Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Where Trends Go To Die

It is unfortunate that I was not the first to note that Sacramento is the place where trends go to die. I do remember mentioning to J when we were first looking for places here, and had stopped at a local sandwich shop for lunch, that I hadn't had bean sprouts in my sandwich for years--like about 20 of them. But it was not until I moved here that I became so aware of trends coming here to die.

It's not always a bad thing. I happen to like bean sprouts on sandwiches, and am glad to see that it's no longer required that the sprouts be served with the kind of whole grain bread that takes a full two weeks to digest. But, yeah, mostly it's a bad thing. For instance, we now have "loft" apartments and condominiums. Sacramento was never an industrial center and, therefore had few industrial facilities appropriate for loft conversion, so developers here started creating them. First they converted former auto dealerships (the place where you used to buy your car) to lofts. Then they started building them from scratch. Some of them are just a little silly--glorified studio apartments with exposed ductwork--but others make me wonder who plans this stuff. There is a loft development in West Sacramento (across the river from Sacramento) where "lofts" were constructed right next to one of the main arteries connecting the two cities. The buildings are built right to the sidewalk and have large windows facing the street. What does this mean? The people who live there keep their shades drawn most of the time. Otherwise they get to drink their morning coffee in full view of the commuters waiting at the stoplight just outside the front windows.

Another planned project will have a roof garden. Yes, a roof garden in a city where we have approximately 30 days every year with temperatures of 100 degrees or above. A roof garden in a city where the daytime high is above 90 degrees for four months of the year. I just hope they aren't planning to put any plants there.

Then there is the attempt to bring the New York brownstone to Sacramento. This is supposed to be "urban" living. I guess it is, after a fashion. But the builders of these brownstones don't seem to have taken a tour of our more urban neighborhoods. Had they done so, they would have noted that most older houses are surrounded by trees and other green stuff. And why? See the paragraph above. Before air conditioning Sacramentans kept their houses cooler by planting trees that shaded the house and yard. (It means that you're often limited to shade plants--lots of ferns, hellebores, and an occasional campanula--but you don't have to turn on the A/C at 10:30 in the morning.) So they've built a bunch of "townhomes" with no shade--just what we need to combat global warming. One project even has open concrete patios--which will be very pleasant from, say, April 30-May 19 and October 25-November 15.

Worse there seems to be a cuteness to the whole thing. It's not urban, as there is no real urban living in Sacramento. We have a central core, with a whole lot of government offices, surrounded by a series of suburbs. The suburb just outside the central core has some decent restaurants, but the shopping otherwise is pretty pathetic. (An ad for one of these places has a couple heading home with shopping bags. Where did they go, I think? Probably San Francisco.)

And when lofts and other urban structures become cute, you can be sure that the trend is going to die.

1 comment:

wburg said...

"Sacramento was never an industrial center and, therefore had few industrial facilities appropriate for loft conversion, so developers here started creating them."

Actually, Sacramento was an industrial center for the first century or so of its existence. We were the only city in the western United States where full-sized steam locomotives were built from the ground up (at the Southern Pacific shops.) Downtown Sacramento also had a profusion of factories, lumber mills, and especially canneries. We still have a few (the Libby cannery on Alhambra, the Del Monte cannery on C Street, one that is now a pool supply warehouse on Broadway and 3rd.) On the R Street corridor, we still have Crystal Ice, the CADA warehouse and a few other remnants of the industries that thrived there for a hundred years. There are other signs of Sacramento's industrial heritage along North 12th/16th, like the Sacramento Pipeworks, the produce market, and of course the Blue Diamond almond complex.

You are correct that a lot of developers are very keen on making new buildings that look kinda like industrial-age lofts. One of the real ironies is that the Bercut-Richards cannery, which is an actual, real historic industrial building, will be demolished to build just that sort of faux-industrial loft. There is at least one example of actual industrial buildings being converted to residential: the Globe Mills project, residential living inside of a grain mill on 12th Street.

Much of our industrial legacy was destroyed in mid-century, when freeway projects were directed through industrial neighborhoods and. The same freeways also destroyed much of Sacramento's urban fabric and buildings that far more closely resemble the kind of dense late 19th/early 20th century neighborhoods one sees in San Francisco. Urban renewal shuddered at things like mixed-use neighborhoods and high residential densities, and obliterated them with the magic word "blight."

About roof gardens: Plants can and do actually survive in 100+ degree temperatures. The massive agricultural region that surrounds our city, the one that provided the raw materials for our industries, which also experiences those 100+ degree summers and does just fine with them, stands testament to that. So yeah, green roofs are a really good idea in a hot climate. They cool buildings, and plants like sunshine just fine. And if one is building a building where the lovely trees were chopped down, it does a similar job: what is a tree canopy but a "green roof"?

I will agree that new construction really needs to learn to work with the tree canopy, instead of the current policy that assumes trees are expendable and unnecessary.

Sorry if I'm responding to this post a bit late from its original posting--got directed here by a link on the Sacramento Bee website.