The Railyards Open Space Plan: Creating Green Spaces for the Community

A road winding through green scenery. Learn more about the Railyards' plan for green, open spaces.

The Railyards Open Space Plan: Creating Green Spaces for the Community

September 18, 2017 | By The Railyards

Parks and green open spaces are an important part of a healthy, sustainable, and economically successful community, which is why the Railyards has planned ample parks and plazas for future residents and visitors to enjoy.

The Benefits of Green Spaces

Parks and plazas provide a number of environmental, psychological, and economic benefits in dense urban settings. Not only do parks and green open spaces provide space for recreational activities, they also serve as a place of respite from a busy, urban environment.

Research reveals that spending time in natural environments can reduce stress, anger, and fear and increase pleasant feelings. Spending time in nature can also contribute to your physical well-being; reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.

Parks can serve as generators of economic vitality by providing space for farmers’ markets, concerts and other community festivities.

Parks, plazas, and their trees additionally serve as lungs for the city: they release oxygen into the environment, consume carbon dioxide, filter pollutants, slow down runoff, muffle urban noise, provide shade, reduce temperatures, counter urban heat island effects, and provide wildlife habitat.

For all of these reasons, parks and plazas contribute to a higher quality of life in cities and urban areas.

Parks and Plazas Planned for the Railyards

The two primary types of open spaces within the Railyards include parks and plazas.

All of the parks planned for the Railyards are publicly accessible. The Railyards’ parks may include a variety of elements, including designated areas for specific sports (such as baseball diamonds), playing areas for children with facilities such as swing sets, tot‐lots; shaded and landscaped seating or recreational areas; community gardens; walking and biking trails; and educational areas with interpretive signage.

A “plaza” is another type of open space that is typically smaller than a park and usually located in areas that are more intensely developed than parks. Though they may include plants, trees, and shrubs, most surfaces within plazas are made of hard, non‐ living materials such as stone, brick, or concrete. Plazas are usually located in close proximity to shops or restaurants.

In addition to planned parks and plazas, the Railyards has embraced an overarching open space objective to provide a rich tree canopy, similar to that which already existing on many streets in Downtown Sacramento, along all new streets and open spaces.

A District-by-District Guide to Open Space at the Railyards

The Railyards community has five distinct districts planned, each with its own unique identity and purpose. The Railyards Specific Plan outlines specific open space objectives for each district.

Here’s how the Railyards plan will allow residents and visitors of each district to connect with nature through parks, plazas, and open spaces.

Depot District

The primary objective for the Depot District is to provide a clear open space connection between the Railyards and Downtown Sacramento. The Depot District will serve as a transit center and a connection between the Railyards and downtown.

There are three objectives for open space in the Depot District:

  1. Develop a plaza at the entrance of the Depot that frames the entryway into the Railyards.
  2. Provide an urban public space for public events.
  3. Provide easy access through multiple transportation modes, to public spaces and bike and pedestrian pathways in the Downtown and Railyards area.

The following open space features will be located in the Depot district:

Depot Park
The Depot District will be home to Depot Park, a grand park that will provide a civic entry feature at the rail depot that frames the entry to the depot building and the Depot District.

West End District

The open space objective for the West End District is to develop a district that links the entire Railyards project together with pedestrian walkways, urban plazas, parks, and other public spaces. The West End District will be home to the largest park in the Railyards, Vista Park. Vista Park will provide a large public space and recreational amenity directly adjacent to the medical campus at the northern end of the district.

The West End consists of an array of retail, office, medical campus, and some residential uses. Open space in this district will provide links to the entire Railyards area and the existing peripheral urban fabric.

There are five objectives for the open space in the West End District:

  1. Connect downtown, the Railyards, and the river via off street trails, pedestrian corridors, and parks.
  2. Create open space that supports a 24‐hour urban live/work environment that celebrates the contemporary culture of Sacramento.
  3. Support transit use with pedestrian‐ oriented development and cross‐district bikeways.
  4. Provide strong landscape design of public parks and plazas that encourage the patronage of shops, hotels, and other businesses.
  5. Provide space for programmed performances and informal outdoor meetings.

