Friday, December 2, 2011

Our Title Explained

Thanks for returning for another post of “Where Do We Go from Here?”   Today, I’ll talk about the title we’ve selected for our blog.

“Where Do We Go from Here?” refers to the decisions that our communities are continually making about the shape of land-uses around us.  For at least four reasons, the early 21st century could be a watershed in land-use planning.

In 2011, we have a century of auto-centric land-use forms around us, the freeways, strip malls, fast food drive-thrus, and separation of land uses.  We also have the remnants of the earlier land-use forms that reflected previous types of transportation, the more pedestrian-friendly downtown shopping districts, the older residential neighborhoods that often include small retail uses, and the road patterns that feature access toward town centers rather than access toward freeways.  We’re lucky to have these alternative forms of land use around us.  They can help inform the decisions about our future.

Next, we’re in the midst of perhaps the greatest economic turmoil of our lifetimes.  New development has been at a near standstill for several years.  As the economic engine begins turning over again (which it eventually must, right?), an unprecedented number of land-use proposals may present themselves for our review.  How we prioritize, process, and comment upon the proposals will greatly affect our future.

Also, we’re in an era of uncertain transportation options.   There is increasing awareness that oil can’t last forever and even if it does, it’s likely producing undesirable environmental results.  At the same time, science and engineering are working to find more sustainable approaches to transportation that may allow us to continue an automobile society.  To what extent that we think that scientists and engineers will help bail us out of the oil-based cul-de-sac into which we’ve driven is a key to our land-use decisions.

Lastly, although sometimes imperfect, we have more institutions in place than ever which allow us to comment on the land-use decisions before us.  (This blog is an example.)

Indeed, “Where Do We Go from Here?”  The power to decide our future is in our hands.  Our obligation to our descendents is to make wise decisions.

Although the Google blog format doesn’t allow us to include the entire name, the subtitle on our blog is “Tomorrow, Next Month, and a Hundred Years from Now”.  Those additional words refer to the fact that what we say at a City Council meeting tomorrow night and what policies we endorse at a polling place next month will affect the way our communities will look a hundred years from now.  That is an awe-inspiring responsibility.   At first, it might stretch credulity.  But if you live in one of the older North Bay communities, the evidence is all around you.  Those communities are based around land maps that were prepared in the 19th and early 20th centuries.   Even if the original buildings are gone, the streets remain where originally constructed and the replacement buildings occupy the same lots as their predecessors.  The antecedents of Healdsburg Plaza, Sonoma Plaza, and downtown Petaluma all go back more than 100 years.

And those are just the physical forms.   Whether we allow a chain home improvement store in our communities may help determine whether there are downtown hardware stores for the next generation.  Our decisions will echo into the future.  We must consider them wisely.

But the choices are not ours alone.  Developers and lenders will only proceed with projects if they have a high degree of confidence that their investments will be recouped and profits made.  Drawing pretty sketches doesn’t put a single shovel in the ground.  It is a fine line, often a nearly invisible line, that must be walked.  But finding that line is our obligation to succeeding generations.

And that is how we choose the title of our blog.  As always, please feel free to comment below or to email either of us. - Dave Alden (

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