Archive for August, 2009

Infill Development – Local Architect Shares His Opinions

August 29, 2009
Local architect Bruce Monighan (standing, toward the right) discusses an infill project at the UDA Design Dialogue on August 26.

Local architect Bruce Monighan (standing, toward the right) discusses an infill project at the UDA Design Dialogue on August 26.

In recent years infill development – the creation of new housing, stores and other buildings within already established neighborhoods – has become a hot topic for many neighborhoods in Sacramento, including our own.  On August 26, local architect Bruce Monighan addressed some of the issues surrounding infill, in a Dialogue sponsored by the Sacramento chapter of the Urban Design Alliance, at the American Institute of Architects building at 1400 S Street in Sacramento.  In a wide-ranging discussion with the approximately 35 or so people in attendance, which included some architects, planners and public officials, but also plenty of other interested citizens, Monighan laid out some of the challenges that face architects and urban planners in creating new developments that are positive contributions to exisiting neighborhoods.

Monighan clearly accepted the fact that infill development is going to happen in Sacramento – referring to the Sacramento Area Council of Governments’ 2004 Regional Blueprint, and the City of Sacramento’s own recently updated General Plan, both of which call for more extensive infill development in existing neighborhoods in order to rein in urban sprawl.  In addition to decreasing urban sprawl, Monighan pointed to other advantages of infill, including more efficient use of existing infrastructure; decrease in transportation needs, both public and personal (due to more compact housing development in close-in neighborhoods and less need for highways to the suburbs); and the promotion of more vibrant, “24-hour” urban centers.

So what are the disadvantages to infill?  Monighan identified several challenges, including that infill projects are more expensive to build; infill sites are sometimes constricted in available space; additional transportation and vehicle parking issues have to be addressed; and the need for architects and developers to “respond to the context” of the neighborhood – in other words, to create a development that fits into the “character” of the neighborhood.  This relates to what Monighan suggested was the greatest challenge for infill development: that existing residents of a neighborhood have particular, sometimes strongly-held, expectations about what their neighborhood is and should continue to be in the future.

In the planning of new infill projects, Monighan identified three possible options for architects and developers:  (1) Emulate existing buildings in the neighborhood – create a faithful replica of existing historic designs that predominate there; (2) Reinterpret existing buildings – create buildings that pay homage to historic designs, but incorporate current design styles as well; (3) Contrast with existing buildings – put up a building with a radically different design as a deliberate contrast to existing structures. 

Monighan then showed slides of several infill projects he’d worked on, and illustrated his preference for the second option – reinterpreting past designs with current architecture.  The look of a new building at the sidewalk level is particularly important, he suggested.  However, he expressed his dislike for attempts to incorporate historic design elements – for example, Victorian pitched roofs and horizontal lines on the fronts of houses – when they seem phony on the new building.  Monighan called this “faux historicism,” or a false attempt to be “historic.”

How does one define the “character” of a neighborhood?  Monighan said that a neighborhood’s character goes well beyond how the buildings look – it’s about how people live and work there, how people move around, the scale of the neighborhood, and many other factors.  Architects and planners, he said, should be asking themselves how people live in an interact with a place – and how they can support people living with broader, longer-term changes in the economy and environment.  City codes that prescribe certain designs for particular neighborhoods, he said, miss the point – architects have to worry about getting all the details right, but may still miss the “soul” of a place.

Neighbors, too, have a responsibility to be more open-minded about the design of new developments, Monighan suggested.  If existing residents have a narrow-minded expectation of what their neighborhood should be, he said, it will be difficult for architects and developers to create better buildings that make a positive contribution, rather than simply copying the existing style.  One attendee, Barry Wasserman (a member of the City’s Planning Commission), seemed to agree, saying the question should be posed as to whether a new building improves the neighborhood or hurts it.  Remember, Wasserman said, that a new building will probably outlast what’s around it, and indeed may be there about 100 years or more – so it’s very important that it make a positive contribution!

Or, as Monighan also put it, “I would rather see neighbors argue for quality and style rather than [simply] replication of existing design.”  Neighbors with preconceived notions about what’s right, he said, are sometimes trying to replicate the “face” of the neighborhood, rather than the “soul” of it.

In response to a questioner who asked why we don’t simply let the architects decide these questions, since they are the design experts, Monighan also held his own profession accountable.  Architects can also get it wrong, he said; and unfortunately too many of them don’t care enough about the neighborhoods they’re building in, or the legacy they will leave.  Architects have too often taken some “easy solutions,” he said, and need to do much better in the future.  In response to a different question, Monighan also criticized some aspects of modern buildings, saying that some of them are too “anti-detail” and too antiseptic, uninteresting to look at, with nothing to engage people.

The next Urban Design Alliance Dialogue will take place downtown at the Crest Theatre (1013 K Street), on Wednesday, September 30.  The topic will be K Street – development issues, the streetscape, and of course the issue of whether to bring back cars.  It should be a great discussion that ought not to be missed – and we’ll be sure to post further details about it here.

