A new approach to master planning in the Bay Area: Lagoon Valley

by | September 22, 2022 0 Ideas, Urban Design + Planning

Let’s not build another disconnected business park.

We are all familiar with typical, highway-adjacent, suburbanized, business and industrial parks that feature monolithic, enclosed office buildings surrounded by networks of empty sidewalks, water-gobbling lawns, and acres of parking lots. Created during an era when planners thought activities should be separated physically, business parks assume that people will use their private automobiles to move from residential zones to work zones to shopping and entertainment zones, ad infinitum.

Today, we know our lives and neighborhoods are richer when our activities and purposes are intermixed; and our world is healthier when we are not overly reliant on cars to get around. Corporations, municipalities, developers, and residents all want something better–something that adds value to the community and contributes to the local, attainable housing stock, especially in areas like Northern California where housing is in a state of crisis.

A pedestrian-oriented public square adds life and community to public spaces.

Job seekers are making demands, too. A tight job market, changing demographics, and a global pandemic have created heightened expectations that employers should care not only for their employees’ health and safety but also be attuned to the surrounding community’s needs and the urgency of the climate crisis.

After decades of repeating the same mistakes, designers, developers, and urban planners are reenvisioning office parks and corporate campuses as dynamic, sustainable, mixed-use neighborhoods and villages that prioritize public transit and active mobility over driving and parking. The new approach requires unwinding entrenched patterns and reenvisioning these places as flexible, change-resilient, connected, walkable, mixed-use communities.

Visioning new, mixed-use spaces where people live, work, and shop.

It’s time to discard outdated designs and master plans and replace them with dynamic communities that make sense not only for today’s workers but also for the surrounding community and region. Instead of resource-consuming business parks that empty out at nighttime, the reenvisioned approach:

  • preserves and enhances regional ecological systems such as wildlife and habitat corridors, air, and watershed systems.
  • incorporates housing as a way of transforming suburban development patterns into walkable, mixed-use, transit-ready places that accommodate a mix of uses and maximize green infrastructure.
  • contributes to the regional economy and vitality by supporting existing and growing economic clusters and niches at regional or sub-regional levels.

This new approach requires leadership from the public and private sectors, openness to holistic problem-solving, and in some instances, the fortitude to throw out decades-old master plans to make way for something new.

This post is the first in a series that showcases SERA projects that are inspired by this integrated, holistic approach.

Lagoon Valley: A new, walkable, integrated community on the edge of California’s wine country

Lagoon Valley in Vacaville, California is one such example. Throughout Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area, countless freeway exits, shopping centers, and business parks cater to drivers. This car-oriented approach is being disrupted by generational shifts in consumer behavior, economic changes in the retail sector, and ever more extreme impacts from climate change. Lagoon Valley takes a different approach to development that prioritizes community, hyper-local neighborhood connectivity, and land-use flexibility to create a new interpretation of a master-planned community.

Lagoon Valley: Prioritizing community, hyper-local neighborhood connectivity, and land-use flexibility.

Located a short shuttle ride from Amtrak on the edge of Northern California’s wine country, Lagoon Valley has long been defined as a development opportunity—for the right reasons. Located in the San Francisco Bay Area’s growth corridor, the privately-owned site currently consists of treeless, overgrazed farmland that has little ecological value and is ripe for better uses, however, a decades-old master plan would have paved the way for yet another generic business park with highway-serving retail.

SERA was hired by Triad Development to reinterpret the entitlements and to reenvision the 45-acre site as a dynamic, sustainable, mixed-use neighborhood. The proposed plan would accommodate office buildings with reasonable height limits, provide space for biotech manufacturing and associated uses, and center the design with an accessible village center, housing, two public parks, and connectivity to open spaces.

Features of the new Lagoon Valley master plan include:

  • smaller blocks to create a more walkable and bikeable neighborhood.
  • a more connected street grid, reducing travel time between buildings and fostering pedestrian uses.
  • diverse land uses mixing workplace, housing, retail, recreation, and open space to create business demand and a dynamic and flexible urban and social environment.

Instead of suburban sprawl, the new Lagoon Valley plan reinterprets the entitlements to learn from lessons of the past and make room for a new integrated and dynamic destination that meets the multi-faceted needs of the community.

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