Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Best and Worst California Downtowns

Paul Shigley at the California Planning and Development Report has a good article from back in September listing and explaining his choices for the best and worst mid-sized city downtowns. I think his choices are excellent and his reasoning sound. Here's his best-five list:
  1. Pasadena
  2. Santa Barbara
  3. Chico
  4. Berkeley
  5. Santa Rosa
I don't have much to say about Chico or Santa Rosa, but I would like to put in a good word for Visalia, which made his honorable-mention list. Not only is it a handsome place that looks like how a canonical American small town should, but it succeeds while surrounded by a number of places that are downright lousy, like Fresno (bigger) and Porterville (smaller).

I should also note that some friends of mine who moved here to California from Michigan a couple years ago said that they found Santa Barbara to be kind of phony. I can't really argue with that (the Mission-style architecture was a conscious effort at retro historicism after the 1925 quake), but for a phony, overpriced place, it's very nice.

And props to Shigley for calling out Santa Monica as most overrated.

Here's his most-disappointing list:
  1. San Bernardino
  2. Redding
  3. Antioch
  4. Costa Mesa
  5. Richmond
I like the offbeat suggestion of throwing in the towel on downtown San Berdoo and replacing it with lakes and canals. I'm assuming from this list that he basically excluded places like Fontana or Irvine that have no discernible downtowns.

Previously, Shigley made a smaller list of the best and worst big city downtowns. Here it is:

1.(TIE) San Francisco
1.(TIE) San Diego
3.Long Beach
4.Los Angeles

And at the bottom
  1. Fresno
The tie at the top not only screws up my formatting, but is kind of lame on its own merits --- San Francisco should really be #1, and San Diego should be happy for its well-deserved #2 slot. Other than that, I think these are the same rankings I would make. Fresno earns its bottom spot; Chukchansi Park is nice and the mounted statue of David Sassoon is awesome, but other than that, it's pretty much the pits. Even Bakersfield's downtown is better - the city as a whole is pretty blah but downtown is actually kind of cute by comparison. He should have made room on the bad list for Anaheim, whose downtown (no, it's not Downtown Disney) gets completely forgotten, and deservedly so, compared to the city's other attractions.


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