Durable Growth

Stories from CNU 23: Infrastructure patterns, misallocated fishing piers, and the creation of funk

Main Street Gardens in Dallas

Main Street Gardens in Dallas

Nuts.   I still can’t share the update on Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds that I’ve been promising, although progress was made over the last few days.  I’ll continue to push for having something in my next post.

(For non-regular readers, I help organize a local urbanist discussion group.  The members have been assembling an independent land plan for a portion of the downtown Fairgrounds here in Petaluma.  The plan is proposed for implementation after the current lease expires in eight years.  I’ve been promising an announcement about the next step in the planning effort, but the pieces aren’t quite yet in place.)

In the absence of a Fairgrounds update, I’ll continue sharing moments that caught my attention at the recently completed 23rd annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism.   (The photo is from a public park near the host hotel.)  This post will almost, but not quite, empty my notebook of shareable moments, although I’ll return in more depth to the topics addressed at CNU 23 in the coming weeks and months.  (Earlier snippets from CNU 23 are here, here, and here.)

The Persistence of Infrastructure: I’ve previously written that, even more so than buildings that can wear out and be replaced, patterns of infrastructure can persist nearly forever.  Build a bridge connecting two towns and the towns become so intertwined that a bridge must always remain.  Construct a lock to allow river commerce to an upstream town and it may be years before the lock can be abandoned.  Configure a subdivision around an assumption that everyone will drive and the multitude of homes may never allow pedestrian/bicycle/transit-friendly revisions.

Maria Zimmerman of MZ Strategies phrased it succinctly during CNU 23.  ”Infrastructure is a way to make your great-grandchildren live by your values even after you’re gone.”

Even if our periscopes toward the future are often foggy and distorted, we should try to build as timelessly as possible.

The Worldview of Transit Managers: The discussion of transit systems can often seem bloodless.  Fare box recovery, route efficiency, traffic signal priorities, and paratransit optimization are important, but only occasionally do those topics evoke passion.

But transit consultant Jarrett Walker pointed out during CNU 23 that transit managers often get a different perspective.  It’s the transit managers who sit across from tearful mothers who claim that a fare increase won’t allow them to deliver their children to schools, causing Children’s Protective Services to take the children away.

It’s worth remembering that transit systems aren’t strictly balance sheets, but are also lifelines on which real people rely.

Not Everyone Needs a Fishing Pier: Staying with Jarrett Walker, he noted that some cities structure their transit systems around providing an equal share of the transit pie to every district.  As he described it, this approach makes about as much sense as giving a fishing pier to every district regardless of whether the district has a body of water.

Transit should be about serving people, not dividing political spoils.

The World is Different Than When I Finished College: In an updated snapshot of a point about which I’ve often written, Christopher Coes of Smart Growth America reported that 64 percent of all college-educated workers between the ages of 25 and 34 now decide where they want to live and then look for a job in that place.

For those seeking economic growth, the message should be clear.  Build places where the next generation wants to live and employers will follow.  (And yes, the Fairgrounds plan noted above follows that dictum.)

Looking for the Funk:  The Dallas-area firm Ash+Lime Strategies, which was active in the planning of CNU 23, specializes in the field of tactical urbanism.  Tactical urbanism is the use of small urban interventions in the hope of triggering bigger ideas.  Faced with a brick hulk of an abandoned factory, some urbanists begin making plans to raze the building and to build four stories of mixed use.  Others bring in a band and a beer trailer to see what magic happens.  The latter urbanists are tactical urbanists.

Ash+Lime partner,   Amanda Popken, speaking at CNU 23, described their goal as being “Create the funk that makes a place.”

I suspect that most North Bay communities have underused places with funks yet to be exploited.  Here in Petaluma, I’ll point toward the aging industrial area bounded by the Petaluma River, E. Washington Street, and railroad tracks.  So, how do we create the funk that would make those places?

Next time, my goal remains to offer a Fairgrounds update.  Failing that, I’ll riff on a way of thinking about transit that was offered at CNU 23.

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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