By Gaylord Garcia
On Friday, February 17, 2012, the Stockton Record reported that the city of Stockton plans to cut its downtown housing goal by 90%. The goal was set in a 2009 project to combat climate change, and envisioned creating 3,000 new residences—that goal has been cut to 300. Also mentioned in the article was a panel discussion following a visit to Stockton by the Urban Land Institute. This was the Urban Land Institute’s second visit, the first of which took place in 1997. As an audience member, it was disheartening to hear the panelists’ statements that their current suggestions had been mentioned in the 1997 report, and the implementation of those suggestions is still necessary to revitalizing our downtown.
These two situations make us beg the question: Are Stockton’s leaders really making the changes our consultants, concerned citizens, and “stake holders” suggest? Or are their actions just hollow gestures?
When we think of the changes made to downtown in the wake of the first visit by the Urban Land Institute, we can see the Waterfront Hotel, the Port, the new Stadium, and the Arena. We have a lovely movie theater, and good restaurants. But we also have an incredible amount of vacant spaces open for rent/lease, our bicycle police that were tasked with making sure downtown-goers felt safe have been cut, dilapidated storefronts distract from the area’s potential, and the vacant space that housed Paragary’s and later Sass sits as a reminder of investment gone wrong.
It is sad that the litany of good developments that came in the early 2000s have been overshadowed by the lack of people who are utilizing those developments. Representatives from the Urban Land Institute stated that we need a critical mass of businesses that can bring people downtown—trendy restaurants, hip boutiques, art galleries, and housing. A suggested development would incorporate a half-mile strip downtown between Miner Avenue and Weber Avenue to serve as the nucleus for later projects, with residences being central tenants of this establishment to ensure that businesses downtown had an easily accessible population to serve.
With enough housing downtown, basic necessities—like a grocery store or a health clinic—may also appear, making downtown a tenable place in which to live. And having this epicenter of culture, cuisine, and community may curtail the all too present threat to the environment and even to our agricultural community—urban sprawl.
Overall, the Urban Land Institute’s conclusion is that Stockton currently in a mise en place stage, harkening to the French idea of preparatory work that takes place in restaurants, from setting tables to readying ingredients for their later use on the line. That is, we are in a position now where we should be making plans for our future so that when we have the resources to revitalize our community, we will also have the plans in place to do it correctly. But with our track record of not doing things on the scale necessary to ensure their success, it is necessary to tell our city representatives to do it right, or don’t do it at all.
- 2012 Urban Land Institute findings (bwnews.us)
- Urban Land Institute Focus on Downtown Revitalization (bwnews.us)
- Opinion: Do it right, or don’t do it at all (bwnews.us)