Strong Towns had a post yesterday “Why greenspace is different from a park” that got me thinking about parks and green spaces in Sacramento. As a commenter said, it is the quality and use of the land, and the relationship to space around it, that is most important, not the park or greenspace binary. 

Two dead parks come immediately to mind, Winn Park in midtown (P & Q, 27th & 28th), and Crocker Park (N & O, 2nd & 3rd). How are they dead? Very few people ever use them, certainly not enough to make the space feel used and safe, as the blog post points out is so important. In Winn, there is finally a small playground, but overall it does not make the park feel any less abandoned. Crocker Park as nothing to do. Yes, both places have trees and grass, but those thing are not in short supply in Sacramento. Several other square block parks feel alive.

Roosevelt Park (P & Q, 9th & 10th) has sports and a nearly continuous pick-up basketball game going on. Fremont Park has a larger playground, a fountain in the summer, benches, and events such as Chalk It Up. Probably most importantly, it has both residences and business on adjacent streets. The park is not the only reason to go there. Cesar Chavez Park (I & J, 9th & 10th) is probably the busiest small park in the region. It is a homeless daytime retreat, has a lot of events, now has a cafe again, and is surrounded by business and government, particularly the library. Many reasons to go there. There are several other one-block parks in downtown and midtown that I’m less familiar with. 

Crocker Art Museum is working up plans to activate Crocker Park by integrating it better with the museum. I think they’ll do a good job, though funding may slow the solutions. The city is finally talking about activating Winn Park, but I don’t think there is a plan yet. I’m sure some people in the neighborhood would be horrified, but what Winn needs is not just a park with more things to do, but more facing retail business and higher density housing. There is a bit, such as Lou’s Sushi, but it needs more. More things to do not just in the park, but around the park. 

The Strong Towns post also talks about green spaces, those areas left to grass or sometimes more interesting vegetation, but not really serving any purpose. In Sacramento, there are green spaces along some of the freeways. This is dead land, and few people want to even be there, but as the commenter points out, it can be used to handle stormwater and to filter air pollution, if designed properly. In newer subdivisions, there is often green space along the main roads. How this is of benefit escapes me. Those people whose back fences face a busy street have and will alway have lower property values, and no amount of non-native plants is going to change that. Front yard greenspaces are a horror in the suburbs, perhaps the thing most responsible for making suburbs the low value communities they are. People retreating into a set back house with a moat of grass is the problem, not the solution, to livable and responsible communities. The inner ring, older suburbs have this issue to some degree, but the setbacks are much less, and the lack of snout houses (those showing their very best two, three, four cars garages to the street) makes it acceptable. Sacramento downtown and midtown of course have a lot of temporary green space, places where housing was torn down (some which could have been repurposed or rehabilitated, and some not) and the planned replacement never built. I suppose it is good to have some land “banked” in this way, but we have far too much. 

And then there is Capitol Mall. Vast grass in between tall buildings, and never used by anyone except for a few major events each year. I suppose that someone thought a grand entrance to Sacramento was needed, along the lines of a city of skyscrapers and parks envisioned by Le Curbusier. But it is pretty much useless. It is not a park in any sense of the word. There have been suggestions over the years of how to fix this, including Rob Turner in Sactown Magazine: Boulevard of Broken Dreams. But solutions will be expensive and contentious. 

Rain swales are another type of greenspace which I have apparently not written about, but will. There ar several close to where I live. 

About Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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