Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Davis Core Area Plan of 1961: A Moment of Development Audacity in Davis History (269)

 In May of 1961, urban planners Lawrence Livingston and John Blayney presented to Davis citizens a 44 ledger-size page document that: 1) argued the existing Davis downtown was obsolete and should be replaced by a larger "core area;" 2) provided a vision of what should replace it; and, 3) outlined a plan for getting from the first to the second. 

This was a plan for which City officials and a 60 member Davis Core Area Advisory Committee had contracted many months ago. They were receiving what they asked for.

Daunting in its scale and complexity, the plan was nonetheless widely and positively received with upbeat sentiments and the document itself exudes “can do” optimism.  

While it was never implemented wholesale, it did become official policy for a time and parts were implemented. Significantly, it enlarged and reframed the way Davis people thought about  the "downtown." Not least, these gentlemen introduced the term and concept “core area,” a shift in Davis’ cognitive map that endures.

Be the longer term reception aspects as they may, the features of this document that fascinate me include the very fact it was created and that it was embraced and thought, in its time, to be a wonderful thing. Its place in Davis life of that time exudes audacity.  It was a moment when people still believed that bold and positive development visions were worthwhile and could be carried out.

We do not see this kind of “go get ‘em, we can do it” attitude in city affairs much anymore and so I thought it might be at least a little refreshing to remind ourselves that such a mindset could at least exist. So reminded, perhaps people can be emboldened to think it could happen again.

My effort to recall civic development audacity and optimism takes the form of reporting as fully as possible the Livingston and Blayney (L&B) upbeat vision of a high rise/density downtown as they present it in their Davis Core Area Plan.

This means I leave out the two other main elements of the report, the description of the current “core area” and their analysis of steps required to redevelop it. However, anyone interested in those two aspects can easily read or download both of them in the scan of the document I have placed on the website Davis History ( here:

I have organized the elements of the L&B vision of a 1985 Davis Downtown into these five topics:
 I.  Textual introduction and overview of a high rise/density 1985 Downtown
II.  The 1985 larger Davis context
III.  Six Drawings of the 1985 Downtown
IV. Two maps of the 1985 Downtown
V.  Expanded text on the 1985 Downtown

These five groupings represent differences in three kinds of material: text, drawings, and maps. The first and last of the five are text. The middle three are images or maps.

The Davis Core Area Plan opens with a brief text overview of a vision of what the Davis Downtown could or should look like in 1985 (images 2, 3, and 4).   

Major features of this new Downtown include the formal expansion of its size (the new “core area”), creation of the well-known Third Street Parade, and a radical increase in population density accomplished by many, many new and multistory apartment buildings. (Indeed, the high-rise aspects of this text read a little like recent commentaries.)





Before elaborating this introductory statement of the vision, we need to understand the assumptions L&B make about the wider development of Davis. Theses are set forth on a single page containing both a map and explanatory text (image #5).

For the sake of clarity, in image #6 I have enlarged the map on that page so that one can more easily read the zones at the center of the city. Perhaps most notable are the large areas of “high density residential” both in and near the Downtown. In this vision, there are no “conservation districts” called University-Rice, Old North, and Old East. Instead, much of the Old North, for example, is absorbed into the Central Business District and the rest is high high-density apartments. The other two areas likewise disappear into high-density apartments (which in fact happened to both to some degree).



Returning to the L&B 1985 Downtown vision, six drawings intended to provide a visual grasp of it are provided.

Two of these run along the bottom of two ledger-size pages and show the proposed Third Street Parade that would run from A to G streets. I have composited both into the single image seen here (#7).

Four page-size or near page-size drawings depict the 1985 Davis G, E, and C streets. The first of these drawings/proposals, the “G Street Plaza,” was actually implemented--after a fashion anyway (images 8 and 9).

Perhaps most notable is the presence of many higher-rise buildings. The one in the right hand area of “Parade at E Street” may rise eight stories since that is a high rise story number mentioned in the document (#s 10 and 11).







The center-piece of the vision is what L&B term a “Three Dimensional Design” drawing of “Core Area Development Plan: 1985.” Through the use of shading, they seek to evoke a sense of a high-rise and high-density both commercial and residential downtown (#12).  

L&B also present a 1961 map of the downtown showing the footprints and building-use existing in that year. The contrast with the 1983 vision is stark and dramatic. The great bulk of 1961 buildings would not survive in a redeveloped 1985 (and in fact a great percentage did not).

Straying from our vision focus just a little, there is also a map showing phases through which redevelopment might take place. Notice that the process is seen as starting at the center of the original downtown near G and Second and emanating out from there (# 14).





I have reproduced all the visuals for the plan first as a way to make L&B’s additional text describing it more understandable. Actually, there is surprisingly little additional text, which follows as images 15, 16, and 17.




Let me close by saying again that this already too-long post is tightly focused on the single topic of the vision of a new, 1985 Davis Downtown presented by Lawrence Livingston and John Blayney in their 1961 Davis Core Area Plan. This means that all manner of quite important topics are not addressed here, including the eventual fate of the plan itself and the forms and degrees of its impact on the Davis we see today. Fortunately, these and other relevant topes are treated in other publications.

Within this focus on “vision,” I have called attention to the sheer audacity involved in Davis citizens hiring planners to concoct this plan. Bear in mind, these two contract planners were acting on the instructions of a several dozen mainstream Davis citizens who advised them in a systematic and organized way. What we see here is not the stealth plan of outside, subversive “visionaries.” Instead, these were for-hire professionals paid to articulate the audacious planning direction in which Davis civic leaders were moving at that time.