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.

Rooftop Alliance formed in Sacramento

We LOVE rooftop gardens here at Loftgardens Landscape Architecture.  Why, you may ask?

Toronto rooftop garden atop a co-housing apartment building.

Rooftop gardens and green roofs offer important tools for building a more sustainable city.  A 2004 study of the potential benefits of widespread implementation of green roofs in Toronto, Ontario, CA outlined a wide range of benefits to the city and to individual projects, such as:  <Link to study website: City of Toronto, Green Roof Benefits>

  • Reduction in peak stormwater runoff resulting in improved water quality, and savings in drainage infrastructure, pollution control measures and erosion/sediment control measures
  • Widespread energy cost savings due to reduced peak load demand on the electricity grid from cooling equipment
  • Potential reduction in local ambient temperatures between 0.5 and 2 degrees celsius (reducing the urban heat island effect)
  • Improved air quality, with reductions in CO, NO2, O3, PM10, and SO2
  • Extended lifespan of roof infrastructure, with roof membranes lasting up to twice as long
  • Potential for local food production
  • Habitat for birds and invertebrates
  • Improved beauty and scenic value of the roofscape
  • Opportunities for recreation space in the most densely built-out portions of the urban core

Given so many reasons why rooftop gardens are great (and this is a summary list), one has to ask: why do we not have more rooftop gardens here in Sacramento?

We believe there are currently two primary impediments to the creation of more rooftop gardens in our region.  First, there appears to be a general lack of awareness of or information about rooftop gardens and green roofs in our region.  Second, this lack of information or awareness is resulting in a lack of market demand for these amenities.

So what can be done?  As stated previously, here at Loftgardens Landscape Architecture we LOVE rooftop gardens.  And we are happy to report- we are not alone.  Earlier this year a group of business owners and designers that are passionate about the benefits of rooftop gardens came together to form the Rooftop Alliance.  We are proud to be a part of founding this group, along with Cobblestone Placemaking, Living Roofscapes and CivicMeet, a project of Public Innovation.  For now, search for sacrooftops on Facebook and like the Rooftop Alliance page.

Here’s what were are doing to achieve the goal of having more rooftop gardens here in our region:

  1. We are working on creating a one-stop resource of information on how to create successful rooftop gardens, green roofs, living walls, etc. for our climate and region.
  2. We are meeting with business owners, property owners, and local building officials to help them get past the initial stumbling blocks when considering whether a rooftop garden is a good fit for an individual building or project.  In the process we are also working on identifying and reducing the regulatory and code hurdles impeding the creation of rooftop gardens.
  3. We are instigating a wide-ranging dialogue in support of more rooftop gardens by creating a series of temporary rooftop parks and inviting our community to come experience and enjoy them with us.  See the next post about Sacramento’s Inaugural Rooftop Pop-up Park this past weekend!

Rooftop gardens are an important tool for building a more sustainable city.  More importantly, they have a positive impact on our individual and collective quality of life.  Whether that means the opportunity to grow your own food on top of your apartment building in the urban core, or enjoying an iconic civic open space on top of a new downtown arena, rooftop gardens can have a transformative impact on the character of our city and our region.

Now we’re engaging you: Help us make Sacramento green & beautiful… at every level.

Ed Chandler, Managing Partner of Loftgardens shown above delivering an action pitch to the TEDx Sacramento City2.0 event this past Friday evening on behalf of the Rooftop Alliance.  The pitch was a short (2:45) version of much of the content of this post.  In an exciting win, the TEDx Sacramento community selected the Rooftop Alliance pitch to support over the coming year!  We are truly excited to be working with our local TEDx community.  Great things to come….


Chalk It Up 2013

This weekend is the 22nd annual Chalk It Up festival at Fremont Park in Midtown Sacramento, and we’re there to join in the fun!

This year we’ve sponsored a terrific design by Johanna Pack

Natives in Stained Glass

California Poppy and Pacific Coast Iris in a stained glass motif

Come out and find us at square 115, on Q street across from Naked Lounge.