Sac RT Raises Fares, Gets Rid of Transfers

August 19, 2009
Fares to ride Sacramento Regional Transit's buses and light rail will get more expensive on September 1.

Fares to ride Sacramento Regional Transit's buses and light rail will get more expensive on September 1.

Bad news for local public transit riders:  Sacramento Regional Transit District (RT) has announced that it will raise basic fares from $2.25 to $2.50 effective Tuesday, September 1.  In addition to this:

* Transfers will be eliminated, meaning riders will have to pay $2.50 for each ride, regardless of whether they have just switched to a connecting bus or light rail train.

* The reduced rate of $1.10 for Central City Zone fares, and for Shuttle Fares (The Neighborhood Ride), will be eliminated.

* Discount fares will be increased from $1.10 to $1.25.

* The Lifetime Pass, which allows free fare for passengers age 75 and over, will be eliminated – although passengers who currently have a Lifetime Pass can continue to use the Pass after September 1 indefinitely.  All other seniors will be required to pay the discount rate of $1.25.

A few things will not change:  Prices for the Basic Daily Pass ($6.00), the Discount Daily Pass ($3.00), the Basic Monthly Pass ($100.00), the Senior/Disabled Monthly Sticker ($50.00), and the Student Monthly Sticker ($50.00), will all stay the same.

Also, effective Sunday, September 6, RT will begin a number of service changes – reducing the frequency of a few routes, discontinuing weekend service on others, and discontinuing a few routes entirely.  (Check www.sacrt.com for information about the routes affected.)  About the only good news is that, contrary to RT’s earlier announcements that this might be a possibility, light rail service after 9:00 p.m. will not be reduced or eliminated.

What’s the reason for the fare increases and service cutbacks?  RT has stated that they are needed to close a $9 million deficit in its budget for Fiscal Year 2010.  For the past three years, successive state budgets have adversely impacted local transit agencies; and declining local sales tax revenues caused by the current recession have made RT’s current budget problems worse. 

Unfortunately, fare increases and the elimination of transfers and Lifetime Passes will adversely affect many in our community who depend on transit.  This is particularly true of those who can least afford higher fares, such as the poor, students, and seniors and disabled persons on fixed incomes.

Want to get involved in issues affecting Sacramento’s public transit?  RT has regular Board meetings open to the public, at their headquarters at 1400 29th Street (at 29th and N).  The next one is scheduled for Monday, August 24 at 6:00 p.m.  Next month, the RT Board meets on Monday, September 14, also at 6:00 p.m.  For more information, go to RT’s website, or call (916) 556-0456.

4th Wednesday Design Dialogue Tackles Infill Development

August 18, 2009

A local series of community forums, the 4th Wednesday Design Dialogues (brought to you by the local chapter of the Urban Design Alliance, a non-partisan group dedicated to fostering community dialogue about urban design and planning issues), will next take on a topic of particular interest to our neighborhoods:  Infill development – that is, the construction of new housing and businesses within established neighborhoods.

Environmentalists and smart-growth advocates say infill development helps create denser, more transit-oriented communities and counteracts urban sprawl; others say infill density causes problems, and upsets the character and design of established neighborhoods.  Who is right?

According to the program for the event, architect Bruce Monighan “will share his experiences and insights related to infill development.”  The intention of the Dialogue is to hear all sides of the issue, and to invite all attendees to consider various options on the subject, whether or not they hold strong opinions for or against infill development.  As the program says, “The goal is for attendees to leave the meeting with an enlightened perspective and new appreciation for the role of the architect in meeting the challenges of designing new buildings to fit within existing neighborhoods.”

The Dialogue will be held on Wednesday, August 26 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. at the American Institute of Architects offices, at 1400 S Street (the entrance is on 14th Street).  Admission is free.  The building is wheelchair-accessible; and bike racks, on-street parking, nearby bus stops and light rail stations are all available.

For more information, please e-mail Dustin Littrell at: dustinlittrell@hotmail.com

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Ella K. McClatchy Library

August 7, 2009

mcclatchy library 01

Along 22nd Street between U and V, among the fine homes of Poverty Ridge and beneath the beautiful canopy of trees, a small neighborhood treasure lies almost hidden in plain sight.  The Ella K. McClatchy Library, at 2112 22nd Street, occupies the former home of a local newspaper publisher, C.K. McClatchy, and his wife Ella, and was built around 1910.  After Ella McClatchy’s death in the late 1930s, her daughters Eleanor and Charlotte donated the house to the city of Sacramento for a library for young people; and since it opened in 1940, the Ella K. McClatchy Library has served Sacramentans of all ages with the help of its special home-like charm.

