Friday, May 20, 2016

Making Course Adjustments

Urbanist neighborhood near Portland, Oregon
After many years of writing this blog, it’s time to make some changes.

One of the most pervasive bits of advice offered to wannabe writers is to write.  Talking about the theories of rhetoric, of plotting, of sentence structure, and of grammar all have their places, but experts say that skill at writing only grows when pen is touching paper or fingers are touching keyboard.

From my earliest days of putting a No. 2 pencil to lined paper, I’ve believed the advice.  And I’ve generally found it to be true, whether as a high school student trying my hand at short stories, an engineer assembling feasibility studies, or an urban advocate putting my thoughts into this space.

Although I’m usually pleased when I look back at my earliest blogging efforts from back in 2011, finding that most of the posts has stood up well enough over time, I also think I can discern that I’ve become a better writer, more aware of logical structure and better capable of addressing the questions that readers will pose before they have a chance to organize their thoughts.  (I have one reader in particular who often congratulates me on the latter skill.  His words never fail to please me.)

But I also recognize that one skill has failed to grow.  I find myself increasingly incapable of producing words at an effective pace.  Instead, as my ability to be cogent and comprehensive has slowly grown, my ability to do so on the clock seems to have declined at an even greater rate.

I publish three new posts each week.  And I haven’t missed a single post in the history of this blog.  (In an oft-told story, a partner and I began this blog together, equally sharing the writing task.  Given the arrangement, we adopted a three times weekly schedule to give enough new content to keep readers coming back.  The partner opted out shortly after launch, my efforts to find a new partner have come to naught,  and I’ve written three times each week by myself ever since.  It was never my plan, but here I am.)

I’m finding the finishing the three posts increasingly difficult, a fact evidenced by my publishing times.  For a long time, 8:30am was my target time for publishing.  Then I decided that any time before noon was acceptable.  Then the afternoon, with the occasional evening, became increasingly common.  Most recently, I’ve decided that I could live with any time before I retire for the night.  As a result, a couple of recent posts have been published at 12:02am the day after my scheduled publishing day.

And it can yet become worse.  Even as I struggle with timeliness, I can see that other factors, personal, familial, professional, and civic, could soon crimp my writing time.

Meanwhile, I’m becoming increasingly concerned that this blog is missing a key element of urbanist advocacy.  Most of what I write is targeted toward opening people to the possibilities and benefits of urbanism, with the goal that they become advocates for better land-use planning.  But even as I gain ground in the educational effort, I find that readers are unsure what to do with the new information, often unaware of how to convert new convictions into community change.

It’s not a question with an easy answer because the pressure points where change can be effected are often elusive.  But the first step is becoming familiar with the decision makers and the processes, which means becoming involved and attending public meeting with urbanist aspects.

To address with these concerns about time devoted to writing while also providing the information that readers need to help change their communities, I’ll be adding three elements to this blog.

First, I’ll write more posts that are more collections of links, although usually organized around a single urbanist topic.  I’d planned one of these posts for today, but have already claimed too much of your attention, so it’ll await my next post.

Second, I’ll provide dates and times for meetings that citizen activists may wish to attend for the land-use aspects.  How well I can track down all meetings in the North Bay is uncertain.  Assistance from other folks in the North Bay would be appreciated.  As of today, the list below includes a review of scheduled municipal meetings in Novato, Petaluma, and Cotati, although next week will be a slow week for meetings at city halls.

Third, I’ll note other opportunities to become involved citizens.

I don’t yet know how I fold these new elements into my current blend of posts.  I have ideas, but will play with different patterns over the next few weeks.

 For today, my first lists of upcoming meetings and other involvement opportunities are provided below.

Upcoming Meetings

Tuesday, May 24, 7:00, Cotati City Hall – The Cotati City Council meeting will include consideration of a November ballot measure to extend the current Urban Growth Boundary through 2048.  It seems a mostly uncontroversial proposal and is consistent with the already adopted General Plan.

Wednesday, June 8, 7:00, Aqus Café, 2nd and H Streets, Petaluma – Petaluma Urban Chat will discuss the Plan Bay Area 2040 process that will set priorities for transportation funding.

Monday, June 13, 6:00, Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, Santa Rosa – MTC and ABAG will host the Sonoma County open house for Plan Bay Area 2040.

Other Involvement Opportunities

 City of Petaluma – The City is seeking volunteers for opening on City Commissions and Committees.

California Road Charge – Volunteers are being sought to help conduct a pilot study on the use of vehicle mileage charges to replace the gas tax.  (I’ve previously signed up.)

SMART – The SMART Board is seeking your thoughts on a fare structure.  It’s a rather simple poll allowing folks to easily support only the lower fares.  But before you vote, remember the higher fares will help toward extending the SMART system and completing the bike-pedestrian path.

So there are two of the new elements proposed for the blog.  The third will be introduced in my next post, when I provide several links that try to answer the question “Why urbanism?”

Thanks for being tolerant of the changes that I’m trying to make.  I remain committed to urbanism, but need to reduce the hours I spend at the keyboard, while also providing more direction to readers on how to make a difference in their communities.

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


  1. These changes sound great and useful. Looking forward to reading more.

    1. Adriann, I hope they're useful. I'll know when I start seeing more people participating in the process. Thanks for the comment.