Micro redevelopment and community gardens for a new Sacramento
The news that redevelopment on K Street is moving into high gear is welcome. New housing, a couple of rooftop venues, boutique shops—these are all great ideas for a more livable urban landscape. But megadevelopments like this come at a cost, and not just the price tag in public redevelopment funds. There’s also the cost of having such a large stretch of the city sit empty and desolate while each property is acquired and a large-scale redevelopment plan is penciled out and approved.
What if we tried a different sort of redevelopment? Something smaller?
In Detroit, a city which has suffered decades of decaying infrastructure, loss of jobs and industry, some success is coming from micro redevelopment. It involves using redevelopment dollars in smaller amounts for smaller projects (instead of an entire block, a single building), microloans and tax incentives not to development companies but to individuals or small groups that are willing to establish a business in buildings that can be rehabbed or refurbished. The same principle has been applied to housing in markets where abandoned or vacant homes are a scourge.
It also incorporates sustainable, organic urban gardening—a practice that Sacramento, with active support from City Councilman Jay Schenirer, has already begun to embrace with Growing Together. The coalition of community agriculture groups that make up Growing Together are working to put local yards and vacant lots to work as gardens. They’ve also begun to work on reclaiming housing in Schenirer’s district—converting abandoned or foreclosed houses into low-cost homes—that include sustainable gardens as part of the whole package.
So when it comes to redevelopment throughout the city, why couldn’t we begin to think small? Vacant lots may eventually be built out, but until then, they could be put to good use as community gardens and green space. Rather than condemning properties and waiting for a developer, let’s open up possibilities by offering incentives and tax breaks to individuals and small groups who have ideas for putting the existing space to work.
We’re not Detroit, not by a long shot. But moving toward sustainable urban agriculture in vacant lots—and providing incentives for the lot’s owners to allow it—as well as offering support to small-scale redevelopment in the business districts will ensure that we never face the sort of crumbling city that forms urban nightmares.
Micro redevelopment will give us a variety of styles that are funky and unique, and that allow Sacramento’s identity to grow organically from its residents rather than be invented around a boardroom conference table. It’s a new way of thinking about redevelopment that will require a lot of assistance from city employees, because individuals don’t come equipped with the tools to navigate codes and processes. It will require patience and a willingness to try things, see what happens, and if it doesn’t work, try something else.
But it won’t leave great swaths of the city sitting vacant for years at a stretch while Sacramentans need homes, businesses and food.
If we’re to become the “city of” anything, let it be the “City of Us,” in all our diverse expressions.