Commentary: Look Back Before Going Forward at Capitol Mall

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, November 13, 2009
Capitol Mall – that stretch between Tower bridge and the state Capitol building – has already been redeveloped, back in the 1950s, when it was considered an eyesore by some: "the worst slum West of Chicago," a Sacramento Bee reporter declared in 1949. Those who lived there disagreed. Where city officials saw slums, they saw a vibrant neighborhood with churches, synagogues, restaurants and small businesses. Housing was a little dilapidated, yes – but affordable. And, an active labor market supplied the canneries, farms and factories in the area with cheap labor.

Despite a strong push from city officials and Sacramento's two daily newspapers, voters in 1956 rejected a bond measure that would have allowed the city to borrow money to demolish the old Capitol Mall. But money was found elsewhere and redevelopment went forward anyway. "Where honkytonks once stood, a thoroughly businesslike Capitol Mall sprouted," one newspaper columnist wrote in 1960,"an appropriate gateway to the Capitol."

Appropriate? Not really – dull, barren, devoid of people. As they embark on a re-redevelopment of Capitol Mall, I suggest city leaders look to the past. Bring back what was lost in the last redevelopment. Bring back the people.

Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.