Here’s a progress picture from Saturday:

Design in Progress

Curb Rental Vacancy Rates with Curb Appeal

For all of you savvy ‘buy and hold’ real estate investors out there, here’s a great outline of the value of improving the curb appeal for your rental property by Al Williamson of  Al’s blog is an ongoing thesis on how landlords can be a significant force for catalyzing positive change in urban neighborhoods- and as a result become the beneficiaries of those changes on a scale well beyond the effort and investment they put in.  (Keep up the great work!)

The concept of achieving higher returns through curb appeal is intuitive enough- if you make the property look better more people will want to be there.  If more people want to be there, it will be faster and easier to rent out your vacant units to qualified tenants.

The last part of that statement, renting to qualified tenants, is very important.  Al doesn’t touch on it in the article, preferring to keep the discussion to a simple question of the return on capital invested via a reduction in the vacancy rate.  As anyone who has held and managed a rental property for any length of time knows, the quality of tenant you put into your property will be directly proportional to the amount of time, energy, and money you will have to put in to manage that property.

If by improving your curb appeal you can select future tenants from a larger pool of qualified tenants, you should see a resulting reduction in overhead management costs.  When a good tenant moves out fewer repairs and less substantial cleaning will be needed to bring the unit up back up to marketable condition.  Good tenants typically don’t cause as much ongoing wear on the property.  Good tenants typically attract other good tenants, and the upward trend continues.  I’d love to see a breakdown of some of these secondary management cost impacts in a similar form to what Al provided with the vacancy rate.

How about you?  If you own and/or manage a rental property and can provide some insight on the relative ongoing management costs of good tenants versus okay tenants or not-so-good tenants, let us know.

Solar bottle light bulb is brilliant!

One of the defining challenges of implementing sustainable design to the point of ubiquity is making the technology simple enough to be easily replicable with very little training, few resources, and marginal costs.  This solution is a brilliant (squared!) solution to the problem of lighting dark homes.

Solar bottle light bulb brightens homes and lives

The process is stunningly simple.  1) Collect discarded 2-litre clear plastic bottles, and clean all labels/glue off of them.  2) Fill them with filtered water and a dose of chlorine bleach (to prevent biological growth) and cap off.  3) Carefully scribe a circle the size of the bottle in a piece of tin, and carefully cut out a hole slightly smaller than than circle.  Punch the edges so that you get short teeth to form-fit around the bottles for stability and tightness of fit.  4) Seal the edge between the bottle and the tin really well.  5) Cut a hole to fit the bottle in the tin roof of the home, set the assembly into the hole, and waterproof around the edge of the tin sheet really well.  Voila!  A daylight bulb for fractional cost that emits a lot of light, transfers very little heat, requires no power, and costs very little in money or time.

Granted, the bottle will deteriorate in time.  Light bulbs burn out too, and they have the added challenges of an ongoing operating cost, fragility, and manufacturing complexity.

The idea could easily be translated into more complex and robust forms for integration into first-world architecture.  I recently was looking at pictures of a solar tube installation Matt Piner (Pinerworks Architecture) was working on to bring light from a rooftop down two floors to a basement.  The amount of light that can be transmitted down a shiny tin tube is surprising.  A simple water-filled clear plastic container could be installed at the bottom as the diffuser, and would help to reduce the issue of heat transmission through the tube.

What other inexpensive, low-tech solutions are just a concept away from reducing worldwide energy consumption and improving quality of life?  Let me know.

Don’t park in the bicycle lanes… or else! :-D

Courtesy of our friends at Inhabitat comes this message from the Mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania: don’t park illegally in the bicycle lanes… or else!  The article includes the entertaining video PSA of the Mayor, determined to protect the new City bicycle lanes from obstruction by illegally parked vehicles, deciding that the only effective solution is to drive over the parked car with a tank.  “That is what will happen if you park your car illegally!” he declares from atop an 8-wheeled APV, having just ridden the vehicle over a Mercedes sedan.

