Bringing Sustainable Development to The Railyards

Image of a man riding a bike. Learn more about sustainable development at the Railyards.

Bringing Sustainable Development to The Railyards

October 5, 2017 | By The Railyards

Sustainability is more than a buzzword. The issue of climate change has received global attention from governments around the world in recent years. Governments, organizations, and private citizens are all looking for ways to create a better future by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and finding solutions to climate change. The City of Sacramento has made sustainability a core focus, embracing sustainable development and infill projects like The Railyards.

What is Sustainable Development?

Sustainable development has been defined in many ways, but is most frequently quoted as defined by the United Nation’s (UN) Brundtland Commission:

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

What Does Sustainable Development Look Like?

There are hundreds of examples of sustainable development projects in diverse communities across the U.S. While these projects can differ widely in scope and implementation, most share the basic principles of a sustainable community by taking long-term approaches to address environmental, economic, and social issues.

A Rand report, Linking Sustainable Community Activities to Pollution Prevention: A Sourcebook, highlights the following examples of sustainability-in-action across communities.


Seattle, WA was one of the first U.S. cities to incorporate sustainability concepts as an organizing principle for community planning and development. Since 1990, many of Seattle’s policies, programs, plans, and redevelopment projects have included sustainability measures. Seattle’s approach is centered around an “Urban Village” concept that hopes to reduce urban sprawl and traffic congestion by increasing the density of jobs, housing, and amenities in central neighborhoods.

Seattle has seen success with this approach, yet admits that sustainability can be difficult to achieve when attempting to change individual behaviors, like reducing the single-occupancy vehicle driving. Seattle recognizes that evolving towards sustainability can be a slow and incremental process.

San Francisco

In San Francisco, CA, a former Air Force Base in the heart of the city is a unique sustainability initiative. Presidio National Park is trying to become a center for sustainability. At the Presidio, sustainability projects include acquiring electric transit vehicles, improving bike and pedestrian trails, rehabilitating historic buildings, while protecting and enhancing Mountain Lake, the only natural lake at the Presidio.

The Presidio teams hope that they can create sustainability models to be transferred to private and public communities worldwide, such as towns, cities, other national parks, and military bases that are being converted and reused.

New York

Across the country, another type of sustainable community initiative is being developed from the ground up. EcoVillage at Ithaca, New York, was formed by a grassroots group of citizens with a goal to create a model community that exemplifies sustainable systems of living. EcoVillage is located on 175-acres of land, 90% of which is preserved as green space for organic agriculture and wildlife habitat. Private homes are built in clusters around shared common spaces and are built with super-insulated passive-solar designs and shared hot water systems.

Each of these projects has demonstrated that sustainable development can be achieved in communities. Seattle in particular has created a roadmap for a sustainable city model that is being replicated all around the country: the Urban Village. This same concept is being used right here in Sacramento as the City focuses on a sustainable future.


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The 9 Principles Guiding The Railyards Specific Plan

The 9 Principles Guiding The Railyards Specific Plan

Dive deep into the 9 principles providing the overarching guidance for the development of the Sacramento Railyard.


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A Sustainable Sacramento

The City of Sacramento 2035 General Plan sets a direction for the future of Sacramento. The guiding vision for the Sacramento 2035 General Plan is that Sacramento will be “the most liveable city in America.” An important part of this vision is for Sacramento to be a model of sustainable development in its planning, its use of urban heat island reduction measures, and its conservation of energy, water, and other natural resources.

In other words…

Sacramento has set itself on course for a sustainable future.

Underlying the vision for the General Plan are the following themes that will help Sacramento reach its goals:

Living Lightly - Reducing our “Carbon Footprint”

The General Plan takes several steps to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change and is the City’s action plan for greenhouse gas reductions. Mixed-use development that encourages walking and biking, use of public transit, “green building” practices, use of solar energy systems, architectural design to reduce heat gain, recycled construction materials, and water conservation measures, are some of the strategies included in the 2035 General Plan.

Developing a Sustainable Future

Planning and developing a truly sustainable future depends on a healthy environment, strong economy, and the social well-being of Sacramento residents. Factors that contribute to achieving this goal are as follows:

  • Environment: conserving air, water, land, soils, minerals, natural habitat, energy, and protecting aesthetic resources.
  • Economy: creating good jobs, income, and financial resources.
  • Equity and Social Well-Being: providing good education, income, health, safety, arts, and cultural attainment for all.

