Two towns, two creeks

Ashland shows Chico how to make the most of its downtown waterway

My wife and I visit Ashland, Ore., about once a year to see plays and to enjoy the town itself, which is almost too cute and always on its best behavior. Last month we began our visit with dinner at the Feast of Will, a popular outdoor event in Lithia Park kicking off the summer theater season.

As usual we noticed how seamlessly Ashland incorporates the park and its Ashland Creek into the city’s downtown design, and as usual we lamented Chico’s failure to do likewise with its Big Chico Creek.

The next afternoon we lunched on the downtown promenade above Ashland Creek just east of the park. It was a pleasure to sit there, looking out at the creek and hearing its rippling as we dined. Chico has a beautiful creek running through it, we thought. Why aren’t we making better use of it?

This is especially true of the section of the creek between The Esplanade and the Camellia Way bridge, on the northern edge of downtown. Some people call it “The Lost Park,” since for many years people weren’t even aware that the land on both sides of the creek belonged to the city. On the north side residents on Lindo Park Drive have extended their back yards to water’s edge, as if it were private property. On the south side are a parking lot, some office buildings and a creekside stretch known as a home for the homeless.

It’s not hard to envision a series of attractive restaurants and shops here, some of them fronting a promenade along the creek, with a bike path connected to the Annie’s Glen path. The city’s new general plan calls for just such a bike path, as well as public access to the creek. It also calls for development and redevelopment along downtown creeks “to incorporate design features fronting the creek such as outdoor seating or dining, public open spaces, and creekside façade improvements.”

The Bidwell Park and Playground Commission has recommended creation of a management plan for the area. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Speaking of redevelopment: If you go to the city’s website ( you’ll find a link to a PowerPoint presentation called “What has redevelopment done for Chico?” It’s basically a sequence of photos of public projects paid for in whole or in part by redevelopment funds. Included are various parks (DeGarmo, City Plaza), examples of affordable housing such as 1200 Park Ave., public facilities like the rehabbed Old Municipal Building, many examples of public art, and much, much more.

All told, it shows that Chico is not one of the cities anti-redevelopment forces have in mind when they decry the program’s waste and cronyism. On the contrary, Chico by and large has used its redevelopment funds responsibly.

A bill passed as part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget package guts redevelopment programs without necessarily killing them outright. In the short run, at least, most of Chico’s money will be going back into the state’s general fund. These photos suggest what the city is losing, and why it should try to keep redevelopment alive.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.