I’ve previously written a couple of times about my hometown of Carmichael, near Sacramento. Once I noted its supposed turn to urbanism that, while laudable, seemed wrongly focused. Later, I bade it farewell as my mother sold the family home and moved away.
But hometowns, even those that are the antithesis of walkable urbanism, can set their hooks deep. I continued to wonder about what was happening there. And I never got around to unsubscribing from the emails about upcoming projects.
It was the emails that got me to digging more deeply. It seemed that there had been remarkably little residential development proposed. So I searched all the 2016 agendas for the Carmichael Community Planning Advisory Council. In the first nearly seven months of 2016, exactly two projects had been brought forward.
On March 16, an applicant asked about a 48-unit condominium complex. Then, on July 20, an applicant asked about splitting one lot into two.
In seven months, that would be 49 new residences or about 115 new residents. For a community of almost 62,000 people, the growth rate would be 0.3 percent. And that growth rate assumes that both projects proceed, an assumption that’s often wrong. If the condominium project fails, the growth rate drops to almost zero.
For a community that is far closer to the urban core than many other Sacramento suburbs, has a light-rail system at its north edge, and is served by a bus system that could be stronger but still meets commuting needs, that’s a pathetic growth rate, especially for a place that has expressed a desire to become more urban.
Even the condo project, which might be seen as a sign of hope, really isn’t. It’s miles from the suggested urban core and a short block away from a five-lane arterial. The only services available to pedestrians are auto shops, a tattoo parlor, a smoke shop, and Tap Plastics, none of which meet anyone’s daily needs, at least anyone I know.
Some will suggest that the market won’t support walkable urbanism in my hometown or that developers haven’t chosen to provide it. But the problem goes deeper. Most places have people eager to live in walkable settings. And developers are always happy to build places that people want. But the transition from drivable suburban to walkable urban is never easy. The government must be an active, participatory partner in turning away from seventy years of mistakes and starting to create better places. I don’t think my hometown has yet grasped that.
It’s hard to sever ties with a hometown. I’m sure I’ll keep looking back, even if I cringe every time.
By the time I next write, I’ll have returned from traveling and will update a full calendar of upcoming opportunities for urbanist advocacy.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (firstname.lastname@example.org)