Friday, November 8, 2013

City Repair: Ponder the Possibilities

In recent posts, I’ve acquainted readers with City Repair, an organizational approach to grass-roots neighborhood improvements.  I’ve also introduced a fledgling City Repair effort in Petaluma.  Today, I’ll write about the kind of projects a City Repair group might tackle.

Intersections are logical places for neighborhood improvements.  Between the cross-traffic and the pedestrians, traffic hazards increase and most accidents happen at intersections.

Slowing traffic is a proven way of reducing risk.  And painting a design on the intersection pavement is a proven way of reducing speed.

So intersection painting, by slowing traffic, reducing accidents, and improving pedestrian safety, is a reasonable neighborhood project.  Plus, with its relatively low costs and large labor needs, it’s a good fit for City Repair.

However, most everyone reaches that conclusion, usually with unfortunate haste.  The first City Repair project was the painting of an intersection.  Most City Repair projects since then have been intersection painting.  When one searches online for City Repair photos, the most common image is smiling people surrounding a newly painted intersection.  When the initial City Repair Petaluma meeting convened, among the first questions asked were “Where do we buy paint?” and “Who draws the design?”  Intersection Repair has become a virtual synonym for City Repair.

All of which is a shame.  Intersection painting is an appropriate project for many neighborhoods, but we’re missing an opportunity if we don’t look at a broader range of possibilities before narrowing in.

At the upcoming meeting of City Repair Petaluma (details below), participants will be encouraged to imagine several different types of projects.  The goal will be to learn if there are ideas that might trump intersection painting.

To get the creative juices flowing, here are several ideas I can imagine.

Sidewalk benches:  Awhile back, I wrote about a Canadian who built a bench in his frontyard, a bench that was provided for use by neighbors and other passersby.  The bench was soon utilized by many and continues to serve the neighborhood five years later.  If the right location presents itself, I can see a neighborhood bench being a fine City Repair project.

Bookshare kiosk: I recently read of a neighborhood building a small kiosk where used books could be left for claiming by others.

Median landscaping: In Petaluma, there are several residential public streets with medians that are largely untended.  Organizing a neighborhood effort to landscape and maintain the median might change the character of the neighborhood.

Toolshed: A query sometimes voiced is why all the residents on a street need to own a lawnmower, hedgetrimmer, skillsaw, and power drill when none of those tools are used more than occasionally.  If appropriate maintenance of the tools can be ensured, communal use could be a cost savings for all.  And a shed to house the tools would simplify the sharing.

Not every neighborhood will have a site appropriate for a toolshed, but where a good site exists, toolshed construction could be a fine City Repair project.

Perhaps none of these projects make as much sense for a specific neighborhood as intersection painting.  But if we don’t at least ask the question, we don’t know.

And the time to begin asking will be the upcoming joint meeting of City Repair Petaluma and Petaluma Urban Chat.  We’ll meet on Tuesday, November 12.  We’ll begin gathering at 5:30pm, with the discussion and movie starting a little before 6:00pm.  The meeting place will be the Petaluma Arts Center at 230 Lakeville Street.  The meeting is free, although a $5 donation to the Arts Center is suggested.

Everyone is welcome, whether neighborhood activist or an interested observer.  Let’s see if we can get some traction.

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

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