Monday, July 30, 2007

Railyards Project, Part Three

With deep experience in the area and with a sense of how many feel resonating through their perspective two Sacramentans take a look.

A Cranky History of the Railyard
The Sound of Silence
By Jeff Raimundo and David Townsend

IT WAS 1990, ALREADY DECADES AFTER most major railroad operations had shut down at the Southern Pacific Railyard in downtown Sacramento.

A much-heralded public-private partnership involving SP, the city of Sacramento and private developers swept in some of the world’s then-hottest architectural talent to help plan what to do with the 240-acre “brownfield” — Boris Dramov and Roma Design, neighborhood guru Peter Calthorpe, urban designer Cesar Pelli. They even brought us in to handle the media relations.

The partnership held five community workshops called charettes (French for “complete waste of time”), where suggestions to build a space station and a World’s Fair on the yards were among our favorites from the community.

A future deputy mayor led a small band of protestors with signs suggesting that merely approaching the toxic-soaked railyard could result in melted tennis shoes.

After months of work, the architects designed a grand new city (using few ideas from the charettes) equal in size to today’s existing downtown. It featured high-rise office corridors, a cultural centerpiece around the huge historic locomotive works, housing of all sorts, large stores and small shops, with parks and lakes and greens and connections to the Sacramento riverfront.

To help folks grasp the scope of their ideas, the planners unveiled a model train-type, HO-scale replica (this was, after all, a railroad yard) as big as a dining room and put it in a space at the Sacramento Train Depot where no one would see it unless dragged there.

And then the silence began. Nobody came. No builders, no people, no public officials … for years. Just silence.

For the next decade and more — despite the brief interest of a major national shopping-center developer and the sale of Southern Pacific to Union Pacific — Sacramento watched dirt being moved from one pile to another. And they heard more silence.