The following open space features will be located in the West End district:

Stanford Walk
Stanford Walk is a pedestrian connection, extending from Stanford Street, within the Central Shops district and terminating at Vista Park. The corridor will connect the historic district with the medical campus and Vista Park through various programmed open space uses.

5th Street Steps
The 5th Street Steps are the first major entry point to the Central Shops once visitors cross the railroad. A grand staircase will mark this entry point into the Shops. 5th Street will widen at this location to create a plaza.

Central Shops District

The Central Shops District is not only home to the Central Shops buildings, but will also offer urban public spaces, with careful placement of retail, museums, night clubs, performance space, galleries, and restaurants.

The Central Shops represent the historic core of the Railyards. This location within the Railyards provides close connectivity to Old Sacramento and the Riverfront District.

There are four objectives for open space in the Central Shops District:

  1. Utilize the historic Central Shops complex and features as a primary design element for public spaces.
  2. Celebrate Sacramento’s history as a rail center through the use of outdoor spaces and public art that provide educational and interpretive opportunities.
  3. Design public spaces in the Central Shops District with unique plazas that define public and private space and other open space forms that accommodate large gatherings.
  4. Create inviting, safe and comfortable public spaces integrated with a mixture of uses such as shops, museums, music venues, jazz clubs, galleries, a performing arts theater, and restaurants surrounding the historic Central Shops.

The following open space features will be located in the Central Shops district:

Roundhouse Plaza
A plaza freshly interprets the original structure and use of the roundhouse while honoring the historic nature of the site and allowing the potential for the roundhouse to be reconstructed. The plaza is an active space with frequent movement among adjacent uses. The design intent for Roundhouse Plaza is to create an attractive, active, and urban park centered in the Railyards for residents, visitors, and workers to enjoy.

Powerhouse Court
This plaza is surrounded on all four sides by historic shops. The plaza should reflect this historic context and largely remain open to facilitate circulation through these spaces.

Market Plaza
Market Plaza is inspired by its historic context, shaped to encourage movement, informal gathering, and visibility between structures. The plaza is active, with pedestrian traffic from retail shoppers, museum attendees, and other visitors.

Museum Park
Museum park knits the Riverfront and the Central Shops districts together. The portion of the park east of the curving rail line will be similar in character to the central shops open space. The area west of the curving rail will be the passage zone between the shops and the river. This will be a playful and inviting area that will encourage circulation through these spaces, accommodate large crowds and events at the Railroad Technology Museum, and will maintain visibility to the river.

East End District

The open space objective for the East End district is to create a new neighborhood that builds on the spirit of the city’s traditional open space‐oriented neighborhoods, with parks and greens central to East End district residential and non‐residential parcels, along a landscaped pedestrian axis anchored between Vista Park and the large event plaza of the MLS stadium.

This district occupies the northeast quadrant of the Railyards. Open space will support the district’s primarily residential character and provide a clear connection to the areas north of the Railyards. The open spaces in the East End will also draw visitors from elsewhere in the Railyards area and the Sacramento region.

There are five objectives for the open space in the East End District:

  1. Create open space that supports a new residential neighborhood, designed in the spirit of the city’s traditional urban neighborhoods, with parks and open spaces as central features of the neighborhood.
  2. Reinforce the concept of a transit‐oriented neighborhood.
  3. Create a dynamic linear space for residents to gather, walk, sit or dine outside, exercise, and relax.
  4. Mass buildings along a build‐to‐line along the street, with step backs from the street to permit café dining spaces or to step back from public parks in order to allow access to sunlight throughout most of the day and create a more expansive feel to the public space.
  5. Create a strong connection to the MLS Stadium from other districts in the Railyards, Downtown, and the River District Area.

The following open space features will be located in the East End district:

Vista Park
Vista Park responds to the existing grades with sculptural landforms that shape functional spaces. A playing field and amphitheater nestle into the edges of the landform, creating space for performances and play. The park is informal in character, using spare materials and a planting palette that highlights the landform as the main element in the park.

East End Neighborhood Parks
The East End Neighborhood Parks will essentially be a gathering place for residents and visitors of the East End District. Five distinct open space areas are designed to support a variety of community activities, including play areas, gardening, lounging, formal or informal community gathering, and shaded pedestrian paths.

