Durable Growth, Education

There was a time when even the Royal Society may have been considered zealots

Downtown plaza in a small New Mexico town

Downtown plaza in a small New Mexico town

A challenging comment was made in response to the post I wrote about Petaluma Urban Chat looking at the Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds.  Although his tone was somewhat aggressive, the commenter raised a thoughtful question.

The comment was made on one of the several sites on which I co-publish and the comment is now several weeks old.  Rather than responding under a post that is retreating in the rearview mirror of time, I copied the comment below so the concern and my response can reach a wider audience.

(I’ve edited the comment slightly to remove extraneous material, while preserving the commenter`s key issue.)

I love to bellyache about your blog and the beginning of this one capsulizes it perfectly.  Your urbanist group acts like a book club in which members select different urbanist books to read?!  How limiting.  How zealous.  How closed.  I have an idea.  Let’s all study only our own religious texts of choice and then try to have a discussion about the nature of God and the universe with everybody else.  Are you so tied to the concept of urbanism that you have no need to consider anything else? . . . Or worse, that you ignore or discount its ill effects? Religious zealotry!

Obviously, I disagree with him.  More importantly, I believe that he’s working under several fundamental misunderstandings.  However, I can understand how he and I have failed to communicate.  I also suspect that how I’ve written this blog may have been complicit in his misunderstandings. Continue reading

Durable Growth

Clinging to the past

Minor league ballpark in Asheville, North Carolina

Minor league ballpark in Asheville, North Carolina

As I publish this, I’m in the final days of a vacation.  Every year, I meet friends for a week of minor league baseball, regional food, and enjoyable beverages.  (The friends also humor me by agreeing to look at cool downtowns and walkable neighborhoods.)

This year, we traveled to New Mexico where most of the professional baseball teams are in the independent Pecos League.  The week of independent baseball caused me to think back upon my years in independent ball.  In particular, I recalled a story that illustrated an urbanist moral.

We had a season-ticket holder whom I’ll call Bridget.  (The actual woman was in her 70s and in failing health when I knew her nearly twenty years ago, so has likely passed away.  But I’ll let her rest in peace by using a pseudonym.  Otherwise, the story is fully true.)

Bridget was the kind of season-ticket holder who is important to lower level minor league ballclubs.  She could barely scratch together the cost of her season ticket and never patronized the concession stands, so she didn’t make much of an impact on club finances.  But she was eager to help the club in other ways.  In particular, she often undertook sewing tasks such as stitching commemorative patches onto jerseys and mending torn uniforms. Continue reading


GGT permanently cancels runs to save face

The GGT service meltdown might be over

The GGT service meltdown might be over

In answer to their ongoing driver shortage and attendant bus run cancellations, Golden Gate Transit (GGT) declared it would cancel 4 runs in the morning and 4 in the evening until the shortage is resolved. It’s welcome, but not enough to restore faith in the agency.

The 4 cancelled southbound runs are:

  • Route 4 – 7:16 am
  • Route 24 – 6:46 am
  • Route 24 – 7:17 am
  • Route 54 – 6:40 am

The 4 cancelled northbound runs are:

  • Route 4 – 4:56 pm
  • Route 24 – 4:25 pm
  • Route 24 – 4:57 pm
  • Route 54 – 4:43 pm

GGT took this step because it had “higher than expected attrition rates” and so had to frequently cancel commuter trips throughout Marin. By permanently cancelling runs, it hopes they won’t have to cancel them without prior notification.

Continue reading

Durable Growth

Quarterly quirks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUrbanism doesn’t necessarily lend itself to practical jokes.  However, as in most realms of human endeavor, it has potential for quirkiness and whimsy.  That’s close enough for me to offer a quarterly urbanist celebration of April Fool’s Day.

I try to schedule these posts for right around the first days of January, April, July, and October, but this one slipped away from me.  I was so distracted by the block party twists and turns that I lost track of time.  Perhaps the April Fool’s joke was on me.

In this post, I’ll look at the world’s largest game of Tetris, art based on the sky as seen between urban buildings, street fun that makes block parties look tame, a light show using shipyard cranes, and an imperfect and illegal use of transit.

Set aside a few minutes for this post.  There are videos you need to see.
Continue reading

Durable Growth

Community tables

Community tables at Ray's

Community tables at Ray’s

A few years ago, I had a free afternoon in Boston.  I took the subway to Cambridge to wander the Harvard campus.  Hungry from my walk, I found a burger place across Massachusetts Avenue from the campus.  Although I didn’t recognize the name at the time, I’ve since learned that Mr. Bartley’s has been an institution to generations of Harvard students.  (For the fellow graduates of my alma mater, Mr. Bartley’s is to Harvard what Top Dog is to Cal.)

I ordered one of their signature burgers and looked for a place to sit.  The smaller tables were all occupied.  There were open chairs at the central community table, but I wasn’t sure that I would be comfortable at a community table that was half-filled with Harvard students.  My concern wasn’t about the relative standing of Harvard and Cal, the two schools compare well, but more about being a fifty-something tourist sharing a space with a group of twenty-something college students.  So I found a place at a counter and ate my burger in solitude,

Over my life, I’ve made a lot of decisions, some of which didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped and some of which I truly regret.  But few seem as completely clueless as passing on the chance to sit at a community table across the street from the Harvard campus.

