The latest Strong Towns blog post is on the Strong Towns Strength Test. Ten simple questions. A Strong Town should be able to answer “yes” to each of these questions.
Here are my answers for the grid portion of Sacramento, downtown and midtown.
- Take a photo of your main street at midday. Does the picture show more people than cars? I picked J Street at 16th; others might pick other streets. No, more cars than people. However, there are a few intersections in downtown and midtown that probably have more people than cars, due to state workers walking to lunch.
- If there were a revolution in your town, would people instinctively know where to gather to participate? Probably yes, at Cesar Chavez Plaza, where Occupy Sacramento started.
- Imagine your favorite street in town didn’t exist. Could it be built today if the construction had to follow your local rules? My favorite street is actually an alley, Liestal Row, with Edible Pedal bike shop and Old Soul coffee. It has a woonerf-like design more welcoming to pedestrians and bicyclists than cars. Unfortunately, only one block long, and there aren’t any other alleys or streets like it. Yes, I think it could be built today. In general, developers can build what they want, but if it is outside the norm, it takes a long time and a lot of money.
- Is an owner of a single family home able to get permission to add a small rental unit onto their property without any real hassle? Not easily, and often not at all.
- If your largest employer left town, are you confident the city would survive? In Sacramento County (much larger than midtown/downtown, but I could not find city data), the largest employer is the state (Sacramento is the state capital), followed by the county itself, then health care organizations in 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th, followed by three school districts, and then the city itself. The largest private employer is Intel at 5th. Except for Intel, none of these are leaving town, though some or all could shrink. I don’t know what the statistics are for midtown/downtown, but since the state capitol and most government buildings are in downtown, the state would be even more prominent. One of the blog post commenters suggested that the measure should be largest industry rather than largest employer. I would answer yes, just because so many employers would not leave that a private employer would not make that much difference.
- Is it safe for children to walk or bike to school and many of their other activities without adult supervision? Moderately safe, so yes. Since Sacramento City School District eliminated most of the neighborhood schools, children are now largely bused or delivered to school in parent’s cars. So a question I’d add is, are there neighborhood schools?
- Are there neighborhoods where three generations of a family could reasonably find a place to live, all within walking distance of each other? Yes, in midtown, no in downtown, so somewhat.
- If you wanted to eat only locally-produced food for a month, could you? Yes, if you define local as including Capay Valley and the foothill farms and ranches.
- Before building or accepting new infrastructure, does the local government clearly identify how future generations will afford to maintain it? No. I’ve never heard the government even raise the issue.
- Does the city government spend no more than 10% of its locally-generated revenue on debt service? The city budget of $873 million indicates that 10.8% is for debt service. However, the city has $2.1 billion in unfunded long-term debt (before the arena and any of the proposed civic projects), so if the city were actually paying down debt rather than accumulating it, the percentage would be higher than this. So, no.
Score on these ten questions = four no, one somewhat, and five yes.
Added questions suggested by other commenters, or myself:
- Dan Allison: Are there neighborhood schools? No, they have been eliminated.
- Derek Hoffman: If gasoline and diesel were in extremely short supply, would you still be able to go to work to earn a living and go to the store to buy food and other necessities (resistance to Peak Oil and fluctuations in the fuel supply)? Go to work, no, since many downtown midtown residents works elsewhere, and almost all employees live in the suburbs. Food and other necessities, yes, though only conveniently in some parts of midtown/downtown.
- Derek Hoffman: Do the wealthy and the poor and all ethnicities live in the same neighborhoods and the same buildings (resistant to riots), or are they practically segregated? Some segregation, but less than other places in the region. So, somewhat.
- Derek Hoffman: Something something natural disasters (don’t be like New Orleans). I would state: Can basic services including police and fire, transportation, food and electricity supply, survive a natural disaster? Our likely disasters here are earthquake and flood. My guess is that midtown/downtown could survive moderate earthquake and flood, but not severe earthquake and flood. Other parts of the region are much more susceptible to flooding than midtown/downtown. So, somewhat.
Score on these four additional questions: Two no and two somewhat.