MARRS Landing: an Urban Plaza in Midtown Sacramento

A few months ago we were approached with an idea, and a question: If the one-block portion of 20th Street bounded by J and K Streets were to become an urban plaza, what would it look like?

The question sparked our interest, so we reached out to our friends at Cobblestone Placemaking to collaborate on finding an answer.  The result?  A concept we call MARRS Landing: an Urban Plaza

Concept board for MARRS Landing: an Urban Plaza

What is it?

MARRS Landing is a half-block public urban plaza where Sacramento can come to relax, meet up with friends, partake in great eateries and shopping, and enjoy the temperate climate.  This event-ready plaza makes the most of what is already the center of the midtown experience.

If you are familiar with Midtown Sacramento, stop and think about it for a moment: is there any other single location in Midtown with this amount of steady pedestrian activity?  There are a few other spots that see intermittently high levels of walk-by traffic and social engagement, but no other spot in midtown has the constant buzz of urban life through all hours of the day and evening.  If there was one place to begin inserting vibrant urban social spaces into the street fabric of Midtown, this would be it.

Those familiar with this particular block will no doubt have noticed the regularity with which this street gets closed off for special events.  Social actors such as the folks behind LAUNCH and THIS deserve high praise for steadily activating the Midtown street scene.  Unfortunately the process is slow, clunky, inefficient and expensive.  For every instance of an event using the street there is a back history of months getting permits from the City and County, and thousands of dollars in event permit costs to pay for overtime for City police officers to close off the streets.  The cost is a serious barrier to regular activation of the street, and it is an unnecessary waste of the time and energy of our police officers to boot.

Here’s the concept summary:

Create an open urban plaza from the edge of J Street to the North edge of the J/K alley, raised to the level of the sidewalks on either side to provide a continuous level surface.  Part of this space would be grassy expansions of the street tree planters along the East side, with the majority as an open concrete flex space with moveable furniture.

The North and South ends would be blocked off with durable, attractive, removable barriers (accommodating fire, event and service access).  In-ground sleeves would be installed in the roadway for installing temporary bollards to block off the alley and the K Street end of the street to capture a larger space for large-scale events such as THIS festivals.  Five to six parking spaces would be removed in the adjacent parking lots to provide direct access to the alley from the parking lot next to The Depot.

Delivery trucks would approach via the alley off of 21st Street, and end up parking where they do currently, just south of the entry courtyard at the MARRS Building.

 Yes, it will have impacts… but is it worth doing anyway?

Blocking off this half-block of 20th Street would have some negative impacts; It would create some inefficiencies for drivers, eliminate six on-street parking spots and five or six private parking spots.

These should be weighed against the potential positive impacts; It would simplify the car-car and car-pedestrian interactions at the intersection of 20th St and J St, improving safety at this notoriously challenged intersection.  The plaza would reinforce this location as a center of gravity for social interaction and engagement in midtown, with a net benefit for surrounding business and for the strength of the community.  It would reduce the cost of holding regular events on this block by removing the need to have a police officer babysitting a squad car (being used as a road block), and free up our police officers to go deal with real needs.

Can it be done?

It has already been done.  A couple of years ago the Downtown Partnership’s winter ice rink was located in this location for several months, and the location turned out to be very successful for both the ice rink and the surrounding businesses.  The ice rink actually made a profit that year.  Local traffic patterns quickly adjusted to the new routing.  Parents brought their kids.  It became a center of gravity for the community.

Why does it matter?

The life of the city happens when people interact, when they get out of their cars and can have conversations and serendipitous encounters.  The value of our urban core increases via these interactions, as discussed in the recently acclaimed book The Metropolitan Revolution.  Let’s make the most of our urban fabric, in support of richer and fuller lives.

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