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TDA Forum: Who is the Downtown Generation?

On Monday, March 18, Turn Downtown Around presents a Public Forum, a discussion of how downtown Sacramento reached its current state, what its situation is today, and what can be done by regular citizens to create positive change in our urban core. I was asked to talk about how we got here. If we want to turn downtown around, this implies that, at some point, downtown Sacramento was going in the right direction. How did that Sacramento differ from the one we know today, and how can we recapture some of that spirit? What lessons can we learn from the past–both the mistakes to avoid, and the useful elements that we can use today?

[Note: Read the live blog of the forum as it happened here.]

The subject is broad, and impossible to cover fully in a 15 minute talk, but I will focus on the issue of housing. Downtown Sacramento once had about 30,000 more residents. During the 20 year period from about 1950 to 1970, the central city’s population was halved, primarily from downtown, and has grown only slightly since then. Today, Sacramento’s central business district has a population density of only seven people per acre, lower than suburban neighborhoods like Land Park or East Sacramento.

While still perceived as a "high density" neighborhood due to its enormous number of jobs and growing number of entertainment and dining venues, there are few housing choices available for anyone interested in living downtown. I’ll talk a bit about why this loss of population was no accident, but deliberate policy, and what the consequences of those decisions were.

J Street circa 1920s

However, this talk isn’t all gloom and doom. Over the past century, successive generations of Sacramentans came together downtown. It was a place to work, to celebrate, to meet friends, and a place to call home. Even when downtown Sacramento was losing its population and businesses moving to the suburbs, people still found reasons to be downtown. In an era when moving downtown was actively discouraged, some people fought the tide toward the suburbs and built communities and businesses in the central city. The call of city life brought them close to downtown, not just to visit, but to stay.

I’ll share stories and photos from my most recent book, Sacramento’s K Street, and new research and pictures from my forthcoming book, some that have never been presented in public before. They will include views of downtown Sacramento before the wrecking ball, and the stories of local entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, thinkers and innovators.

Younger visitors to the Forum will see images of Sacramento history that aren’t mentioned in the standard narrative (the one that considers little outside Sutter’s Fort, the Gold Rush and the Transcontinental Railroad worth mentioning.) Older visitors will see a Sacramento they might remember, one that is almost forgotten, but whose memory is still alive.

And then, we’ll ask the question, where do we go from here? If you are interested in the question, and want to help find the answers, we’d like to hear from you.

Turn Downtown Around Open Forum

Monday March 18, 6:00 PM

Downtown Plaza–enter on L Street beween 5th and 6th (go up the escalator) or from K Street via the rotunda (turn south through the doors when you reach the 6th Street rotunda at the kids’ play area.) All are welcome to attend–of every generation.

The Sacramento Press will live blog the forum. Join in via Twitter with the hashtag #LetsTDA. 

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