In Bakersfield, Many Find a California They Can Afford

When Andrae Gonzales first joined the Bakersfield City Council in 2017, he recalled, “the mantra was, ‘How do we do less with less?’” These days, he said, leaders are having a different conversation: “How do we improve amenities for people so that they can enjoy the city?”

Bakersfield’s core, he added, is uniquely poised for a revival, as young professionals drive up costs in urban centers across the country.

As evidence, Mr. Gonzales led a whirlwind tour of his downtown district, where for decades antique malls have filled the storefronts of the sturdy midcentury buildings that give its streets the look of a movie set.

He ducked into the nation’s last operating Woolworth’s luncheonette, where nostalgic diners were getting their final burgers before the building closed for renovations. The owners of the Five and Dime Antique Mall, which occupied most of the space, were retiring. Moneywise Wealth Management was moving in.

Mr. Gonzales also stopped outside the 17th Place Townhomes, whose clean, modern design might not garner a second look in another city. But to Anna Camp Smith, one half of the couple that developed and owns the complex, they’re a symbol of a promising future.

“Just for people to see that kind of dense, urban housing in their town is opening their minds to the idea that we can really, actually have an urban environment here,” she said on a recent afternoon, chatting over quinoa bowls and salad at a cafe across the street.

Two-bedroom townhouses rented for $1,800. They’re all occupied now, and Ms. Smith and her husband, the son of a city councilman, are developing another 49 units a couple of blocks away.

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