Back to the future

The flight to the suburbs was understandable, given the context of the times in the 1950s and ’60s. Young families wanted room to grow, and everyone looked upon the brick buildings downtown as no place to raise a family.

Now, it’s possible that the flight is reversing and that young people looking for a more vibrant, diverse and walkable neighborhood will find one in the new north end of Sacramento. We hope.

The creation of these new, complete communities in downtown America is part of a movement called “New Urbanism.” It would contain workplaces, housing, parks, schools, shops and entertainment. But in actuality, New Urbanism should be called a new approach to old European urbanism.

Walk the streets of a Paris neighborhood, and you will find what these new planners are trying to create. The small shops, newsstands, cafes and jazz clubs are tucked into side streets near the apartment buildings, and the larger stores, restaurants and places to work are along the bigger thoroughfares or spines. But virtually everything you need, including large parks and major museums, is within walking distance or a quick mass-transit ride.

Baron Haussmann did a marvelous thing for the aesthetic of Paris by putting height restrictions on buildings to preserve the character of the central city.

But here in Sacramento, we may need to increase the height of mixed-use buildings in the planned new north end in order to make our version of New Urbanism work (see our cover story, “Sacramento 2025”).

As you will see, there are various and interesting competing theories about what to do with the rail yards and the Richards Boulevard area. We think it is time to get all the interested parties and citizens together to research and discuss the future before it is all planned out by developers and politicians. It may be our last, best chance to do it right. Hopefully, New Urbanism will help create a new Sacramento—and a good fit for everyone.