Downtown Bakersfield R/U DAT (1983)

During the early 80’s the city of Bakersfield was a quickly growing within the state of California. The cities location relative to Los Angeles, the strong oil industry, and its booming construction business were quickly putting Bakersfield on the map as a future metropolis in its infancy.

With the future growth of Bakersfield in mind the local AIA Golden Empire Chapter sponsored a Rural/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) to study Bakersfield in 1983. The team was assembled to study downtown Bakersfield and to make suggestions for the city’s potential future grown opportunities. The idea was that the findings of the study can then be shared with the local AIAGE chapter members, city officials, and the Downtown Business Association. These findings were then published in the Bakersfield Californian on Sunday February 6, 1983.

The team was put together by Tom Jannino, the Chairman of the R/U DAT and consisted of two instructors and sixteen students (on four teams) from The School of Architecture & Environmental Design at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The teams spent 48 hours over the course of a weekend to study and observe the greater downtown Bakersfield area. It was noted by Mr. Jannino that, “I don’t think they (the teams) had more than four hours of sleep” through the course of the weekend.

After 48 hours in the city the teams created suggestions for the city of Bakersfield to implement to create a stronger downtown identity for the city. Many of the problems the team felt the city of Bakersfield was facing in the early 80’s are still many of the same problems the city is facing today as well. Some of major ideas identified were the need for a “24-hour downtown”, creating the “Four Corners” of downtown, as well as making pedestrian and public transportation connections throughout downtown.Ultimately the teams came up with two different scenarios;

Scenario ‘A’ – Bakersfield does NOT implement these suggestions form the 1983 R/U DAT and continues the direction we are going.

-      Still NO Master Plan for downtown Bakersfield

-      Uncontrollable sprawl far beyond the Cal State Bakersfield Campus

-      Cars are still the majority transportation choice and SMOG become really bad!

-      Fragmented City Center develops & no single focus emerges

-      Bakersfield still has NO downtown… and with that, NO identity

Scenario ‘B’ – Bakersfield DOES implement these suggestions and changes the direction we are going.

-      Master Plan is adopted shortly after the mini RU/DAT of 1983

-      Because of the influx of oil companies the city’s economy has been thriving

-      A historic commission identified the value of downtown, and lobbied to save it

-      The downtown has developed its cultural clues, transportations systems, and checked growth

-      The downtown was re-established as the focus of the city, and the valley  

Today, 35 years after the study was finished, it is clear that Bakersfield ultimately chose to go with Scenario ‘A’…

We face many of the same challenges in our downtown today as described by the 1983 R/U DAT team. In the past 35 years since the study was conducted there has been a massive amount of sprawl in west Bakersfield, in both the northern and southern portions of town. The car is still be far the top mode of transportation throughout the city. Since the study was done Bakersfield has even gone so far as to be build an entirely new Westside Parkway in order to get residents that work in downtown back out to their homes in the sprawl of the west.

Bakersfield downtown has seen much improvement in recent years, but still has a way to go. Some of the original ideas outlined 35 years ago would be great additions to Bakersfield’s downtown today. A downtown city center, pedestrian friendly walking streets, revitalization of existing structures, gathering spaces, and less cars will all make for a better downtown. For all of us.

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