Last week, I wrote about the 20 things I love about Reno on the 20th anniversary of moving to the city. That ended up being one of our 10 most read stories of the year so far, so it was a popular one. I really do love living in Reno, but there are also some areas I'd like to see improved. As a result, this week I offer a column on "10 things I'd like to see Reno improve over the next 10 years." Again, I love the city, but everything can use some improvement, so let's get to the list.
1. The downtown corridor: Reno does not have a great image, and I believe there are two reason for that: (1) the show Reno 911!, which we can't do much about; and (2) downtown, which we can do something about. When people visit a city, they're going to spend most of their time downtown, which is the front porch of any city. Many mid-sized Western cities like Boise, Albuquerque, Fort Collins, Boulder and Spokane have downtowns people want to go. That's what truly separates Reno and Boise, which has an amazing downtown corridor. Reno does not. Yes, Midtown has improved a lot and Greater Nevada Field is a nice attraction. But Reno's downtown could be so much better considering the riverwalk, a natural feature you can't replicate in other places. But enough with the desolate motels, pawn shops, antique stores, tattoo parlors, etc. Downtown Reno is not a place I want to take my kids, and tourists tend to be turned off by it. If Reno could build the downtown area between UNR and Midtown into something great, it'd truly be one of America's best cities. Also, I'd love to see Virginia Street closed and made into a gigantic walkway for foot traffic like they have in Boulder.
2. Stomp out homelessness: This item goes hand in hand with the first one. Like many cities, Reno has a homelessness problem that plagues downtown and extends down the river. At last count, the Reno Area Alliance for the Homeless totaled 1,256 homeless residents in Reno, a figure that anecdotally is on the rise. There's a tent city on the other side of the train tracks across from Greater Nevada Field. The Eddy House, which houses homeless youth, reports there are more than 3,500 homeless youth in Reno out of about 53,000 homeless youth in the United States. That's a staggeringly high number. You can't fix the downtown problem without fixing the homeless problem. And you can't fix the homeless problem until you fix the next item on our list.
3. Affordable housing: According to the Reno Reality blog, the median home sell price in Reno in July 2020 was $435,000. Compare that to $406,000 in July 2019, $385,000 in July 2018, $355,000 in July 2017 and $317,600 in July 2016. That's great if you bought a house five years ago. But the average sale in Reno has gone from $165,000 per home to $435,000 per home in eight years, which has priced out a huge chunk of citizens. Rents have gone through the roof, too, which can only inflate the homeless figures. Look, I'm on my third home in Reno/Sparks in a decade, in part because the market has improved, first buying in 2009 before going so again in 2015 and 2019 until I got my dream home. I've benefited. But I wouldn't mind prices going down so our young professionals have a realistic chance of buying their own home. The lack of affordable housing is one of Reno's biggest challenges moving forward.
4. Improved education: As I noted in my "20 things I love about Reno" column, not having an income tax is great. But that also leads to less-than-ideal education levels. Plus, the Washoe County School Board has been a laughingstock of late, with its previous two superintendents being fired (one already got a big payment and other could get one shortly) while two board members have been forced to resign amid unsavory allegations -- and that's all within the last handful of years. My son started at a first-year elementary school last year, and the school was already at 110 percent capacity, which led to his kindergarten class nearing 30 kids. This year, he's in a mobile classroom outside of the school walls. This is less than ideal and needs to be fixed. We don't invest in education in Nevada, which ranks as one of the worst states in the nation in in K-12. Teachers deserve more support, and our kids deserve a better chance at success.
5. More family-friendly locations: We're making some progress here. A new indoor ice rink is expected to be completed in South Reno in November. Idlewild Pool was recently remodeled. There's supposed to be an $18 million pool facility at Moana Springs Park soon. Whenever I want to take my kids to a cool pool, I have to drive all the way to Minden and the Carson Valley Swim Center. We do have the Discovery Museum and Wild Waters/Coconut Bowl. But we're still lacking the rash of family-friendly places other cities enjoy. The Loop was supposed to be a $30 million recreation, sports and dining multiplex in South Reno, which is part of the reason we moved from Sparks to Damonte Ranch. But I drive by that place regularly. Nothing's going on. And for goodness' sake can we get a Dave & Buster's?
