Durable Growth

North Bay non sequiturs

150812B001 Historic Downtown SignPerhaps it was having been away from the North Bay for nearly two weeks following minor league baseball in the South, but when I returned home, I seemed to look at North Bay land-use issues with fresh eyes, eyes that were more open to situations that felt off-kilter.  I’m not saying land-use gaffes, but land-use solutions that grated at the edge of my consciousness.

Hence, my first ever review of North Bay Non Sequiturs:

“Historic Downtown”: While I was away, the near-final touches were completed on the new interchange at the north end of Petaluma, where Old Redwood Highway meets Highway 101.

While I still think that the community would have been better served if the construction costs could have been diverted to street repairs and the infrastructure to support walkable urban projects, I’ll agree that the new interchange works well.  So well that drivers can now pay more attention to the directional signs, including the one pointing toward “Historic Downtown” at the end of exit ramp from southbound 101.

As I considered the sign last week, it dawned on me that I don’t want to live in a town with a historic downtown.  I want to live in a town with an active, vital downtown, which I’d be happy to just call “Downtown”.

I’d prefer that my downtown have lots of older buildings because it would look good and because that would imply that it hadn’t been touched by the destructive redevelopment impulses of the 50s and 60s, but I also want my downtown to be adding new buildings to fill the holes, to grow larger, and to convey a burgeoning economy.

I don’t want my downtown to be something preserved under a bell jar.  Are there signs pointing to the “Historic Downtowns” of Chicago, New York City, or San Francisco?

“Historic Downtown” sounds like an aging amusement park, a place to take the kids after they’re through playing in the pool.

Besides, how do we reconcile newer and integral elements, such as Theatre Square, with a “Historic Downtown”?  Do visitors even know to look for Theatre Square if we only direct them to the “Historic Downtown”?

I’m not going to suggest that anyone put duct tape over the word “Historic”, but I’d chuckle if someone did.

(Postscript: Since I began working up a head of steam on this topic last week, the sign that offended me has disappeared.  But I suspect that its absence is short-term and related to the final tidying up of the interchange project.  I doubt that the marketing approach for downtown has changed because I was able to find another “Historic Downtown” directional sign only a short distance away.)

Amy's Drive-Thru

Amy’s Drive-Thru

Amy’s in Rohnert Park: My wife and I occasionally use products from Amy’s Foods.  Although we’re not committed to their products, I’ve generally found their food to be tasty and am pleased to have Amy’s and their commitment to organic packaged foods firmly embedded in the North Bay.

When Amy’s first announced their plan to try a restaurant concept, I was surprised.  It’s not like Chef Boyardee or Birdseye ever opened direct-to-consumers outlets.  But Amy’s is a different kind of business run by folks who seem to have a coherent vision, so I sat back to await the result.

I never expected a Rohnert Park drive-thru on a corner parcel in front of the Graton Casino, with gas stations on two opposing corners and nary a home in sight, one of the least walkable restaurant settings that can be imagined in the North Bay.

Perhaps I was misled by a flawed mental image of the typical Amy’s customer.  I think of Amy’s as serving people who favor walking for the health benefits and who have a deep concern about the environment, with climate change a particular fear.  I can’t reconcile that image with the restaurant that now exists.

I’m not saying that the most Amy’s customers are urbanists, but I’d expect them to have much in common with urbanism.  Yet the Amy’s drive-thru is most assuredly not urbanist.

There’s nothing wrong with the architecture of the Amy’s drive-thru.  It’s quirky but fully realized in a fashion that I wish the large drive-thru chains would emulate.  But the location leaves me flummoxed.  I can’t imagine the board room conversations that led to this result.

National Night Out: For the second year in a row, the Petaluma Police and Fire Departments hosted a function on National Night Out.  Conducted in the parking lot for the Target store in the East Washington Place shopping center, the Petaluma effort was described as a “community-building campaign that promotes police and community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, better places to live.”

I wasn’t able to visit the event this year, but did stop by last year and found it a pleasant event, with children enjoying a bounce house and facepainting while parents enjoyed the food, some chatting with other folks who might have been their neighbors.

Overall, it seemed a nice evening for those in attendance.  But there is something wrong with gathering in a big box parking lot to promote “neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, better places to live”.  And it’s even more wrong in a community that still prohibits most block parties, the quintessential event that should be promoting “neighborhood camaraderie”.

It’s true that the enforcement of the Municipal Code prohibition of block parties in most locations is lackadaisical to non-existent, but the prohibition still has organizers and participants looking nervously over their shoulders and the purveyors of block party rentals asking to see copies of non-existent permits.

I understand that the City resources needed to remedy the Municipal Code issue would have to come from a different pot than the resources used to host the National Night Out.  But if we could find just enough dollars to change the Code, then maybe we wouldn’t need to trek to a big box parking lot to learn about neighborhood camaraderie.

Okay, this was fun.  If anyone has North Bay Non Sequiturs that bug them, please share.  Perhaps this can become a repeated feature.

In my next post, I’ll write about a civic plaza proposed for Boyes Hot Springs, north of Sonoma.  Having walked the site and explored the surroundings, I endorse the idea heartily.

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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