Saturday, January 6, 2018

Rebooting with Passion

Walkable downtown of Hagerstown, Maryland
I'm back. After not having published in this space for more than a year, I’ve returned to blogging.

I’ve missed the readers here, but it’s been a mostly good year regardless.  I’ve used the break to regenerate from five years of blogging.  (This is my 744th blog post.  I may yet justify my hubris when I began numbering my posts at 0001.)  I’ve recuperated from my role in the local 2016 city council race and taken the repercussions that came from that effort.

I went through a frustratingly short stint as the land-use columnist for the local paper.  I’ve helped take Petaluma Urban Chat in new directions.  And I’ve tried the impossible task of adjusting to the new realities in the nation's capital.

But I've never forgotten the feeling of accomplishment and connection that came from writing in this space.  Few days have passed without me thinking of a topic I wanted to cover here.

My lack of output has never been a lack of interest, but only an overly full to-do list and a lack of time.

In the New Year, with the newspaper writing role terminated, I needed an outlet and so here I am.  And it may not be coincidental that this post will be published on Epiphany.

I don't have a particular subject about which to write today.  Instead, I’ll muse on where I want this blog to go and what new perspectives I’ll bring to the task.

To begin, most readers in Petaluma know that I've been involved in organizing a forum series, Know Before You Grow, that's gotten off to a good start, with an average attendance in the neighborhood of 75 for our first three events.  (For those not in Petaluma, I’ll write often about Know Before You Grow, filing in the backstory and perhaps encouraging you to emulate the effort in your town.)

To give structure to the forum series, the organizing team had to fix upon on a concise description of our mission.  We settled upon four “community values”: 

  • Housing for all
  • Mobility options
  • Climate action
  • Sustainable municipal finances

Every forum focuses on how land use, through either policies or proposed projects, can meet or fail to meet those values.

Today isn’t the day to delve into the implications of those four values.  But I believe strongly in the values and will always put them in the forefront of my thinking as I write.  All by themselves, settling on them made 2017 a good year.

But I can’t mention 2017 without noting the national dysfunction of the past year.  This won’t be a forum to discourse in general on the changes in the nation and in the capitol.  There are many others filling that role better than I can.  But I’ll touch often on how walkable urbanism, and the too frequent lack of it, may have played a role in the outcome of the November 2016 election and how the election results are in turn playing a role in future of walkable urbanism.

Sometime over the past year was a Twitter exchange that captured my thinking on the point.  As a reminder, Brent Toderian was the Vancouver Planning Director during the run-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics.  He has since left that post and is now a well-respected international urban planning consultant who tweets often about how national politics can affect local matters.

In response to the tweets, Hudson Bronson tweeted to Toderian, “Respectfully, wish you would stop tweeting about American politics so often.  Your city planning tweets are why I follow you.

In response, Kurtis Pozsgay tweeted back “Get out of here with this nonsense.  Planning and politics are intertwined.”  and The Tysons Corner added “Pretty tough to make good cities when feds try to rob cities of competitive advantage by giving money away to anywhere but cities.”

That pretty well sums it up.

So, those are my twin goals for this reboot, always writing from the perspective of the four Know Before You Grow goals and being constantly aware of the connection between local land use and the politics of Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

I don’t know the exact paths I’ll follow in pursuing those goals, but I’m looking forward to finding out.  And I’m glad you’re along for the ride.

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

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at Where Do We Go from Here. He can also be followed on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.


  1. Glad you're back blogging, Dave. I look forward to your thoughtful examination of issues.

    1. Cheryl, good to hear from you. How's the Marin County biking scene?

  2. Welcome back, Dave Alden and Where Do We Go From Here!

    It was your blogs, which I first saw in the fabled and once-great Petaluma Patch of Karina Ioffee in which I saw the articulations that I was first inspired to think that I, a regular old non-planner, could get a conceptual handle on land use in my community and join the walkability, etc., movement not just at the personal level but in and for the good of my town and state.

    Your thinking casts a great deal of light an clarity into complicated issues and makes politics talkable.

    1. Barry, I appreciate the kind words, although I think you exaggerate my contributions. What matters is that all of us are willing to raise our voices and to take part.