Durable Growth

Coming together to learn and to explore

Downtown Petaluma on American Graffiti weekend

Downtown Petaluma on American Graffiti weekend

For my few last posts, I’ve been obsessive.  I’ll acknowledge it.  Besides, obsession is sometimes the correct reaction.  But it’s now time to close the door and to move on, although not until after today’s post.

For readers entering the conversation here, I’ll give a quick recap.  About ten days back, a video was published on social media listing all land-use projects proposed for Petaluma.  Although we likely differ on tactics, the poster largely agrees with my walkable urbanist land-use philosophy.  Unfortunately, his video didn’t use that perspective, but was instead a simple recitation of projects as interpreted from City data, with a disappointing number of inadvertent errors.

From personal experience, I know that information in that form can often result in a public furor.  The uproar may quickly pass away, but often leaves more harm than good in its trail.

So, as the commotion began, I joined the conversation with a series of posts.  First, I recounted a personal experience in which similar public hubbubs resulted in new rules that pushed us incrementally down the road toward climate change.  Next, I wrote about how education, persistence, and opportunity are essential factors in effective public input.  And then, I described a week in my life as an example of public participation, acknowledging that I give more time than most people can, but still hoping to provide inspiration.

Throughout these posts, I often noted the need for a gathering where ideas can be exchanged, building community knowledge about land-use practices, processes, and opportunities.

Luckily, the gathering already exists.  Early in the history of this blog, which now goes back nearly five years, a couple of eager readers suggested  meeting for a discussion on the topics about which I was writing.  We picked Aqus Café as a meeting place, assembled on the designated date, and had a great conversation.  We decided to meet again the following month.  From that beginning, Petaluma Urban Chat was born.

I won’t pretend that the endeavor has always thrived.  Instead, directing Urban Chat has been much like managing a gym.  Lots of folks sign up for annual memberships on January 2 and are gone for good by January 15 when they realize that six-pack abs take more than a few rounds of sit-ups.

Urban Chat has been similarly subject to peaks and valleys, as the enthusiasm of new urbanist converts succumbed to the reality of the effort needed to change the world.

Despite the swings in participation, Urban Chat has accomplished a lot.  The Urban Chat group collectively read books by Jeff Speck, Charles Montgomery, and Chuck Marohn.  Indeed, it was Urban Chat that first forced me to pay serious attention to Marohn’s StrongTowns arguments, which have had a deep impact on this blog.

Urban Chat assembled a conceptual master plan for the reuse of the Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds, an effort that has been waylaid by the slow pace of others involved with the Fairgrounds, but remains ready to be reactivated at the right time.

Urban Chat mustered a large turnout for the StrongTowns/Urban3 presentations in Santa Rosa earlier this year, resulting in Petaluma having the greatest per capita participation of any North Bay city.

Urban Chat was the springboard for a working group that is now developing a parklet policy for possible adoption by the City of Petaluma.

It has even been the inspiration for a similar group in Iowa.

Through all those accomplishments, Urban Chat has also remained a place to talk about the urbanist changes and challenges coming to Petaluma.

Yet there is still much room for Urban Chat to fill a bigger community role.  Perhaps the furor around the video can attract new participants who will finally create a critical mass.

The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for May 10, 5:30p, at the Aqus Café, 2nd and H Streets in Petaluma.  As always, all are welcome.

However, the standard meeting time on the second Tuesday of each month was set long ago, conforming to personal constraints that may no longer apply.  I’ll soon poll the current Urban Chat mailing list to ask if another date might work better.  If you’d like to be added to the mailing list to participate in that decision and in future meetings, let me know.  An email or a comment would be fine.

One last thought about Urban Chat.  It’s a democracy that goes where the group wishes to go.  But, as the longest standing voice at the table, I will object strongly if we begin pointing fingers.  Comments that all elected officials are corrupt, that all developers are greedy, or that all city employees are biding their time until they become eligible for pensions will all attract my ire.

I believe strongly that we’re almost all good people, responding rationally to the system.  Our job isn’t to assign blame, but to change the system so the future rational actions get us closer to the results we want.  It’s not an easy job, but it’s an essential job.

I’ll hope to see many new faces at the next meeting of Petaluma Urban Chat.

A few weeks back, I noted how the newly adopted City of Petaluma sidewalk policy highlighted the failure of the drivable suburban model.  Since then, a couple of documents have come across my desk that emphatically drive that point home.  So, my next post will the intellectually lazy task of revisiting the earlier post with new data.

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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