Granted, the event was set up.  Who would want to deal with the legal hassles of trying to defend comically excessive enforcement of a City code?  That said, the video makes for an effective public service announcement (PSA), the more so with the ‘wink and nod’ humor inherent in the stunt.  Kudos to Mayor Zuokas for not taking himself too seriously, and making a point while having fun.

4th Wednesday Design Dialogue ~ Vegetative Green Roofs in Sacramento – The California State Lottery Headquarters

This evening is the 4th Wednesday Design Dialogue at the AIA Central Valley Chapter Office at 1400 S Street in Midtown Sacramento.  This evening a group of architects and landscape architects from LPAS will be sharing their experiences from working on the new Cal Lottery building, and specifically the green roof.  This case study will provide the basis for a broader discussion on the potential value of and/or challenges for implementing green roofs in the Central Valley.

Green roofs and living walls have the potential to be far more than simply an attractive feature of a building.  When properly integrated into the overall design they offer potential benefits for stormwater management, reductions in cooling loads for internally dominated buildings, additional recreation/amenity space, and even secondary productive uses.

For a primer of green roofs, check out the American Society of Landscape Architects Green Roof website.  Come out this evening to the 4th Wednesday Design Dialogue and join in what should be a very interesting discussion.

City hall clothed in vines

Posted today on Inhabitat: Super Futuristic Noain City Hall is a Plant-Covered Building That Boasts Passive Energy Saving Systems | Inhabitat – Green Design Will Save the World

Deciduous vines are trained on a metal exoskeleton around the building, providing shading and passive cooling while allowing a varying amount of light to reach the core depending on time of year.  This is an impressive example of utilizing landscape elements as an integrated part of the building structure and energy systems.  It reminds me of some of the points Matt Piner of Pinerworks Architecture made at a past 4th Wednesday Design Dialogue, where he talked about integrating a ‘skin’ for buildings that could change with the seasons.

As an added bonus it looks cool.  Using the lower weight ratio of the vines/metal screen Zon-e Arquitectos was able to form an amorphous outer shell that pleasantly hides the simple rectangular box forms of the basic structure.  Check out the article and let me know what you think.

Sacramento Press / Launch 2011: see video here

Sacramento Press / Launch 2011: see video here.

For those of you who won’t be able to make it out for the Launch 2011 event, Sacramento Press has just announced they will be posting a live video stream of the event starting at 5pm tomorrow evening.  Check out the link above for the post.

Seriously though- find a sitter, throw on something casual/chic and check it out.  The event runs from 5pm to 1am at the Greens Hotel in Del Paso Heights.  The hotel is one block from the Arden Way & Del Paso Blvd light rail stop (Sac RT Blue Line) so you can forget parking and just have a good time.  For a tasty alternative, shuttles will be running to/from Hot Italian in Midtown.

See you there.  🙂


About launch image


24/T infill project takes a step forward

Last night at the City of Sacramento Design Commission the infill project at 24/T Streets in Midtown Sacramento took a significant step forward as the Commission forwarded advisory conditions and a recommendation for approval to the Planning Commission.  The project has been through an extensive public review process, resulting in a 5-unit apartment project in a craftsman style.  Mark Groen, Senior Architect with Vrilakas Architects is lead architect on the project.

Several neighbors who had been actively involved in the review process came to express support for the project and for the efforts of the applicant, neighbors and City staff in reaching an agreement that would allow the project to move forward.  The next step for the project is to gain approval by the Planning Commission on Thursday, July 28th.

During the hearing the applicant requested a number of modifications to the proposed conditions for the project, in order to limit potential problems on the alley and to have the option to use newly available window technology that is high-quality and energy efficient.  Commissioner Todd Rudd, who holds the contractor/builder position on the 7-member profession-based commission, was instrumental in helping to clarify the details of the applicant’s requests and allow the Commission to approve the two requested items.

Below are elevations for the project, pulled from the meeting Agenda.  The full agenda and recording of the meeting can be found here.