Art-Inspired Community

Visionary Project Transforms Infill Land into Sculpture-Filled Public Space

by Paul Haden, president, C2 Collaborative

The visionary team for McKinley Village, the newest urban infill neighborhood in Sacramento, California, has taken a challenging entitlement environment and seemingly insurmountable land constraints and created a brilliant new residential village.  With a design guided by the arts, as well as the use of timeless materials, McKinley Village creates a metaphorical link from the past to the future.

         McKinley Village is a 50-acre infill project in the middle of Sacramento’s historic East Sac district.  The long-empty site sat adjacent to highway 80 to the north and is enclosed on the south by a 30’-tall embankment with Santa Fe Railroad tracks atop.  Further, the site is an emergency overflow zone for the Sacramento River.  Challenges abounded, but inspired ideas for re-imaging this space won out in the end.

         In the past, city residents had voted development plans down.  Re-envisioned in 2017 by the New Home Company, Alison Viejo, California, the new site design incorporated solutions for each of these challenging conditions.  The plan called for five housing types, parks, a community pool, and a recreation building.  It would also be a hot spot for life-enriching public art.  

         The McKinley Village Art Walk, a voluntary and privately funded public art program, is a distinct neighborhood focal point.  The walk features ten works of art by artists from the Sacramento region, with the work placed throughout the neighborhood parks and streets of McKinley Village, which are named after local artists and art community leaders.  The art walk complements the neighborhood’s program of active recreational opportunities, including a competition-style pool and engaging play spaces located throughout the master-planned village. 

         Seeking to respect the tradition of the adjacent historic McKinley Park neighborhood while still maintaining its own unique character, the designers of McKinley village drew inspiration from the rich visual history of the neighboring community and art walk while employing a restrained palette of earth-toned brick, concrete, and steel that intentionally blurs the edges of the old and the new.  This philosophy is first introduced on McKinley Village Way, the front door and first impression of the new community that includes an art-inspired underpass of the Union Pacific Railroad and connects the 352 residences of McKinley Village with the existing historic neighborhoods adjacent to nearby downtown Sacramento.

         The site includes five unique city parks, six pocket-parks, and a community garden, which residents use to grow vegetables and flowers.  Other spaces offer a tot-lot, bocce ball courts, cooking and dining spaces, and open turf play areas.  The addition of sculptures and public art elevates these spaces from simple play spaces to outdoor areas with a unique visual quality that engenders a sense of true civic identity.

         The community features a linear street layout with a loop road around the central park and community buildings with flying roof lines and large glass walls that are punctuated by a clock tower made of brick, which is a classic East Sac building material.  The main building houses a lobby, meeting room, kitchen, and learning center, with exterior spaces highlighted by an Olympic-size pool, sun terrace, and dining space.  

         Adjacent to this private function space is a public park, where the pickleball courts face a wide-open play lawn.  The tot-lot is an open, non-fenced area with multiple play structures sited in the open lawn.  As with all of McKinley Village, public art offers a visually enticing walk through the sculpture garden.  The city considers these parks some of its finest, and for generations to come, they will live on as an art-inspired haven to live, work, and play amid true artistic beauty. 

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