Joann Severson, the McClatchy Library Supervisor, tells me that when the Library opened in 1940, it was dedicated strictly for teenagers – or as they were called at the time, “young moderns.”  McClatchy High School students were allowed to use the Library upstairs rooms for club meetings; they could also use the downstairs kitchen (yes, this Library has a kitchen, though it now doubles as a staff room).  The Library’s adolescent patrons were able to choose many of the books selected for its collection, rather than just the ones adults thought they should read.  In many ways it was a unique library for its time.

A patron browses the stacks at the McClatchy Library.

A patron browses the stacks at the McClatchy Library.

Later, the McClatchy Library became a library for small children as well; and finally, after about 15 years of being a young people’s library, it became a library for patrons of all ages.  The Library’s historic focus on young people can be seen, however, in its large children’s and teenager’s book sections, and in its special programs, many of which are for children and teens.  The programs include story times for pre-schoolers on Wednesdays; monthly programs for school-age children and their families (weekly in late June and July); and even a recent “Rock Band Competition and Party” on July 18, which was strictly for teenagers only!

By the way, the Library also holds special programs for adults, such as last year’s series of programs on “Art in the Neighborhood,” and an upcoming series called “Going Green in the Neighborhood,” with topics such as using solar cookers, sustainable landscaping, and weatherizing old windows.  Dates and times for the programs are still being worked out, so please stop by or contact the Library for updated information.

 

Stained-glass window next to the staircase to the second floor.

Stained-glass window next to the staircase to the second floor.

In a house that’s nearly 100 years old, naturally time has taken its toll, and the McClatchy Library is currently engaged in what Severson describes as a long period of renovation and restoration.  In 1969, the entire upstairs was closed by the Fire Marshall; and only in the past few years has the Library been able to restore one of the upstairs bedrooms (it is now a small meeting room), and install a lift for disabled patrons.  The next phase, she says, will be to paint, plaster, and clean up the other three rooms upstairs. 

Eventually the goal is to make the Library a working two-story structure; though this will require adding a new fire escape, among other improvements.  (Readers interested in assisting the work of restoring this beautiful building should contact the Ella K. McClatchy Affiliate of the Friends of the Sacramento Public Library; contact information can be obtained at the Library.)

The Ella K. McClatchy Library is open:

Tuesday                10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Wednesday          12 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Thursday              10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Friday                    1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Saturday               9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Closed Sunday and Monday.

For more information about the McClatchy Library or its special programs, please call them at (916) 264-2700.  Or just stop by!  You’ll find it really is a small neighborhood treasure, hidden in plain sight.

Photography Exhibit Continues at Verge Gallery

August 4, 2009

Local photographer Doug Biggert’s exhibit at the Verge Gallery, “Hitchhikers and Other Work,” which opened on July 9, will be continuing through August 23.  This Saturday (August 8), there will be a reception for the exhibit, in conjunction with the Second Saturday Art Walk, from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m.

In addition to Biggert’s hitchhiker photographs, which include many portraits of people he has given rides to over the years, the exhibit also includes a remarkable display of hundreds of polaroid photographs of a wide variety of people, taken at a sandal shop in Newport Beach in the early 1970s, and put up on the wall for display.

The Verge Gallery is located at 1900 V Street, and is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 11 a.m to 6 p.m.; and Saturday from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m.  For more information, please call (916) 448-2985, or visit http://www.vergegallery.com/.

So, where exactly is the Newton Booth Neighborhood, anyway?

August 2, 2009

First of all, dear readers, I must apologize for my delay in putting up a new post here.  I’ve been working on new ideas for interesting and informative posts in the future on this blog…so please be patient with me.  Thank you!

Now, then:  You’ve no doubt been enjoying the blog so far, but we’ve neglected to answer the most important basic question of all:  Where exactly is the Newton Booth Neighborhood, anyway?  And Poverty Ridge?  And Alhambra Triangle?  And even more importantly, you might be asking yourself, do I live there?

In hopes of helping us all visualize where we are, I’m going to upload a map of the neighborhoods that the Newton Booth Neighborhoods Association covers.  Below, I’ll describe the boundaries briefly.

The part of Sacramento that includes the Poverty Ridge, Newton Booth and Alhambra Triangle neighborhoods.

The part of Sacramento that includes the Poverty Ridge, Newton Booth and Alhambra Triangle neighborhoods.

The boundaries of the three neighborhoods are:

Poverty Ridge:  19th Street (west), R Street (north), 24th Street (east), W Street (south).

Newton Booth:  24th Street (west), R Street (north), 29th Street (east), W Street (south).

Alhambra Triangle:  I-80 (west), R Street/Light rail tracks (north), 37th Street (east), I-50 (south).  Basically it’s the triangle south of R Street/the  light rail tracks, between I-80 and I-50.

Look carefully at the map.  Do you live in one of these three areas?  If so, congratulations…you’re in our neighborhood!

I’ll have more next time.  Please keep checking in at this blog…and thanks for stopping by!