Monday, December 1, 2014

Searching the North Bay for Great Streets

I’ve often written that the blog is about urbanism in the entire North Bay.  And yet, when I focus on site-specific topics, most are in Petaluma.

 There are two reasons for being Petaluma-centric.  First, I live in Petaluma and am active in some lesser arenas of city government, so Petaluma issues are constantly parading before my eyes.

Second, it can be hard to get traction on the local affairs of other North Bay cities when not in the community on a daily basis.

In a small way, I’ll try to tackle the second of those hurdles with a 2014 holiday season initiative.

The Project for Public Places (PPS) has a reference article about what makes great streets, places that serve the transportation needs of a community, including vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian, while also providing a place for folks to gather, to chat, and to engage in commerce.

The moderately long article is worth your time.  I recommend reading all of it.  But in case you don’t, these are the two excerpts that struck me most forcefully:

“Transportation is a means for accomplishing important goals—like economic productivity and social engagement—not an end in itself.”

“Transportation professionals can no longer pretend that land use is not their business. Transportation projects that were not integrated with land use planning have created too many negative impacts to ignore.”

The article concludes with ten standards with which to measure possible great streets: Attractions and destinations, Identity and image, Active edge uses, Amenities, Management, Seasonal strategies, Diverse user groups, Traffic, transit and the pedestrian, Blending of uses and modes, and Neighborhood preservation.

With the possible exception of the last point (I’m not convinced that the line between residential neighborhoods and downtowns needs to be distinctive), I’m in full accordance with the list

I’ll use the list as basis for holiday time visits to the cities of the North Bay.  While on my day trips, I’ll look with a critical eye at downtown streets, using the PPS standards as yardsticks.  My goal is to identify the best street in each community, with the results reported here.

In addition to the ten standards, I’ll also require that a street segment must be at least four blocks in length to be considered.  Much like the proverbial blind pig, any city can stumble into a great city block or two, but four blocks is long enough to hopefully indicate good planning more than good luck.

Given other scheduled posts, I probably can’t fully report on my observations until well into the winter, but my intention is to complete all trips by Epiphany, January 6.  Seeing the streets in their seasonal finery will provide a common reference point.

This exercise will also force me to define what I’ve meant by “North Bay”.  I’m thinking all of Marin, Sonoma, and Napa Counties, along with the western portions of Solano County.  But if someone has a different definition, please share.

Given the winter weather pattern that seems to have reestablished itself, and having no interest in photographing great streets on rainy days, I’ll be flexible in my schedule, setting aside other tasks and hitting the road when a sunny day offers itself.  (It’ll be like living in Seattle again.)

Lastly, this task needn’t be a solo effort.  If you live near Petaluma and would like to accompany me on an outing or two, let me know.  And if you live in another North Bay city and would like to show off the favorite streets in your city, and perhaps grab a meal in a downtown diner, let me know.

I’m excited about this effort.  I’m looking forward to the travels and to sharing the results.

Next up, I’ll introduce Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a philosopher/writer with a perspective on current events and history that provides an unexpected justification for urbanism.

Schedule Notes

As a reminder, the next meeting of Petaluma Chat will be Tuesday, December 9.  The topic will be a continuation of the well-attended November meeting on the Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds.  Having settled upon a package of uses for the possible redevelopment of 30 acres of the Fairgrounds, we’ll tackle the question of which 30 acres it should be.

As always, all are welcome.  Even if you haven’t participated before, you’re still welcome to join us.  We’ll meet in the backroom of Taps, 54 E. Washington Street, Petaluma.  (Across the parking lot from Dempsey’s and not far from the east end of the Balshaw Bridge.)  We’ll convene at 5:30 and conclude around 7:00.

Also, in more of a milestone note, this blog was begun on the Monday after Thanksgiving 2011.  So today marks the beginning of year four.  Thanks for hanging out with me as we try to change the world, one urbanist advance at a time.

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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