snows alot in Sacramento and the ground freezes solid!

That's why in the same strip center in midtown, there is no seating around the Safeway, because who wants to eat outside in Sacramento in the middle of an ice storm?

The Developers, Architects and Urban Planners in Sacramento are right on top of the environmental concerns in this part of California!!!!

Brrrrrrrrrrrr! It's cold outside! we need another log on the fire!

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. Just because the new Peets at R Street doesn't have a ton of outdoor seating doesn't mean that the store isn't well-planned. (Note: there are a handful of tables out there).

And I don't think that NOT having seats outside has a 1:1 correlation with weather.

How 'bout this as a theory: Safeway at R doesn't have a lot of seats outside because Safeways don't usually have a lot of seats outside.

Uneasy Rhetoric said...

I love the post that starts with "Ray Kerridge driven BS" and ends with a plea for URBAN DESIGN in Sacramento. It's so, how shall I put this, ironic? Contradictory?

I'll agree that Sacramento's development plan is less plan than shotgun, but at least we're seeing some real development.

Until the railyards come online, we're not going to see the kind of cohesive, neighborhood-wide redevelopment that happened in Portland's "Pearl" district (for better or worse). That was a largely derelict district. Now it isn't.

Oh, and don't get me started on NW 23rd. It is a shadow of its former self. There are probably a dozen other, better, more "neigborhood-oriented" commercial districts in Portland. Heck, I've been to strip malls that were more friendly.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

"maybe Fargo has to go..."

That part I agree with...

Levi said...

But where this whole strain started was on families in the urban core.
Its very true that sub-zero refrigirators keep the food just as cold as what you can buy at home depot. But space does cost alot.
I think the biggest barrier to families living downtown is that we all think we need 2500 square feet to raise a family.

2 kids one more on the way and 1348 square feet. Plenty of room here.

What I am leaving out is that even the small houses cost to much down here.
The problems are many. Land, first is a huge expense, construction costs are enourmous, all the soft costs that make up roughly 35% of every deal, Then you add that urban houses require more planning time than suburban tracts. We have one project right now that has been in the design stage for 13 months. (full time attention all 13 of those months)
In a suburb you can take that time and half it.

Its just expensive to build houses in the urban core.

The alternative I think is for families to look at areas like Broderick in West Sacramento, Or Del Paso, If enough of them make the commitment areas like that will turn around and become great urban-family centers.

The projects being developed there are going to be cheaper and still very close to town.

Although I would like to see more families right downtown. I just don't see a perfect way for that to happen.

Any other ideas?

LivingInUrbanSac said...

"I think the biggest barrier to families living downtown is that we all think we need 2500 square feet to raise a family."

I think Levi makes a very solid point here.

I have one coworker who is always going out on weekend downtown and wants to move downtown, but does nto want to lose any sqaure fotoage on the condo he has in roseville. "Why would I go smaller?" are his exact words.

It's a lifesytle change that has it's trade offs. People are way too into how big their house is. That's the American way though. Bigger is better.

wburg said...

2500 square feet is only required to raise a family if the kid never goes outside. If there is a neighborhood where kids can go outside and be kids, the space requirement inside the house drops considerably. There doesn't even necessarily have to be a big yard or even a nearby playground if the streets are conducive to play (trees, mowstrips, broad sidewalks,) and have enough pedestrian traffic to keep kids safe.

SacUrbnPlnr said...

Sacramento has also had historic trends, as pointed out, including such luminairies as Garret Eckbo closing off K Street and creating a magnificent Urban Slum (Eckbo's old firm is now advising the City on Design Guidelines, hoot, hoot)..

That was many, many years ago. Anonymous should check out the urban planning and design work Mr. Eckbo's firm (EDAW) is now doing in the region. I believe he/she is in for a pleasant surprise.

Anonymous said...

Well if Garrett Eckbo and Company didn't finish off Sacramento with that K Street Close Off Slum, why not give them a second chance to finish the job? Makes sense to me!

Want to see a real genius at that sort of thing? Try Levi Plaza in SF or any of the Fountain Stuff in Portland or the FDR Memorial or....Lawrence Halprin...but then timid bureaucrats need some real balls to hire people of his ilk...because bureaucrats are basically trying to cover their rear ends...but that's another story for another day...

At least Sacramento or somebody has someone who knows what they are doing over in the Railyards...walk thru the Del Mar Plaza and one knows Jerde or his guys are something special (although Horton Plaza now looks kind of shot, but you can walk over to Croce's widow's joint which spawned a renaissance in SD and THEN LED to the highrise condos)...

Anonymous said...

If you work downtown, want to save some money, and want a short commute (less than 5 miles via bike, light rail or RT bus) I'd recommend the McKinley Park or River Park neighborhoods. It may not be as hip as the grid, but you can still find a 1200-1400 sf detached home on a small lot with mature trees for $350-400,000. It's just the right distance to bike to work - you can make it from CSUS to Capitol Park in less than 30 minutes. Again - it is not as hip as downtown/midtown, but they are beautiful old neighborhoods.