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….


Welcome home…

When David and Amy approached us about an update to the entry of their ranch-style home, one thing was clear – they wanted to create a space that was both comfortable and modern.  The resulting design builds upon large rectangular concrete pads – an aesthetic that Amy really liked. The pads step down gradually to make up the walkway, which anchors the overall design of the front entry – a series of interwoven rectangular spaces defined by concrete, crushed stone, and wood.

The ipe (Brazilian hardwood) deck spans across the existing concrete front porch, and widens the porch to a full 10 foot depth.  An extension of the deck highlights the front door approach and brings the floor elevation of the house out into the front yard, inviting freedom of movement between the interior and exterior spaces.  A series of wooden bench forms echo the lines of the deck and further define the front yard living space. Similarly, a wooden screen fence hides a garden hose and irrigation valves.  This design updates the look and function of the landscape while adding to the charm of the Little Pocket neighborhood in Sacramento.