Why Not Transform Ourselves?
By Katherine (Kit) Crocker, Investment Director, Investment Controls & Operational Risk for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS)
I was living and working in San Francisco at the time of the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, and regret to say that I was one of the skeptics and naysayers about the decision NOT to rebuild the elevated freeway access to Broadway along the Embarcadero.
With hindsight, what an eyesore and blight that freeway structure was for the whole area. Its elimination paved the way for a true renaissance along the waterfront: a wide avenue graced by stately palm trees, with antique European trolleys running down the center and bike paths and a pedestrian promenade along the entire wharf, extending essentially from the Golden Gate Bridge to what would become the City’s first downtown ballpark. Opening up the waterfront led to a revival of the largely abandoned piers, which now house restaurants and businesses, not to mention a spectacular redevelopment of the old Ferry Building at the foot of Market St., which continues to serve as an important transit hub filled with shops and restaurants and home to a local farmers’ market.
In short, I could not have been more wrong — the transformation was breathtaking.
We now have the opportunity to embrace an even grander transformation for Sacramento and West Sac. The private automobile is a blight on our communities in so many ways, and none the more obvious than in the land use distortions it creates. If you open your eyes to the amount of space wasted on city streets and parking, the problem becomes crystal clear. This is space that could be put to infinitely better use as parks, play areas, and recreation centers for all ages, not to mention the types of neighborhood business districts that will flourish, nourishing and supporting our communities as we want them to be. And as more people flock to urban living with all it has to offer, the need for the private automobile decreases, creating a virtuous cycle of more livable, rewarding communities and less dependence on the antiquated combustion engine to get ourselves around.
We are in the midst of a relatively slow-moving but ultimately far more devastating disaster than the 1989 quake. Failure to take drastic measures means, within this century: average temperatures higher by 10F, the Sierra Nevada snowpack – our main water source – gone, catastrophic flooding a regular occurrence. But while the window of opportunity is closing fast, it is not yet too late. Why not act now with the vision and determination needed to avert that disaster and reshape our communities in stunning ways?
The results will be transformational, not only for our communities, but for the air we breathe, the water supplies we need to drink, and the physical world that sustains us. In other words, for ourselves.