The open air mall spans K St. between 13th and 7th Streets. It stringed for most of its length with light rail tracks that run through the center of the pedestrian only street. K Street's defining characteristics are that of buildings in various states of decline, abandoned businesses, struggling businesses of mostly low quality, and a few newer businesses devoted to either office, retail, restaurant, or entertainment functions. Just as noticeable are the large populations of homeless, destitute, and indigent people, who are often aggressively panhandling or just hanging out.
The open air mall was constructed in the early 1970's as an urban revitalization project in which public streets were closed in order to create a more suburban like shopping experience. This type of project was very common during the late 1960's and 1970's and Sacramento's new project not unlike all the other like projects across North America, saw a slow and steady decline in viable businesses. As local businesses faltered, the area fell into decline. Whereas many cities with similar experiences reopened their pedestrian malls to traffic Sacramento went another common route, attracting a large urban mall in the 1980's and bringing a light rail line though the middle of the pedestrianized K Street, neither of which was the holy grail of redevelopment success for Sacramento. Fast forward to 2009 and the entire area is in sadder shape than ever, slowly dying with a bad reputation that repels tax dollars rather than attracts. It's no wonder that the Downtown retail core is flat lining far below it's predicted potential. The City of Sacramento however, once again, has a plan.
In an effort being pushed by Mayor Kevin Johnson, city officials are looking into reopening K Street Mall to allow cars, traveling at lower speeds, on some of the blocks on K Street between 8th and 12th streets, in order to see what positive impacts this change would have on area businesses. Most businesses are receptive to this plan with one exception; the owners of the Downtown Plaza / Westfield Mall. Reopening this section of K Street to traffic would require major overhauls of the buildings in which Westfield owns, something that at this time they seem unwilling to do. However according to Mayor Johnson, Westfield has expressed interest in selling the property, something that might make it easier to make the idea of opening K Street a reality. Opening K Street to traffic again is a great idea, one in which Mayor Johnson will find much support, but his idea doesn't go far enough.
In order to improve the dismal conditions of the K Street mall the City of Sacramento needs to do the following.
- Underground the light rail tracks through K Street.
- Open the surface of K Street to two-way vehicular traffic and allow curbside parking where possible.
- Improve the pedestrian environment.
Convert the Downtown Plaza / Westfield Mall to high density mixed-use retail and residential similar to what was done in Pasadena at the Paseo Colorado Shopping Center infill project.
- Underground the I-5 Freeway through Downtown Sacramento and seamlessly connect the Old Sacramento riverfront with the core of Downtown's retail shopping district.
Close and relocate all SRO (Single Room Occupancy) Motels.
- Push for the construction of high density residential / mixed use projects throughout the core of the City.
- Build several key parking garages with ground floor retail and upper floor office.
- Waive the minimum parking requirements in the Downtown core so long as parking garages are constructed and are designed to blend in seamlessly in the urban environment.
The closing off of traffic on major streets has resulted in the death of many commercial districts across North America. Allowing traffic on streets lets potential shoppers to get to know their options. Improving the pedestrian environment still allows people to explore stores on foot in a pleasant environment while undergrounding the light rail brings back human scale to the streetscape, allowing pedestrians to feel safer. Allowing two-way streets slows traffic down, prevents people from using city streets as a freeway and allows people more options when navigating the city by car. Allowing on street parking alleviates some of the problems caused by not enough available parking spaces while providing a safe buffer between pedestrian or sidewalk diner from the cars traveling on the street. The construction of high density residential projects bring more people into the core at all times of day while the closure of the SRO hotels will help shut down substandard housing and allow for the construction of more adequate housing at higher densities more designed for the urban environment. Constructing more parking garages will allow more people to visit Downtown businesses while allowing more parking options for new Downtown residents. Finally, the reconnection of the Old Sacramento / Riverfront districts will allow for safe and easy passage for tourists and locals alike between destinations along every portion of K Street.
These improvements, if completed would spark even greater interest and development in Sacramento, greatly improvements a sad situation and helping to created a more stable and sustainable prosperity for all.