Wednesday, November 6, 2013

City Repair: Petaluma

In my last post, I wrote about City Repair and their approach to neighborhood self-improvement.

A point that I should have made is that, because City Repair projects have few sources of funding except for the neighbors themselves, projects tend to be low-cost and labor-intensive.  Of necessity, City Repair projects are grass-roots, hands-on efforts.  Broad neighborhood buy-in is essential, which makes improved neighborhood cohesion another product of City Repair.  In many cases, that cohesiveness may be even more important to the neighborhood than the project itself.

I closed my last post with a note that a City Repair group was trying to organize in Petaluma.

I probably should have said that another City Repair group was trying to organize in Petaluma.  Given the need for broad consensus, City Repair efforts tend to go through several false starts before gaining traction.  And Petaluma is no different.  I don’t know the entire Petaluma history of City Repair efforts, but I know that the current organizers aren’t the first to suggest this type of concept.

However, the current organizers seem particularly motivated and connected, so may be the ones to move City Repair ahead.

The key players are Rachel Kaplan, long-time community activist and author of “Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living” and John Crowley, owner of the Aqus CafĂ©.  (I’m also participating in the organizing efforts and hope to bring the commitment of Petaluma Urban Chat into City Repair Petaluma.)

John has long championed efforts like City Repair and persuaded Rachel to head the current effort.  I recently communicated with John and Rachel about their views on the fledgling City Repair Petaluma effort.

The two bring complementary perspectives to the effort.  John focuses on the bigger picture of community engagement and relationship building, noting his hope of “using City Repair to create community.”  Rachel looks more at the specific projects that might result, “I love the City Repair mindset, and the idea of bringing people together to deepen their relationship with place. Most of my work as an artist and healer has circled around this issue of place, home, and belonging.”
John has thought about specific neighborhoods as possible City Repair sites, noting “Oakhill/Brewster, the  Warehouse district, and Old East Petaluma”, although he agrees with Rachel in thinking that “I would hope to see engaged people in any neighborhood coming forward to work for the places where they live.  I don't have a preference or a leaning toward any particular neighborhood.”
Although both are familiar with City Repair and have heard City Repair spokesman Mark Lakeman speak, neither has assembled a City Repair project.   John notes that his background is in “general community building”, while Rachel mentions her “long history of creative political activism that integrates art practice, resistance culture, and social change agendas.”
The two have similar hopes for the future of City Repair Petaluma, although Rachel sees City Repair as an end itself, while Crowley has hopes of City Repair acting as a catalyst for community change.  Rachel hopes for City Repair to become “an active, self-generating force for creating beauty, abundance, and a culture of lively arts throughout our city”, while Crowley hopes that “City Repair Petaluma will be the fulcrum that helps Petaluma become a community-centric  art and people-loving city where neighborhoods are proud of the projects created by the community.”
To date, two organizing meetings have been held from which resulted in efforts to reach out to particular neighborhoods.

However, the question of which neighborhood is the first site for City Repair remains completely open.  That determination will be based solely on the ability of a neighborhood to coalesce around a vision.  Rachel, John, and others are eager to assist, but a project vision and enthusiasm must ultimately spring from within a neighborhood.
The next step, which will hopefully prove crucial in moving the concept ahead, will be a joint meeting of City Repair Petaluma and Petaluma Urban Chat.  We’ll meet at the established Urban Chat date and time, which will be Tuesday, November 12 at 5:30pm.  However, to accommodate the anticipated larger attendance, the meeting will be moved to the Petaluma Arts Center on Lakeville Boulevard.  We’ll view a City Repair movie and talk about where to go with this idea.

Everyone is welcome, whether a resident of neighborhood that might be a City Repair site or someone with a broader interest in the transformational potential of City Repair.  There is no cost to attend, although a $5 per person donation to the Arts Center is suggested in recognition of their generous offer of a meeting place.

Many City Repair projects have involved intersection painting.  And intersection painting is often a fine idea.  But we needn’t limit ourselves.  In my next post, I’ll offer other suggestions to consider and perhaps to build upon.

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


  1. Dave, I know John Crowley and I have heard before about City Repair projects. You can bet I will be at the Nov. 12 meeting with bells on. I do not know Rachel Kaplan but if she is as close to her own words as John Crowley has always been with his during all the years I have known him in Petaluma, you are absolutely right in their complementary capacities. I apologize if I am not skeptical enough, but I too have observed John's effectiveness at reaching out and connecting with many, many people in our community and sustaining the necessary motivation to carry out significant community-building undertakings with creativity and joy.

    1. Barry, as always, your enthusiasm is appreciated. Please be aware that John, as he often does, double-booked himself so he won't be at the Tuesday meeting. But his "creativty and joy" will be there regardless.