On holiday this month in Vancouver, I spent quite a bit of time strolling along the gorgeous waterfront near downtown, lined with sleek condo towers, trendy restaurants, sparkling marinas and lush parks.
I admired the spectacular view across the water to North Vancouver and the mountains beyond. (If you’ve been watching the Women’s World Cup coverage on Fox Sports, you’ve seen it, too.)
In Coal Harbour, I watched people enjoying the sunny weather at an outdoor cafe and kids playing soccer at a nearby park. I watched seaplanes take off for tours and gazed at the amazing sunsets.
And more than once, I wondered: Why can’t it be more like this in Sacramento?
Granted, Vancouver is a bigger city (about 600,000 people, compared to Sacramento’s 480,000), it’s more of a tourist mecca and it’s blessed by geography. It took years and millions of dollars to transform its waterfront.
Still, Sacramento can – and should – be doing much better. Now with the arena and other development, we can’t blow this chance to turn the riverfront near downtown into a real destination and take full advantage of the natural wonder of our rivers.
There are plans (including the 2009 Docks area development blueprint) but little reality. Arts lovers dream of a riverfront cultural district stretching from Crocker Art Museum to the planned Powerhouse Science Center, but that vision suffered a setback last year when a new natural history museum went poof.
City Councilman Allen Warren is the latest to float the idea of a river walk like San Antonio’s – this one linking Old Sacramento and downtown through the railyard and featuring restaurants, shops and an amphitheater. A promenade between Old Sacramento and Miller Park – envisioned as a mile-long scenic stretch for walkers and bicyclists – ends midway.
On the other side of the Sacramento River, West Sacramento has accomplished much more. Its once-industrial Bridge District is already home to a good number of people, including Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. Construction has started on The Barn, an anchor entertainment venue. The city is proposing to spruce up the long-abandoned Mill Street Pier.
The advances in West Sacramento only make more glaringly obvious how little has happened on this side of the Sacramento River.
Vancouver took advantage of the Expo ’86 world’s fair and the 2010 Winter Olympics to transform its downtown waterfront, once lined with pulp mills and other grimy industrial plants. Big money from Hong Kong and China helped fuel private development, though it did not come without controversy. Vancouver is now a cosmopolitan, international city.
Sacramento boosters have the same ambition to become a world-class city. I hate that phrase, but if it is to mean anything, remaking the riverfront near downtown has got to be part of it.
With some money, imagination and willpower, Sacramento could be a lot closer to the Vancouver waterfront – well, maybe without the seaplanes.