Say something mean and you will immediately be proven wrong. A few weeks ago, I jibed that Sacramento is not found at the top of any list—my bad. “American Forests” names Sacramento’s tree canopy as the best urban forest in the country, beating out Seattle, Boston, Amsterdam, and Paris.
When settlers first arrived in Sacramento during the gold rush, the Central Valley was covered with grasses. It took only one summer of +90° days, I would guess, for the newcomers to plant thousands of shade trees. The city was officially smitten: in 1921, early tree-hugger Sacramento Bee editor C.K. McClatchy, regularly published front page obituaries for dead trees.
Sacramento’s park system flourished as urban and residential trees were planted. In 1923, in order to promote neighborhood tree planting, the city and the Boy Scouts partnered in a program that offered to plant trees for free. Boy Scouts canvassed neighborhoods urging citizens sign request cards that committed each resident to care for their tree, which the city then provided and planted. So now, pedestrians in downtown Sacramento are guaranteed protection from the summer sun.
Until recently, downtown walkers could always find a cool spot to sit and rest, but one night last week all park benches along K Street were replaced with red “leaning rails.” Social advocacy organizations shouted “Gentrification!”, calling the move, “a stupid and mean” effort to solve a complex problem by targeting the homeless. Supporters of the removal insist that the city must respond to downtown’s renaissance and real estate boom with “urban beautification”, more space for bike racks, and a “safer, more comfortable” environment for tourists and high-rise residents. The pros and cons of urban renewal and the debate over the use of public spaces strikes again.
*Sacramento’s has long celebrated the title, “City of Trees” with a slogan painted on a water tower next to the I-5 freeway. Last year, in order to attract more travelers, the Sacramento Tourism Bureau convinced someone to repaint the old slogan with “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital”, whatever that means.