Making Downtown Bakersfield

As one of the cities along California's new High-Speed Rail (HSR) corridor, Bakersfield anticipates significant growth. To help the city leverage this opportunity, SOM developed a comprehensive urban design strategy that integrates the HSR station into the existing city fabric, expands connectivity across transportation modes, and supports equitable economic development throughout the region. The plan, called "Making Downtown Bakersfield," was created through a process of public outreach and engagement.

Making Downtown Bakersfield calls for phased development based on 10-, 20-, and 30-year growth projections for the downtown area. The phases align with operational timelines for the statewide HSR infrastructure project. Crafted from insights gathered from many public workshops, stakeholder meetings, interviews, and other events, the plan embodies the community’s goals for regenerating downtown Bakersfield. The master plan defines a “Green Loop” that surrounds downtown with public enhancements that will help frame future development. It links existing public spaces, such as the Mill Creek Linear Park and the Kern River Trail, with new, pedestrian-focused amenities including a paseo along Wall Street and a multimodal pathway at Garces Circle.

SOM provided the city of Bakersfield with a variety of tools to engage the community, encourage public discourse about downtown revitalization, and build local capacity for change. These tools included: a project Geohub website with interactive story maps; an online engagement portal; an animation of the phased development strategy; two project videos—one, a call to action to engage in downtown reinvestment, and a second that provides an overview of the planning process; a “planner’s manual” that illustrates the overall vision and outlines the implementation strategy in a clear step-by-step process; and an interactive model of downtown. Throughout the planning process, these tools facilitated public outreach efforts and helped raise community awareness.

By bringing various stakeholders together and enabling them to combine efforts, the community planning process leveraged momentum to revitalize downtown Bakersfield and helped create a unified vision for the city. The plan outlines a strategy to connect the HSR station to the city's historic core, and in the long term, to build a new HSR district. The goal is to enhance the city’s unique sense of place, and in the process to define the attributes of a 21st-century community centered on high-speed rail.