Durable Growth

StrongTowns: The message is still what matters

Downtown Petaluma

Downtown Petaluma

A funny thing happened on the way to the publishing button.  And an extensive rewrite was required.

A couple of weeks ago, I was advised that Chuck Marohn of StrongTowns and Joe Minicozzi of Urban3 were coming to the North Bay in mid-January to talk about the StrongTowns message and urbanism in general.  The focus of the trip would be Santa Rosa, but I was asked about my willingness to host a Petaluma event.

I was puzzled by lateness of the request.  Between the frequent StrongTowns focus of this blog, the discussions at Petaluma Urban Chat, and the community activism of those who have been influenced by one or both, I would have expected to learn of the planned visit earlier in the planning process.

But the key point was the StrongTowns message, not the social niceties of who was told what and when, so I responded with enthusiasm about organizing a Petaluma event.  I also began contacting key local folks, asking them to reserve possible dates.

I received a good response.  Many people, looking at the history of Petaluma as the originator of the Urban Growth Boundary concept and as an early adopter of form-based codes and at the future of Petaluma with its looming land-use decisions such as downtown transit-oriented development, second SMART station location, and Fairgrounds reuse, were thrilled by the idea of a StrongTowns event in Petaluma and eagerly vowed to support it.

Last evening, I called a special meeting of Urban Chat to do further planning.  Although the holiday week attendance was less than I would have wished, there was further enthusiasm and promises of financial and tactical support.  Combined with communications received from those who couldn’t attend but who were enthusiastic about a Petaluma event, I felt that with hard work we could host a great event and perhaps nudge Petaluma closer to an urbanist future.

I awoke this morning to a mental list of meeting planning tasks that required my attention.  I also awoke to an email advising me that the Santa Rosa organizers had decided that there wasn’t room in the schedule for a Petaluma event, but that Petaluma was welcome to send a contingent to one of the meetings in Santa Rosa.

Honestly, I’m irritated and will be for awhile.  A quick response to StrongTowns resulted in an acknowledgment that something had gone awry in the planning process, that the lessons learned would be applied to future event planning, and that there was a good likelihood of further 2016 StrongTowns trips to the Bay Area, perhaps as early as February, with a Petaluma event high on the list of target destinations.

The StrongTowns response was appreciated, but the initial snub still stings.  However, after a few deep breaths, what remained was the reminder that it’s the StrongTowns message of financial sustainability that’s important, not organizational mishaps.  So I’ll write about StrongTowns often in the coming weeks to encourage folks to attend the Santa Rosa event.

Also, I’ll set two goals for Petaluma’s StrongTowns involvement in 2016.

First, I want to bring a contingent from Petaluma to Santa Rosa for one of the January public events that will outnumber the Santa Rosa folks in the room.  I don’t know which of the events will be the best to attend (I’ll likely attend all three), but will coordinate with local folks about what works for them.  If Petaluma folks can, to the extent possible, block out all three evenings of January 19, 20, and 21, it would be appreciated.  (I have previous commitments on all three nights.  I’ll begin canceling them later today.)

Second, I want the Petaluma StrongTowns event that may occur during 2016 to be among the best events in which the StrongTowns folks participate all year.  I’ll stay in coordination with StrongTowns about dates and will look for support from Petaluma folks as soon as a date is established.

And for my North Bay readers who aren’t from Petaluma, but have nonetheless stayed with me during my rant, I’ll encourage you to participate in the upcoming Santa Rosa events and to ready yourselves for a later Petaluma event.

Now, I’m going to spend the rest of my day grumbling at the world.

My next post will fall on New Year’s Day.  As if the goals laid out above aren’t enough, I’ll write about my urbanist resolutions for the New Year.

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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