View From The Future

Colonel Baker Returns to See What His "Field" Looks Like in 2020

We all know our City's Founder, Col. Thomas Baker, died in 1872. But what if he were able to "Go Back To The Future" and see what his "Field" looks like "Today" -- sometime during the year 2020???

What Would He See?

Here's how one participant in the process would describe what Colonel Baker would see . . .

From 30,000 feet, Colonel Thomas Baker has a magnificent view of the southern tip of the great San Joaquin Valley. The air is so clear and free of pollutants he can readily see the Sierras to the east and the coastal range to the west. Despite the curvature of the earth, the air is so pristine he can see almost all the way to Sacramento at the northern end of the valley!

He refuses to look south to Los Angeles. He understands that in the year 2000, it represented all he hopes Bakersfield has not become, that is, a "world class" example of urban sprawl, leapfrog development, air pollution, and parking-lot freeways. He resists the temptation to look to the south. Instead he hopes Los Angeles now enjoys the same clear air he sees over Bakersfield. Clear air and clean water were taken for granted in my day, he thought to himself. It looks as though Bakersfield has now gone full circle.

As the pilot lines up the aircraft for landing, Tom notices the downtown area with a beautiful mix of tall buildings along the Kern River interspersed with lush green open spaces, parks and other waterways seemingly everywhere.

Tom doesn't really understand these issues but he's told new technology and the satellite positioning system permit landing in any weather. Even during our foggiest days, this airport operates 100% of the time.

He sees citrus groves north of the airport. Col. Baker's says out loud, "This must certainly be the breadbasket of America!" Everything looked so green and productive to him.

His plane touches down and a flight attendant announces, "Welcome to Bakersfield International Airport!" His attention is focused on a modern air terminal with an array of large jet aircraft pulling in and others taking off. He joins the stream of people walking toward the baggage area and notices electronic boards announcing arrivals. He sees a listing of major domestic hubs in the US. He also sees foreign and domestic destinations on departure boards. Everything is so efficient and convenient.

Welcome to Bakersfield International Airport!

Because of the consolidated terminal design, he quickly locates his baggage. Even though the terminal is large and modern, it somehow keeps the friendly small-town feeling Bakersfield is noted for.

He hails a cab from a queue at curbside. Usually he doesn't care to have a loquacious driver. Somehow this time is different. His driver introduces himself and says, "Hi, I'm Tito. Where do you want to go?"

Tom Baker thinks for a moment, looks at his watch and says, "You know, I'm ahead of schedule. Why don't you give me a little tour of Bakersfield?" "At your service," Tito responded with a smile that anticipated a larger than normal fare . . . and tip.

As they drove west from the airport on Seventh Standard Road, Tom noticed Highway 99 with widened lanes -- now called a "beltway", he notices. Attractive industrial buildings are on both sides. Then something almost took his breath away -- a train going so fast he almost missed seeing it when he blinked his eye.

What's that?"

"Oh, that's our high-speed train that takes people from Bakersfield to San Francisco in about 90 minutes. Or to Los Angeles in only 30 minutes! For these shorter distances, it's as fast as flying and less stressful. You ought to see the interior of the cars. They're like the first class cabin in a Boeing 797! What a way to 'fly'!", Tito concluded.

Driving down Highway 99, they approached the 24th Street off-ramp and -- whew! -- what a beautiful entry to my old field, Tom thought. A major arch extended over the intersection of the freeways -- with flowers, trees and water fountains everywhere! A sign appropriately and artfully made it very clear the colonel was entering his "field".

"Look," Tito called out, "there's a sculpture of our community's founder, Colonel Thomas Baker. Ever hear of him? Our city has statues and art exhibits at almost every turn."

"Interesting," Tom said under his breath.

After they turned eastbound on 24th Street, Tom asked, "What's that up ahead?"

"That's what makes Bakersfield really a great place to live and raise a family. We used to call it 'in fill' because we wanted to reverse the trend of outward growth that took rich farmland out of production and created lots of other problems -- like pollution from commuting cars.

"People who do commute here now are using alternative fuel or electric cars -- or a combination of the two. All school buses and public transportation vehicles were the first to convert. Then many of the rest of us followed. With this and positive initiatives from the oil industry, pollution's no longer a problem.

"Now downtown is a high demand area to live and work and play -- all in the same area! Just above everything residents need is within walking distance. It's transformed Bakersfield's downtown into a 'walkable community'. And to think this used to be a blighted area!", Tito added.

Now downtown is a high demand area area to live and work and play -- all in the same area!

"Now we also have separate and distinct walkable communities in Old Kern -- along Baker Street -- and in the southeast part of Bakersfield along Cottonwood Road. People live and work and play within their own communities. Each is very safe, clean and unique with its own architectural style and character. There's another one around Cal State University. The campus includes a Leadership Development Center that attracts world class speakers to Bakersfield for the benefit of students as well as leaders in the public and private sectors."

"What's all this water I see throughout downtown?, the colonel asked.

"Oh, that. That's our version of a RiverWalk -- something started in San Antonio. It's been created in several other communities in the US. It's absolutely delightful. As you can see, it's lined with wonderful restaurants and quality stores -- and lots of trees and water effects.

Do you want to go for a boat ride on our RiverWalk?"

"Maybe later. Tell me about the people who live here." the colonel asked.

"That's the best part!", Tito replied. "Remember that statue we saw as we entered downtown of Col. Baker? Ever since he transformed his farmland into a village and ultimately into a city, the notion of 'friendly people' has been preserved and retained to this day -- despite our population now of over a million. This is a quality all residents respect and want to retain. At the same time, our population is considerably more diverse than it used to be. We've learned to respect and honor our differences -- and we're all the better for that diversity of thought, culture, religion and in other dimensions as well."