These distinct open spaces will provide an urban retreat for outdoor dining, informal performances, play, and other lively activity. The Neighborhood Parks will be connected by wide landscaped corridors for pedestrians and bikers traveling between the MLS stadium plaza to the east and Vista Park to the west.

Riverfront District

The Riverfront District is where the Railyards connects to the Sacramento River through innovative design under the freeway that attracts people to the vibrant waterfront and its restaurants, featuring spectacular riverfront views, high‐rise buildings potentially for a hotel or housing, and parks and open space. A key feature of this district will be buildings set in a park‐ like setting along the riverfront.

The Riverfront District will connect the Railyards to the Sacramento River, providing the city with an opportunity to reclaim a part of its geographical history with a reinvigorated waterfront, replete with restaurants featuring spectacular views, high rise hotel and/or housing development, and parks and open space.

To utilize this open space and the trails along the American River Parkway, this District emphasizes pedestrian and bicycle access.

There are six objectives for the open space in the Riverfront District:

  1. Connect the Railyards to the waterfront with restaurants, hotels, housing, parks, and open space.
  2. Celebrate reclaiming part of Sacramento’s geographical history.
  3. Activate the waterfront with open space and pedestrian and bike access.
  4. Implement the Sacramento Riverfront Master Plan, including reaching across the river to West Sacramento.
  5. Create a regional scale open space amenity.
  6. Celebrate the historical significance by including a national monument at the terminus of the transcontinental railroad.

The following open space feature will be located in the Riverfront district:

Riverfront Park
Riverfront Park is a linear park that combines riparian planting with active uses, water access, and smaller gathering spaces. The park allows for a mix of active and passive uses that will draw users from all districts and from around the city.

Additional Open Space Elements Planned for the Railyards

In addition to these planned parks and plazas, the Railyards will also include a number of additional open space areas that improve community connections or connect to the parks and plazas previously mentioned.

These additional open space elements will:

  • Connect programmed open space features to one another.
  • Provide pedestrian and bicycle access between open space elements, minimizing the number of at‐grade street crossings that might pose a conflict between bicycles and pedestrians and vehicles. These include linear open spaces along South Park Street and Bercut Drive.

A Landscape Design with Historic Significance

A Chinese landscape design theme is proposed to help commemorate the importance of the Chinese to the development of the transcontinental railroad in Sacramento. This landscape theme will provide a visually interesting open space that builds on the concepts of education and history in the Railyards. A monument or art piece may be a central component of this landscape, celebrating the culture and contributions of Chinese railroad workers.

The Railyards Interpretive Walk

A final open space component proposed for the Railyards is an interpretive walk connecting historic points of interest between Alkali Flats, the Railyards, and Old Sacramento.

The pedestrian walk will celebrate the history of Sacramento and enrich the pedestrian experience by providing an educational component. The specific location and route of the interpretive walk has not yet been determined.

Open Space Stories: Conveying the History and Heart of Sacramento

The Railyards’ open spaces are organized around three primary stories that reflect the history and heart of Sacramento.

1. History and Education
In addition to being a place to live, work, and play, the Railyards will include both historical and educational components that can be integrated into open spaces. Visitors to the Railyards will be able to experience the Central Shops and develop an understanding of what life was like during the early years of Sacramento.

2. Culture and Entertainment
Celebrating the indomitable spirit that overcame flood and fire to build a city and moved mountains to build a railroad, the cultural and entertainment core bursts with opportunities for the exploration of Sacramento’s unique history through recreational and interpretive activities

3. Parks, Rivers and Parkways
Residents and visitors alike will be able to choose from a wide variety of open spaces where they can spend their time: whether they want to go for a stroll through the East End neighborhood parks, throw a frisbee in Vista Park, go for a jog along the river in Riverfront Park, or catch a movie in Museum Park, the open spaces in the Railyards will offer something for everyone. A strong pedestrian network will provide easy access, as will a series of strategic connections that facilitate movement within the site, the city, and the region.

Parks, plazas, and green open spaces are an important part of any successful urban community. The Railyards specific plan puts a large emphasis on planning these elements of the nation’s largest infill development project to ensure that residents and visitors to the area can experience the benefits of connecting to nature, the community, and the history of Sacramento.

Image courtesy of Coruscating Images.

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