6. Increased diversity: One of the biggest disappointments about living in Reno is a lack of diversity. Per the 2010 U.S. Census, 76.9 percent of Washoe County was white, 22.2 percent Hispanic or Latino, 5.2 percent Asian, 2.3 percent African American and 1.7 percent Native American (I did that math and that adds up to more than 100 percent, but that's what the Census says). Bottom line? We don't have enough diversity. One of the great things about living in a medium- or big-sized city is being able to mix races, cultures and understanding of others. We're obviously a divided country right now, but the more we talk to people unlike us and understand their background and their concerns, the better we are for it.
7. Better public transportation: It feels like few people ride the bus in Reno. And if you do ride the bus, you get a weird look. Using public transportation is a good way to guard against pollution, minimize traffic, limits roadway fatalities and improve communities financially. But I would not put Reno's public transportation on the list of "pros" in terms of living in Northern Nevada. Yes, the routes are starting to extend out, but Reno/Sparks is pretty spread out when you consider the city goes north and south from North Valleys to Galena and west and east from Verdi to Spanish Springs. That's a lot of ground to cover with not many routes taking you out there. We also could improve our bike lanes around town. And while I know there's a shuttle from the Reno airport to Lake Tahoe, I'd love to see some kind of a speed bullet that takes people from Reno to Tahoe in 20 minutes or less. I know it's a dream, but please just let me dream. Finally, I'd like to see more direct flights out of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. The location of the airport is great. The number of direct flights is not.
8. Gimmie more parks: Reno has a couple of nice sprawling parks with Idlewild, Rancho San Rafael and Wingfield, but that's about it in terms of massive parks (Crystal Peak Park and Oxbow Nature Study Area are nice gems, too). Don't get me wrong. We're not bad at parks. But I have some siblings who live in Denver and have always been jealous of how great their parks and open spaces are, and that includes dog parks, which we largely lack outside of Link Piazzo Dog Park in Hidden Valley. I'd love to see more green space, especially around downtown. I've always thought it'd be cool if the area between UNR's campus and the casinos was a sort of Central Park in Reno with a lot of inviting, family-friendly green space instead of old motels. That's valuable land, so that's never going to happen. But, again, I can dream. We get a solid grade on parks. But we can always improve.
9. More support of local sports: I was considering writing, "More Dodgers fans, less Giants fans," but I already get enough hate mail as is. So I'll go with the generic "more support of local sports." Nevada football, despite making a bowl the last two seasons, ranked in the bottom 15 in the nation in attendance (out of 130 schools). The Reno Aces and Reno 1868 FC have seen their attendance decline since debuting (the Aces drew 6,481 fans per game in their first season and 4,803 last year). And teams like the Reno Bighorns, Reno Silver Sox and Reno Renegades were either shuttered or moved to another city. Reno has shown it's capable of supporting local teams, as we've seen with Nevada basketball in the mid 2000s and late 2010s. But that's been the exception to the rule. This isn't Boise where people live and die with the Broncos. Even in 2010 when Nevada football went 13-1, finished 13th in the nation and had one of the best college quarterbacks of all-time in Colin Kaepernick, the Wolf Pack averaged just 19,576, and that was with sellouts against Boise State and Cal. I'm not going to tell people how to spend their money, but more support for the local sports clubs would be nice.
10. Stop ragging on California: I understand people are proud of their Nevada roots and don't like "interlopers" from California, but I'm one of those interlopers after moving from Simi Valley to Gardnerville when I was 5. (It was not my decision, though. I was not consulted before the move. Because I was 5. You don't ask a 5-year-old if he wants to move states. I probably would have said, "I want to move to Disneyland.") I just get tired of Nevadans ragging on California like it's Russia. Bashing on Californians is a sport across Western states, with Nevada leading that charge. Yes, people moving from California has definitely impacted No. 3 on our list (affordable housing). But California has the world's fifth-largest economy (ahead of India), pioneers the tech industry that we're so happy to try and take a piece of and has some of Earth's most beautiful natural resources. I don't want Reno to turn into "San Fran" or Los Angeles, but the California bashing seems like jealousy talking.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.