Tom said, "When I flew in, I saw lots of farm land and what I guess you call 'oil fields'. Is this the basis of your economy?"

"It was for a long time,", Tito quickly said. "But now we're considerably more diversified with everything from high-tech firms to light manufacturing -- no pollution, you know -- and major warehousing facilities as well as food processing plants. Bakersfield is at the intersection of several major highways so products can be distributed in all directions. We used to say the three rules of real estate are 'location, location, and location'. Now we know -- at least for

Now we're considerably more diversified with everything from high-tech firms to light manufacturing.

commercial real estate -- the rules are 'logistics, labor and location.'' Tito thought to himself, "Aren't I clever to know that -- and I'm only a cabbie!" (Actually, Tito retired from one of the high-tech firms in Bakersfield that went public in 2005. He simply loves people and enjoys meeting them through his taxi work. Another example of how important friendliness is to those who choose to live in Bakersfield.)

"We used to call it the 'new economy' -- but today it's just the way we are", he concluded. "High tech stuff is all around us. It's wonderful!"

When I lived here, Tom thought, it was easy to hire someone to herd cattle or plow furrows. So he asked, "With all this high-tech business, how do you have a continual flow of people with necessary skills to work in such businesses?"

"That was tough at first. But over time, we aligned our curricula in schools from elementary grades through our local community and state university. In this way, our schools are always 'in sync' with our growing industries and the new jobs they create. Now it works like a charm", he said proudly.

"What about kids? Are they really learning?", Tom asked without really knowing why this question occurred to him. Tito responded, "That's one of the best things to happen around here. Our kids perform really well. In some cases, they're doing better than kids in other parts of California and the US. This wasn't always the case. Lots of new experiments had to be made to get from where we were to where we are today. Fortunately some of the experiments worked and worked very well."

"What do you mean?", Tom asked.

"Well, for one, we developed testing and assessment instruments to measure performance based on useful academic standards. We achieved a seamless transition between grade levels and high school as well as post-secondary education. We targeted reading skills first. Then we maximized use of school facilities from 7am through 7pm -- seven days a week, year round. We included 'twilight' programs as well. It seemed revolutionary at the time -- but we're very glad today we were willing to experiment.", Tito said even more proudly.

We aligned our curricula in schools from elementary grades through our local community college and state university.

"We've talked about work and school," Tom commented, "but what do you do for fun?"

"That's a great question," Tito said. "There was a time that our kids always complained about not having anything to do in Bakersfield. They just didn't have then what we have today."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, for starters, we have recreational programs in virtually every neighborhood. No kid who wants to play a sport has to look beyond his own 'back yard', so to speak. Bakersfield has always been a sports-minded community. Now there's even more for kids of all ages. Parks are almost everywhere.

Free, family-oriented activities are going on throughout the community.

A public / private partnership created an integrated master plan for the visual arts and a performing arts center -- along with museums and other cultural amenities. It seems like there's art and music and literature everywhere!", Tito said proudly knowing he was engaging in a little hyperbole -- but not entirely!

He continued, "And with everything going on at the river, there just isn't any reason at all for anyone to say there's nothin' to do in Bakersfield! Just last night I went to a combined 200-voice Masterworks Chorale performance and a major art exhibit on the banks of the Kern. And tomorrow -- when I don't have to work -- my friends and I are going to ride our bikes all the way from the mouth of Kern Canyon to Buena Vista Lake. That's really a kick!"

As they drove along Truxtun, Tito commented, "Here's our civic centre where all of our governmental facilities are conveniently located. But look! Here's our convention center and arena where world-famous performers are here week after week and month after month. And look at the multi-purpose stadium! You can't believe all of the activities that take place here. Even during baseball season. Never a dull moment -- for anyone!"

"Bakersfield has long had a reputation of serious crime -- like "Shotguns on Sunday". Wasn't that the name of a book about Bakersfield? Is that still going on?", Tom asked with a serious tone.

We tried to get to the root causes of our crime -- and we did.

"Well, we were really worried about that. With the influx of new people because of our affordable housing and new jobs, it made sense to think crime would increase here. But with a strong economy, life-long learning, great jobs, and a super city for having good, clean fun -- it just didn't happen. Attendance at local churches, synagogues and mosques has been increasing, too. We tried to get to the root causes of our crime -- and we did. All of the good things we've accomplished had the effect of removing most of those root causes. There are still occasional problems, of course -- but compared to our crime rate toward the end of the 20th century, we're doing really well.", Tito added.

"So where does Bakersfield go from here?, the colonel asked.

After thinking for a moment, Tito responded, "You know, we used to say, 'don't fix it if it ain't broke'. But we've learned that old saw doesn't hold water any more. Since this all started a little after the turn of the century, we've learned we can continuously improve just about anything we're doing. As a knowledge-based community, there just doesn't seem to be any end to making Bakersfield an increasingly better place to live. Our quality of life just seems to be getting better and better.

We're really glad the community had the gumption twenty years ago to set a vision of what we're enjoying today. Otherwise, it never would have happened. Oh, sure, not everything they visualized then has become a reality. But just think what would have happened if they hadn't made the effort?", he asked rhetorically.

Tom answered anyway. "I know what would have happened. Bakersfield would have become another Los Angeles." "Well said -- you're absolutely correct.", Tito responded. "Now that our tour is over, where is it you want me to take you?"

"Oh, that's OK, Tito. I'll just get out here. After all, you said Bakersfield is a walkable community, right?"