Strong Towns Founder Brings Ideas for Sacramento Region
Charles Marohn shares wisdom for region's aging corridors
July 19, 2022: When Charles “Chuck” Marohn visits a community, he starts out with a bold question: “Are we friends?” Marohn is the founder of Strong Towns and is a nationally recognized author, urban planner, and “retired” transportation engineer. He asks that question because he says, if the groups he is meeting with are friends, that allows him to give his honest assessment of a situation. His assessment will hopefully help lead to critical and strategic thinking about how to make a development site successful, which influences the properties around it to make a community more vibrant. This is the question he posed to civic leaders during a tour of the Sacramento region last month.
Marohn visited the Sacramento region on June 16 to present to the SACOG Board of Directors and Sacramento-area planning professionals at an event that took place at the Citrus Heights Community Center. Between presentations, Marohn spent time in two cities with corridors that are facing revitalization challenges that are reflective of others in the region: Rancho Cordova and Citrus Heights.
The tour of Rancho Cordova focused mainly on the revitalization efforts along Folsom Boulevard. The city has worked for years on a strategic plan to revitalize this former highway corridor that is served by light rail and has several car-centric uses. Marohn’s assessment is that the light rail station at Mather Mills should start to find what he calls the “lowest viable product.” In this case, he recommends starting with a farmers’ market or craft fairs with temporary booths and portable structures. As that creates buzz and energy, the site can go on to build more economically successful land uses surrounding the site. Throughout his visit, he often said to look to the distressed communities around the country, such as parts of Detroit and Memphis. Why those places? Marohn explained that the most desperate places are often the most innovative because money is not available to solve those problems.
During the second part of the tour, Marohn visited Citrus Heights to explore parts of Auburn Boulevard, starting at Sylvan Corners. The corridor has vacant and underutilized strip malls and several automobile-focused businesses. Auburn Boulevard had started to bring in development investment until the COVID pandemic brought efforts to a halt. Marohn’s assessment was that the city would need to either focus on making the corridor pedestrian friendly by narrowing the street widths to one lane in each direction, or focus on what brings value to the surrounding neighborhoods—like park amenities as the focus of the corridor and bringing in development that directly services the neighborhood. Marohn completed the tour by visiting the former Sunrise Mall property, which he said had great potential as the nearly 100-acre parcel has a chance to revision itself as a whole property.
“Chuck made us rethink some of our plans and reexamine why we’ve been successful in some areas and need more work in others,” shared Citrus Heights Community Development Director Casey Kempenaar.
Marohn left the region with new friends in Rancho Cordova and Citrus Heights.