Editorial: North Franklin is on the rise, after years of downward spiral

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014 - 12:00 am

Shirley Franklin, a former mayor of Atlanta, describes what she calls a “maniacal ogre” attacking a socially and economically segregated city: “The ogre picks up the city and shakes it like a snow globe.”

Buildings, roads, parks, hospitals and schools settle randomly in a radically reorganized city: “Rich, poor, and middle-class people now find themselves living side-by-side, sending their kids to the same schools, relying on the same roads and transit systems.”

That kind of change doesn’t happen, of course, in the real world.

If it did, south Sacramento communities such as Oak Park, Glen Elder, Fruitridge, North Franklin, Lemon Hill and Meadowview might have resources and amenities similar to east Sacramento, Land Park and Curtis Park.

Vibrant, thriving communities don’t materialize on their own. They require investment.

And struggling communities don’t just happen, either. “Disinvestment has placed south-area neighborhoods in a downward spiral,” says Jesus Hernandez, a sociologist who has been working with the North Franklin neighborhood.

It’s hard to imagine a community harder hit than North Franklin, from years of racially exclusionary property policies through the 1950s, to Highway 99 taking traffic away from a once-vibrant Franklin Boulevard commercial corridor in the 1960s, to the more recent closures of the Campbell Soup plant and Maple Elementary School.

Straddling the city and county of Sacramento, the North Franklin area has been a stepchild.

But this neighborhood now has positive momentum from within for addressing change. It is a place to watch. It has the potential to be a model for neighborhood revitalization. With no outside force to shake things up, a core of community residents and merchants, including a dynamic duo of Hernandez and planner Marti Brown to tap community resources, is bringing people together to bring about change themselves.

They’re cataloging community assets, including people and places. Vacant lots no longer are deemed “derelict properties.” They are “opportunity sites.” Residents are talking to each other to flesh out priorities.

The four-mile stretch of Franklin Boulevard south of Broadway, with Highway 99 to the east and the Union Pacific rail line to the west, is at a critical point in time. That corridor can become an extension of Highway 99, with cars zipping through, or it can become a livable, walkable community.

It’s all about forging connections between people and places.

The 47th Street light-rail station, isolated with nothing around it, must connect to the Franklin Boulevard corridor. It could become like the Alkali Flat/La Valentina light-rail station along Sacramento’s 12th Street corridor, which is a new gateway to downtown after 20 years as a high-crime vacant site.

The Campbell Soup plant, isolated with military-style fencing, houses Silgan Container, manufacturing steel cans for food packaging. Frame Industries, which resells food processing equipment, and a construction firm also operate there. There is room for more tenants. With water, sewer, electrical and steam generation capacity, plus rail and road access, this site in the farm-to-fork capital would be an ideal hub for niche food processing with some retail on an open campus with walking and bike pathways.

Maple Elementary has two strong proposals for a health or education center.

North Franklin residents, who have been meeting in public forums, want what other communities take for granted: investments in the physical place such as trees, crosswalks and bike lanes leading to a bank and a health clinic.

Transformation won’t happen overnight.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the North Franklin District won’t be revitalized in one, either,” says Frank Cable, the owner of South Sacramento Leader Pharmacy.

But the pieces are falling into place. The community has established a community development corporation, an independent nonprofit that can seek private capital and public funding opportunities. Community pride and engagement is palpable. North Franklin is on the rise, after years of downward spiral.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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