Friday, October 19, 2012

Petaluma Urban Chat Goes Upriver

As I’ve written before, there is a small urbanism group coming together in Petaluma.  We meet monthly to discuss this blog, urbanism in general, and whatever else seems interesting in southern Sonoma County.  We call ourselves “Petaluma Urban Chat”.

The name “Petaluma Urban Chat” was initially intended as a placeholder.  However, as placeholders often do in the absence of catchy alternatives, it seems likely to become our permanent moniker.  In contrast to the PACs that are so prevalent in the election season news, we’re a “PUC”.  And if we ignore the Public Utility Commission, there is a soupcon of Shakespearian whimsy in the name.

Two weeks ago, we accepted the gracious offer of one of our members to take an eventide cruise on the Petaluma River.  His boat, the Killara, a classic wooden motor launch from 1929, was a perfect vessel for a quiet cruise of observation and insight in the dwindling hours of daylight.

Departing from the marina behind the Sheraton, we cruised upstream to the Turning Basin, and then back downstream, going past the marina and partway to San Pablo Bay before the setting sun told us it was time to return to Killara’s home berth.   Topping off an already exceptional evening, we sat aboard the Killara, moored in the darkening marina and illuminated only by the cabin light, sipping on beverages, nibbling on snacks, and talking about the insights from the cruise.

From the water, we saw the same town that we experience every day, but from very different angles.  We saw the soaring concrete that carries 101 across the river, the work boats and barges that represent the continuing river commerce, the Foundry Wharf office buildings overlooking the river, the old livery stable undergoing a transformation into the River Heritage Center, and the D Street drawbridge, perhaps the single point of greatest connection and conflict between the river and the town.

Nor were we alone on the river.  Far from it.  We shared the water with kayakers, rowers, waterfowl, and fisherman, along with a sailboat making its slow way toward San Francisco Bay.

Were there insights?  Of course.  It’d be nearly impossible to look at familiar objects from unfamiliar angles and not have ideas combine in new and exciting ways.  And those insights will find their way into this blog over the coming weeks and months.

But for today, we’ll just relish the beauty of a peaceful evening on a river, viewing a river-oriented town.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

Note: The photos of the freeway overpass, River Heritage Center, lower river, and post-cruise conversation are by Paul Werbaneth.

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