Bringing Sustainable Development to the Sacramento Railyards

As one of the nation’s largest infill projects, The Railyards directly supports the Sacramento 2035 General Plan goals for sustainability. Infill development is a key part of the 2035 General Plan Climate Action Plan Policies and Programs. Infill development, the process of developing vacant or underused parcels within existing, developed infill areas, channels economic growth in existing urban areas while conserving open space.

Infill developments such as The Railyards can improve transportation systems, protect the environment, and revitalize communities. The Railyards project is transforming an unused, former industrial site into a new community that will promote resource conservation, economic prosperity, and social equity.

The Railyards specific plan will help propel the City of Sacramento towards its goal of becoming a national leader in sustainable development and minimize Sacramento’s ecological footprint. The proposed development will support area transit and minimize the need for residents, employees, and visitors to The Railyards to use automobiles. It includes policies and regulations that facilitate and support bicycle and pedestrian transportation. The Railyards specific plan also includes policies that orient building sites towards natural sunlight, promotes a reduction in energy, water, and waste, and addresses the negative effects on environmental resources through the mitigation of stormwater runoff, air pollution, and wastewater generation.

The Railyards Goal: Maximize the Use of Sustainable Development Practices

The Railyards specific plan contains goals and policies intended to address sustainability within the area. These goals and policies include the following:

  • Encourage high density development that uses land efficiently and supports the use of transit. Promote urban infill in The Railyards to ensure that land is used efficiently.
  • Provide sufficient parking for carpools and vanpools. These transportation strategies will help to reduce single‐ occupancy vehicle use.
  • Create centralized parking facilities to support a “park once” strategy so that visitors arriving to the area by car will park once and walk within the area.
  • Promote the installation of safe pedestrian and bicycle facilities to encourage walking and bicycling, thereby decreasing dependence on motorized vehicles.
  • Encourage site and building design that incorporates local‐climate design responses that improves energy efficiency by incorporating natural cooling and passive solar heating systems. This may include extended eaves, window overhangs, awnings and tree placement for natural cooling, and building and window orientation to take advantage of passive solar heating.
  • Encourage the installation of green roofs to insulate buildings and reduce stormwater runoff.
  • Promote resource conservation through water conservation technologies such as the installation of water conserving appliances and low‐flow fixtures.
  • Encourage green site design by utilizing native and/or drought tolerant trees and plants where possible, and designing climate‐ appropriate landscapes and gardens.
  • Encourage the installation of sprinkler systems for public and private green spaces that contain rain detection sensors to prevent unnecessary watering.
  • Encourage the installation of LID techniques, where appropriate, to prevent stormwater runoff and further pollution of Sacramento’s natural resources.
  • Provide permeable surfaces if possible to reduce stormwater runoff.
  • Encourage the use of green or sustainable building materials, including recycled content materials that are consistent with the underlying architectural style and character of the building. Reduce stormwater runoff through the capture and reuse of rainwater.
  • Encourage the installation of “greywater” systems that reuse water consumed in buildings for watering lawns and other landscaping features on building sites.
  • Promote recycling and other strategies to reduce the generation of solid waste.
  • Encourage the reuse of existing buildings and land in The Railyards to avoid unnecessary solid waste production and preserve the historic resources already present in The Railyards.
  • Encourage building construction, both interior and exterior, that utilizes recycled materials and reuses existing components of site, where possible.
  • Promote the development of numerous public gathering places to encourage social interaction, public events and refuge areas for pedestrians.
  • Ensure that a rich urban tree canopy and significant vegetation are provided in The Railyards to provide a well‐shaded and comfortable microclimate and curb stormwater runoff
  • Provide attractive and comfortable pedestrian spaces that incorporate shade trees for natural cooling and UV protection.
  • Promote the use of locally produced and manufactured items for use in the construction of buildings and ancillary public buildings in common open spaces.

The future of Sacramento is a sustainable one. The Railyards is one of many projects across the U.S. that is prioritizing sustainable development policies in order to meet the needs of today without compromising the needs of tomorrow. The road to sustainability is not short, and it’s not easy, but project-by-project, city-by-city, and policy-by-policy, we can build a more sustainable tomorrow.

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