What’s the best thing about downtown Sacramento? Its restaurants. The worst? The lack of housing for average workers.
Those are two of the findings from an online survey the city took last month, asking what people like about the capital city’s core area, what they don’t like, and what amenities would make downtown a more vibrant place.
Some results are no surprise: Crocker Art Museum got most mentions as top art gallery.
Other results make you stop and ponder Sacramento’s duality as a small town becoming a big city: Harlow’s, a popular J Street nightclub in business for decades, got as many votes for favorite entertainment venue as the massive Golden 1 Center arena.
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“If there’s a message (in that), it’s we need to make sure our local roots stay a part of the mix,” said Gladys Cornell of AIM Consulting, which helped the city put the survey together.
City planning director Kate Gillespie said downtown has hit a growth spurt, and that requires forethought.
“Sacramento is increasingly on the radar,” she said. “I am getting calls wanting to invest in housing here (from companies) who previously were building in Portland, Vancouver, Seattle. They see this as more affordable, and a city that is being more innovative.”
The city is putting together what it calls a Downtown Specific Plan this year, a blueprint that will guide policy decisions over the next 20 years.
One of city leaders’ goals is to get 10,000 housing units built in the central core in the next decade. It’s an effort dipped in nostalgia. City officials talk yearningly of the days a half-century and more ago when tens of thousands of people lived, worked and played downtown, and rolled around on streetcars.
The new poll, an informal survey of 2,100 volunteer respondents from around the region, is part of the early process of figuring out what the city can and should do to help guide that rebirth of downtown as a live-work community.
The results suggest people, many of whom work or live downtown, believe the central city has good bones and may not be far from being the vibrant community that downtown leaders want but lacks some basics.
Downtown needs more reasonably priced housing, more grocery stores, more neighborhood-style services like a hardware store, easier parking for residents, more transit, better river connections, good schools, and a safer feel, survey takers said.
“The homelessness issue is something I can handle, but it raises safety concerns for my children,” one survey taker told the city.
Another, self-described as “disabled and poor,” expressed a fear of gentrification. The city’s push for more housing could force existing residents out and away from their friends, churches and doctors.
Many respondents expressed a love of little things that give the central city a sense of community. They liked the farmers markets, the new Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, the Art Street and Art Hotel exhibits, the Second Saturday art walk, the variety of neighborhoods, the outdoor music events and the outside seating at restaurants and cafes.
They expressed appreciation for Sacramento’s tree canopies, the nearby rivers, and the collection of parks that dot midtown and downtown, offering what one respondent called “pockets of calm.”
Some survey takers complained about traffic congestion.
Many said they find the central city bike- and pedestrian-friendly. Others said the opposite.
The state Capitol got props. One person called it “the most beautiful of all the ones we have seen.” The revitalized R Street corridor got most mentions as best corridor for hanging out.
The best public spaces, one wrote, are those with historic value, signaling what may be a core strength, downtown’s roots as birthplace of the Gold Rush and transcontinental railroad.
Another had more modernist take on what it takes for a Sacramento street scene to be cool: “Must have beer and coffee.”
Finally, the city asked for suggested new amenities. Here’s a sampling: The railyard needs a botanical garden. Capitol Mall needs public art. R Street needs parklets. Broadway just plain needs a facelift.