There was a chance that I might have found common ground with someone at the community table.  Admittedly, it’s more likely that I would have eaten my lunch in silence, but by choosing a spot at a counter, I assured a silent lunch.  I traded a small chance of a memorable lunch for zero chance.  And that was a remarkably dumb decision.  Community tables offer a chance of serendipitous connections and should be embraced. Continue reading

Durable Growth

Fitting a meeting place into a neighborhood

Ray's Delicatessen and Tavern

Ray’s Delicatessen and Tavern

Many years ago, my wife and I took an anniversary trip to London.  Planning for a stay of nearly two weeks and unwilling to pay hotel prices for that many nights, I looked for a flat to rent.  I found one a few blocks south of St. James Park.  It was a fine location from which to explore London with the St. James Tube station only a block away.

Between the flat and the Tube station was a small pub.  Most of the week, it was a sleepy place.  As I recall, my wife and I ate pub fare there one evening and I might have tipped a pint there on another occasion.  The place was usually more than half empty.

But on Friday evenings, it boomed.  All the nearby office workers stopped in for a pint or two before jumping onto the Tube to begin their weekends.  There were more patrons than the establishment could contain, so they spilled onto the sidewalk.  And when the sidewalk was full, they moved into the street, still holding their beer mugs.  (Alcohol control is different in England than in California.) Continue reading

Durable Growth, Government

Block parties: Emptying the notebook

Illicit Petaluma block party

Illicit Petaluma block party

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been arguing for greater freedom to host block parties in Petaluma.  Having learned that block parties are restricted to cul-de-sacs, I advocated for fewer restrictions, and then toured Petaluma block parties (h), both legal and illegal, on the Fourth of July.

To repeat myself, block parties aren’t urbanism, but are one-day samplings of urbanism.  And sampling urbanism is a step in the right direction.

I have a scattering of final insights and data to share today in preparation for moving onto other topics.  But the block party issue won’t be forgotten.  I’ll continue to raise the issue in conversations with city officials and will advise readers whenever there’s a hint of progress.

Police responses: I know of four people who approached the Petaluma Police Department about block parties for the summer of 2014.  The range of responses was wide and instructive. Continue reading


Block parties: A busy Fourth of July

Petaluma block party

Petaluma block party

In recent weeks, I’ve been agitating for reduced restrictions by the City of Petaluma on block parties.  As I’ve written before, I’ll admit that block parties aren’t truly urbanism.  But block parties are a one-day sampling of urbanism, which can be a fine thing.  A neighborhood enjoying a block party is far more ready to consider an urbanist future than a neighborhood sitting in their individual recliners watching “American Idol”.

To summarize my recent history with block parties, a frequent reader in Petaluma asked me about the process for securing a block party permit.  I checked with the key person in the Petaluma Police Department and found that permits can be issued only for block parties on cul-de-sacs, causing the organizer to abandon his plans.

On several levels, I found that restriction ill-conceived.  So I began advocating for a change.  I also began contacting various people within city government.

My crusade came at a fortuitous time with the Fourth of July, reportedly the most common day for Petaluma block parties, quickly approaching.  So I asked for information about local block parties, both legal and illegal.  A couple of folks responded.  I made a plan to visit those parties and to cruise other neighborhoods, seeing if I could spot more parties.

My wandering went well.  In addition to the two parties to which I was already invited, I came across another three parties, one of which elated me. Continue reading


Marin bike share attracts sponsors without a station in the ground

Bay Area Bike Share. Image by Andrew Nash, on Flickr

Bay Area Bike Share. Image by Andrew Nash, on Flickr

Over a year ago I reported that Marin was pondering a bike share program of its own, whether as a branch of Bay Area Bike Share (BABS) or as its own independent system. Though the initial study (performed by Alta) had some problems with stop location, overall TAM was optimistic and continued to press forward.

As it turns out, at least when it came to sponsorship, they weren’t optimistic enough.

The 2013 study predicted that the initial system, a pilot area between Larkspur Ferry Terminal and downtown San Rafael, would raise just $10,000 worth of private sponsorships, enough to express support but not enough to add serious funding to the system. As of June, the system – without a station in existence – has $247,000 worth of sponsorship pledges.

The sponsors aren’t just the typical bike shops or downtown businesses either. Bon Air Center, the huge Greenbrae strip mall, pledged $20,000, enough for a station of its own. Marin General Hospital pledged $40,000, enough for two stations. United Markets and Woodlands Markets both pledged another $20,000, and Emeryville’s Clif Bar pledged $40,000. Others pledged, too, but this gives a picture of the kind of support received.

This level of enthusiasm is a great sign for the proposed system. While Marin County Bike Share likely won’t ever get the level of daily trips per bike as Minneapolis or DC, it lends hope that bike-hungry Marin will outperform Alta’s fairly low use estimates. Such a concrete show of local support, too, will likely be helpful now that TAM has grant applications in for regional, state, and federal funding for the system.

Durable Growth

Urbanism from an Aubrey-Maturin perspective

The Old Seaport in Manhattan

The Old Seaport in Manhattan

Today’s post will be like a big, sweeping curve thrown by a good pitcher.  About the time the batter gives up on it, expecting it to stay a foot outside, it’ll suddenly gain traction, swerve toward the plate, and catch a corner of the urbanist strike zone.  At least that’s the plan.

I expect that some readers are familiar with Aubrey-Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian.  Although perhaps not to everyone’s taste, I find them among the remarkable literary accomplishments of the 20th century.  Over twenty books, O’Brian tells the story of British naval captain, Jack Aubrey, and his shipmate and good friend, Stephan Maturin, who is a naval physician, naturalist, and spy for the British crown, as they navigate the Napoleonic Wars.

Reviewers have likened the books to a cross between the swashbuckling Horatio Hornblower novels by C.S. Forrester and the novels of subtlety and social manners by Jane Austin.  O’Brian moves seamlessly between scenes of naval battle, largely based on actual encounters, and scenes of often constrained and awkward decorum, both afloat and ashore. Continue reading