Sacramento is not known for its sense of whimsy. And yet, for residents to truly embrace all of the changes on the city’s horizon, we need to use our imaginations.
With the downtown Entertainment and Sports Center now in the vertical construction phase and other catalytic projects proposed for the surrounding blocks, the region’s cityscape is poised to change dramatically in a few short years. Those projects will transform long-dormant urban spaces like West Sacramento’s riverbank, the Sacramento railyards and K Street. Most will come online in just a few years, but what do we do in the mean time?
From celebrating local beer, bacon, agriculture and the breakout TBD music festival, Sacramentans have proved they’re eager to improve the city. Doing so will require residents to harness the energy of Sacramento 3.0 — perhaps by taking these soon-to-be-revamped spaces and creating new experiences with them right now.
A few years ago, the city of Boston partnered with design and planning firms Sasaki and Utile to create the Lawn on D. The activation of an empty lot adjacent to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center features both permanent and rotating technology and art installations. The development included an LED swing set around pop-up yard games and beer gardens, ping pong tables and food-trucks Beyond becoming a magnet for locals and tourists (it’s no accident that it’s located by the Convention Center), it has generated enormous press and earned design accolades for both the project and the design team.
Even if Sacramento residents have to wait a few years to see permanent changes, citizens can engage with empty spaces now. Give residents somewhere to play; make Sacramento 3.0 (and 4.0 and 5.0 …) tangible now. What about a Tough Mudder-style obstacle course along the West Sacramento riverfront, light shows projected onto the railyards buildings, food truck lots, pop-up art installations, a mega waterslide — whatever you can imagine — where right now there is nothing.
What would it take to make this a reality? Ultimately, doing anything worthwhile requires an investment, and somebody has to pay. Herein lies the rub.
Roshaun Davis is co-founder of the events marketing agency Unseen Heroes. Davis is well-versed in reenergizing neighborhoods — Unseen Heroes is responsible for the GOOD Street Food and Design Market on Del Paso Boulevard, as well as the pop-up retail event Display and a monthly pop-up dinner/block party called Gather, both of which saw great success in their Oak Park pilot run.
“There is a disconnect between the creative class and the business class,” Davis says. “One understands vision and one understands the bottom line. The creative class has to mesh with the business class, and when that happens we will be successful.”
Mike Testa, senior vice president of convention sales and business development at the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau says he’s supportive of any venture that would bring press and tourism dollars to the region and that, “It might be something we’d be willing to invest in at a modest level.”
Michael Alt, head of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, says DSP’s role is to bring people together, not fund or execute a bold activation.
“It takes a group willing to take it on that says, ‘Let us fundraise for it, let us manage and control it,’” he says. “We need to have a larger stable of people capable of producing it.”
Beyond energizing people around a playful idea, activating dormant spaces for interactive purposes helps celebrate local culture. Sasaki principal Gina Ford told news outlet Boston Inno, “I also think the programming was very successful because it relied almost exclusively on Boston art, music and food. This really made the space feel, even on its first day, like a true part of the City.”
For Brandon Weber, the owner of The Urban Hive and founder of the successful Sacramento TEDx, Sacramento is still defining its new identity. “We didn’t have flavor before,” he says. “Boston, Seattle, Portland — they have a flavor. Young, bright people are coming here. If you’re a young entrepreneur there is a lot going on. Sacramento is deciding it’s flavor. And not just one will win out. That’s what’s exciting.”
With so many major changes likely to alter the feel of Sacramento, temporary spaces allow for experimentation that elicits shared enjoyment and also feedback from the very population that will be using the space long-term. The more ways we provide citizens the opportunity to bond and engage, the more happily we can embrace our region’s new identity as a destination city — and the more we empower ourselves to decide what that city looks like.
How do you play? Which activities would you like to see?
As Sacramento’s skyline is re-shaped by new construction, fresh architecture and design will begin to change perceptions of the city for longtime residents, new arrivals and visitors.
Can you believe it? People are talking about art again. Not since Sacramento’s own David Garibaldi was on “America’s Got Talent” has our community talked at about art at the water cooler.
Texas will soon get a taste of Sacramento’s party flavor: Organizers of the local art and music event now known as TBD are co-producing a four-day musical showcase to coincide with Austin’s famous South By Southwest festival.
You may have recently noticed some random references to JFDI. Maybe it was in a tweet or a sticker on the back of a cell phone. The initials stand for Just F*cking Do It. It isn’t a new movement or an acronym from a New York Times Best Seller. It represents an attitude, a mindset and — most importantly — an unwavering willingness to act.