Who We Are: A City of Trees

For too long, Sacramento has struggled to not just find, but to really celebrate, our identity. We have grappled with an identity crisis. Whether it is our Sac’o Tomatoes cow-town roots or perceptions that we are little more than a pit stop between San Francisco and Tahoe, too often we find ourselves with a chip on our shoulder, trying to keep up with the Joneses but distracting ourselves from the fantastic, unique, comfortable city that we all share. Throughout this series, I use data to explore different aspects of Sacramento to try to help us understand — and celebrate — Who We Are.

In seeking “to make sure that everyone on Interstate 5 knows that Sacramento is America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,”Sacramento’s friendliest water tower has managed to stir up some controversy. It has riled up a number of this author’s neighbors in Nextdoor Pocket and received a thumbs down from at least one bicyclist. Not surprisingly, Ray Tretheway, the Executive Director of the Tree Foundation prefers the old version.
“It symbolizes why people think so highly of Sacramento – because of its glorious tree canopy. It’s the best (motto) for today and for the future.” – Ray Tretheway
OHMAN031217colorOur city’s Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist, Jack Ohman also offered a number of colorful alternatives (click the link to see all of them). The State Hornet even suggested the tower “can go fork itself.”
 Ironically, when the water tower was originally painted in 2003 (at the behest of then Councilman Robbie Waters), the city turned down ideas focused on agriculture to run with the “City of Trees” motto instead. Today, having come to embrace our agricultural heritage, proponents of the change point out that Sacramento is America’s only Farm-To-Fork Capital (most similar cities prefer the term ‘Farm-to-Table‘) but that it is one of many that claim the moniker City of Trees.
Sacramento’s urban forest has been recognized as among the best in the nation and even the world. With 23.6% covered in trees, Sacramento has it made in the shade with the Sacramento Tree Foundation and SMUD encouraging us to do the planting.. Our city was also among the original cities designated as a “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation in 1976. Sacramento State was even named a “Tree Campus USA.” Clearly, while we are not the only City of Trees, Sacramento is among the very most deserving of the title.
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Trees are also very much worth celebrating. They cut pollution, increase land value and even make you feel younger. They offer incredible bang for the buck in dealing with modern infrastructure and environmental concerns, especially carbon dioxide and other air pollution. The name is also the inspiration for the City of Trees music festival, adding to the cool factor. They also make our city a particularly good destination for an urban hike.
tomato-345280_960_720One would hope that Sacramento could be both pro-tree and pro-fork. Celebrating our agricultural and culinary heritage should not have to come at the expense of our urban forest. One wonders if, with a bit more artistic/desktop publishing creativity, both of these identities couldn’t be celebrated side-by-side. Better yet, give the trees back their water tower and create something new to celebrate our beloved tomatoes. Perhaps our city could take inspiration from Chicago’s cows or Austin’s guitars and create a public art program celebrating both our love of forks and tomatoes?
SacramentoGISTreeMapWe should also take care to frame these conversations and subsequently policies in a way that works to the benefit of the community as a whole. Too often, the immense co-benefits of urban forestry tend to miss the most at-risk populations. Sacramento is no different. The cities more affluent neighborhoods in Council Districts 3 (22%), 4 (25%), 5 (19%) and 7 (21%) have high levels of canopy coverage, while more at-risk neighborhoods in District 2 (15%), 6 (14%) and 8 (12%) have more modest canopies. District 1 (5%) may cease to be such an outlier in a few years as its newly planted canopy has time to grow. (Similarly, I would tend to doubt that any more of the benefits of FtF trickle down to the residents who need them most — prove me wrong, advocates, prove me wrong!)

Who We Are: A City of Choice

For too long, Sacramento has struggled to not just find, but to really celebrate, our identity. We have grappled with an identity crisis. Whether it is our Sac’o Tomatoes cow-town roots or perceptions that we are little more than a pit stop between San Francisco and Tahoe, too often we find ourselves with a chip on our shoulder, trying to keep up with the Joneses but distracting ourselves from the fantastic, unique, comfortable city that we all share. Throughout this series, I use data to explore different aspects of Sacramento to try to help us understand — and celebrate — Who We Are.

20170130_125659There are certain places in this country that people who are born there rarely leave. A seemingly astounding 40% of the country lives in the same place they were born. This phenomenon has been well documented by countless nostalgia-rock and country songs.


Not surprisingly, these folks cite connection to family, comfort, and a feeling of fitting in as their reasons for staying put. They tend to be less educated, but perhaps surprisingly, not lower income. They also tended to vote for Donald Trump.

Movers tend to be moving to opportunity. This includes higher educated professionals, who tend to move to higher cost urban areas. It also includes less educated folks, often leaving these same urban areas for lower cost regions with growing economies, especially in the sunbelt, or longer commutes in inland California.

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Census Migration Flows (Brown: Net Immigration to Sacramento; Blue: Net Emmigration)

Sacramento is not the top California destination of movers. Not surprisingly, dynamic Bay Area counties top the list (among larger counties). Los Angeles’ more affordable, inland neighbors, San Bernardino and Riverside have also been benefiting from the coastal housing crunch. We top other regions, though, and are above average as a destination, with 5.3% of our neighbors new to the region in the last year, compared to 4.9% across the state.

More notable, though, is the high level of immigration, combined with a relatively low rate of emigration. Other counties with a high share of movers also typically have a high share of leavers. San Francisco County averages a net domestic loss of nearly 14k per year, Alameda County nearly 2k, San Mateo County over 2k. In the Bay Area, only Contra Costa County (despite the lowest immigration rate) didn’t lose population to domestic migration. A lot of folks choose to move there – to try to make their fortune; for education; for the premium night life – but before long, many of them decide to leave, often in search of more affordable housing and a quieter place to raise a family.

Sacramento, by contrast, is a city where people choose to move and, subsequently, choose to stay (net domestic immigration of 4k per year). This author is a perfect example. Having grown up in the Bay Area and spent my college years in Los Angeles, I moved to Sacramento a bit over a decade ago. Honestly, I did not know what to expect. Aside from attending a couple of political events at the Capitol, one (perhaps) excessively enjoyable weekend with a college buddy and (naturally) driving past on my way up the mountains (as a rafter, rather than a skier), I had spent less time in our state’s capital than our nation’s. Less still in the neighborhoods beyond the domes.

No, Sacramento was never part of my plan, but life brought me here in 2006. A year later, those circumstances no longer offered any reason to stay, but Sacramento had started to grow on me. I still planned to return to the Bay Area at some point, but was in no need to hurry back. Within a few years, though, Sacramento had become home. With a good career going, I had no reason to leave. With my wife, many new friends, and involvement in a number of community organizations, I had many reasons to stay.

neighborhoods_eSacramento has the best of both worlds. With an unemployment rate that’s better than the state average and housing prices that are still reasonably affordable, it provides an affordable home for nearly everyone. With distinct, unique neighborhoods it provides a place where everyone can fit in and feel like part of the community. Sacramento offers a modern economy and a place we can really call home. It is no wonder people choose to move here – and no wonder people, like me, choose to stay.

Statistics based on ACS 5-year data.