Sacramento is no Portland
The goal of becoming America’s most livable city is a pipe dream
I recently learned in the 2035 General Plan that it is the city’s goal to make Sacramento the most livable city in America. I have to say I laughed. It’s a worthy goal, but unfortunately, it’s a pipe dream.
By most meaningful metrics, Portland is one of the most livable cities and Sacramento is nowhere near Portland now and it would have to catch up and surpass Portland by 2035.
So why don't I think Sacramento will be the most livable?
Public transit: Portland has five light rail lines, three streetcar lines and a commuter line. Sacramento has two light rail lines, no streetcars and no commuter rail to the suburbs. A third light rail line is planned to Sacramento International Airport, but only if funding sources can be identified.
Bicycle infrastructure: Portland is making protected bike lanes standard, while Sacramento has only built a few. Portland was named “platinum” by the League of American Bicyclists while Sacramento is aiming to be “silver.” While 31 of Portland's intersections have bicycle-specific traffic signals, Sacramento has none. After 10 years, most of Sacramento's master bicycle plan has yet to be implemented. I have nearly been run down several times this year, which makes cycling feel more dangerous to me.
Sprawl: Portland has instituted hard boundaries and greenbelts to force infill development while Sacramento has built a handful of ridiculously expensive condos. Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova are in sprawl overdrive and the Natomas area of Sacramento is no different. It almost seems as if Sacramento's model is less Portland and more Los Angeles.
Parks: With the exceptions of maybe McKinley and Reichmuth, good parks in Sacramento are few and far in between. Most have no sort of nature area, preserve, or water feature that can be enjoyed by all residents. They're just boring tracts of grass with a few trees and dated play structures.
This is all just the tip of the iceberg. I haven't even mentioned homelessness, housing affordability, economic equity and a whole host of other problems Sacramento must address.
The reason why nothing will change is as old as the country itself—there's just no money in it. If rich people can't get richer, it just won't happen. Every time residents ask the City Council why everything takes so long, it gives the same reply that funding is not available or needs to be identified.
It will take billions upon billions of dollars to catch up to Portland, let alone surpass it. But none of that will happen if the city refuses to fund the projects necessary—unless, of course, it's a sports venue.
If the city can actually make something meaningful happen—such as protected bike lanes and bicycle traffic signals all over the city and all within the next few years—then I might be convinced.
Otherwise, I expect nothing more than the usual laundry list of meaningless accomplishments that change nothing. Talk is cheap. Only actions will convince me that the city is making Sacramento the most livable in America. I'm not holding my breath.