Durable Growth, Site News

Fairgrounds and block parties (It must be the summer-like weather)

Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds

Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds

Fairgrounds: Regular readers don’t need to be reminded about the on-going Petaluma Urban Chat study on possible re-use of the Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds.  (Occasional readers can catch up here.)

The conceptual design efforts are nearing conclusion.  The three teams are putting finishing touches on their designs and will present the plans at the Urban Chat meeting on Tuesday, February 24.  Everyone is welcome, indeed encouraged, to join us at 5:30pm at Taps, 54 E. Washington Street.  And also encouraged to bring a friend or two.  Even if you’ve never attended an Urban Chat meeting, if you have an interest in the future of Petaluma you’re likely to find something of interest in the meeting.

For those who haven’t been part of the process thus far, I should explain something about the intended level of the conceptual plans.  The plans wouldn’t include detailed building footprints or architectural sketches.  To proceed to that level, especially given our non-existent budget, would have been a waste of resources and a short-circuiting of the process.

Instead, the teams will present maps showing allocations of land use and proposed routes of connectivity.  In land-use planning parlance, these are called bubble diagrams and are a key step in the planning process.

My goal for Tuesday evening is to settle on a single design concept, either one of the team concepts or a combination of the best elements of multiple concepts, allowing us to more fully develop that concept for public presentation.  (In the past, I’ve been subtle with this request.  Today, subtlety is dropped.  If you have some graphical presentation tools and skills, and are willing to donate a few hours, you can help Urban Chat share their vision with the community.  And you would earn my gratitude.)

Before leaving the Fairgrounds subject, I’ll recount a recent conversation with one of the conceptual design participants.  He wondered if the next step in the process might be assessing the business attraction needs of the city and focusing the design effort toward that goal.

In response, I shared the StrongTowns philosophy of job creation.  To paraphrase the words of StrongTowns founder Chuck Marohn, we often make political decisions as if a strong economy will be the result of job creation.  But it’s the reverse that we should be following, having job creation be the result of a strong economy.  If we focus on job creation, we run the risk of subsidizing businesses that keep people busy without creating the goods and services that we truly need and want.

The application of this principal to town planning is that we should be creating cool places to live and letting job creation follow.

A great example in our region is the South of Market neighborhood (SOMA) in San Francisco.  Twitter and others didn’t set out to remake SOMA as their corporate setting.  Nor did the City of San Francisco get the ball rolling by trying to attract Twitter and others.  Instead, a younger generation, including many who Richard Florida calls “the creatives”, was attracted to the SOMA as cool place to live.  (Unlike earlier generations, the coming generations are more willing to move without having a job.  They often prioritize life style over employment.  And employment usually finds them.)

Noting the accumulation of talent in SOMA, Twitters and other expressed an interest in locating there, the City provided key financial encouragement, and the rebirth of SOMA was fully underway.

Although on a smaller scale, I think the Fairgrounds can provide a similar function in Petaluma, attracting folks who like the North Bay, but who want to live in a walkable, convivial setting.  And once they’ve found their way to Petaluma, businesses who want to employ people with that mindset will note the accumulation of talent and follow them to Petaluma.

Of course, there would still be the challenge of finding places for the new businesses to locate, but that’s a great problem to have.  (Personally, I remain intrigued by the possibilities of the under-utilized industrial area in the triangle bounded by E. Washington Street, Lakeville Street, and the Petaluma River. And the vision for the Fairgrounds also includes agriculturally-related industrial space and locally-focused retail.)

That’s my vision of the role of the Fairgrounds in Petaluma’s future.  If you share it, or if you have your own ideas to test out, please join us on Tuesday the 24th.

Block Parties: Another subject that regular readers should recognize as a frequent topic is block parties, particularly how the Petaluma Municipal Code is surprisingly unfriendly to block parties compared to other North Bay cities.

When I last touched upon the subject, the Petaluma Police Chief and City Council had indicated their support for block parties, tossing the Municipal Code question back to City staff.  I’ve since communicated with City Hall, offering my thoughts about a block party process that seems reasonable to me.

While I await a response, I came across an exchange on the Quora website that illustrates what can be good about block parties.  I recommend reading the story, but for those who don’t, a police officer on foot patrol at a block party in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn asked to borrow a skateboard.  To the surprise of the young skateboarders at the party, he proved his ability to still do a few moves, perhaps forever changing the perceptions of some about the police department.

There’s no place in the North Bay like Bed-Stuy, but I can still hope for the equivalent of this type of public-police interaction at North Bay block parties.

Data will be the subject of my next post.  I recently attended a meeting on the advanced use of demographic data for land use planning.  The conclusions didn’t surprise me, but the clarity that the data brought to the subject was startling.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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