Durable Growth

In praise of magic gates

Whole Foods gate

Whole Foods gate

While shopping at the Whole Foods in Petaluma a few days ago, I noted a gate that had previously escaped my attention.  It was a simple little gate, chain-link, self-closing, keyed from both sides.  But it had a magical function.

The gate provided direct walking access from a low-income, senior housing community to the front door of Whole Foods.  Even from the furthest home, the walking distance to Whole Foods was barely more than 300 feet.

Many seniors, whether because of declining health, waning skills, or reduced finances, no longer have cars.  At the Edith Street Apartments, those seniors needn’t be dependent on others, or on local bus service, for grocery shopping.

Some may argue that Whole Foods is an expensive place for low-income seniors to shop.  My response is that spending an extra dollar a pound for organic asparagus is a cheap trade-off against the cost of owning and maintaining a car.

I was charmed by the gate.  And by the circumstances that made it possible, those circumstances being adjoining sites with different, but complementary uses.

Whole Foods storefront

Whole Foods storefront

Under a conventional use-based zoning code, such as the one that covers the area of the Whole Foods and the Edith Street Apartments, those kinds of adjacencies happen once in awhile.  But under a form-based code, a form of land-use regulation that is a central tenet of urbanism, those adjacencies happen far more often.  Indeed, one might argue that a well-administered walkability-focused form-based code allows the market to naturally seek out complementary adjacencies, which is far better than relying on the occasional fluke.

A most recent tabulation of city Walk Scores makes the same point, noting a quick rise in the urban walkability of Miami after the adoption of a form-based code.

Returning to the Whole Food gate, applause goes to whoever spotted the opportunity and helped make this gate possible, a list that likely includes Whole Foods, PEP Housing as the owner of the Edith Street Apartments, and the Petaluma Planning Department.  But an ovation goes to those who argue everyday for a land-use pattern in which opportunities like the magic gate become increasingly frequent.

Edith Street Apartments

Edith Street Apartments

Taking advantage of serendipity is a wonderful thing.  Creating a world in which serendipity is increasingly common is even better.

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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