Thursday, January 25, 2018

Social Networks: Explaining My Ten

The Aqus Café, the social network hub
Today, I’ll digress from walkable urbanism to social networks.  But, as I believe one of the primary benefits of well-executed walkable urbanism will be more robust social networks, I haven’t gone too far afield.

Also, with apologies to my non-Petaluma readers, the specifics of this post are Petaluma-centric.  Feel free to skip ahead at the list of names.  I hope the more general conversation will still make the post worth your time.

A few nights ago, the Petaluma Arts Center opened a new exhibition.  “Power of Ten: Scaling Up” was inspired by “Powers of Ten”, a 1977 film by Charles and Ray Eames that explored the dimensions of our world.  The filmmakers scaled an image, in factors of ten, starting with a small picnic and then going up to a large chunk of the universe and down to a single atom.

In addition to honoring the film, the new exhibit also examines other perspectives on powers of ten.

One of those perspectives was social networks, how one key connector can influence ten other people who have their own ten connections, expanding into a network that changes the world.

Petaluma photographer Douglas Gayeton was asked to construct a photograph demonstrating a Petaluma social network based on the power of ten.  John Crowley, one of the owners of the Aqus Cafe where Petaluma Urban Chat was founded and an active participant in many local groups, was selected as the center of a social network.  It was a fine choice.

John picked his ten connections.  I was honored to be one of them.  The ten of us then selected our own ten connections.  The resulting photograph, from a session at Aqus with Crowley and his list of ten supplemented by descriptions of the members in the expanding network, is now on display at the exhibition.

I tell this story because picking my ten connections was a difficult task.  I could have simply picked the ten people who have been most active in my community activities, such as election efforts, Urban Chat, and the Urban Chat forum series, Know Before You Grow.  But that simple approach felt unsatisfying.

Instead, I struck upon an alternative plan.  In addition to picking a few stars from our jointly pursued activities, I also selected folks to serve as examples of groups of people who, even if I don’t often work shoulder-to-shoulder with them, I respect and take inspiration from.

Among those groups:

  • I wanted to acknowledge those whose lives could have allowed them to live anywhere in the world, but who chose to settle in Petaluma and to make a difference in our shared community.
  • I wanted to recognize people whose careers have given them a temporary stop in Petaluma and who, despite the expectation that they'll someday move on, have chosen to participate with enthusiasm and insight during their time here.
  • I wanted to thank those who, because of age or disability, can no longer take part with full vigor in the community, but who choose to remain active and vocal from their keyboards and their writing desks.
  • I wanted to recognize those who’ve had a difficult life, but have persevered and are now repaying their community for the helping hands they were offered.
  • I wanted to appreciate those who forsook the easier and more comfortable life path to pursue a passion for community good.
  • And I wanted to thank those who are always willing to lend a hand, often quietly and unobtrusively, to assist their community and its members in any way needed.

 Each of these struck me as a group well worthy of recognition, so I chose an example or two from each for my list.

Even though this approach felt right to me, I’m still uncomfortable when I think of people who I couldn’t fit into my ten, many of whom are likely readers here.  I can only assure you that at one point I had a list of fifty, on which you were certainly included, before I began the painful pruning.

So there are no surprises if you visit the exhibit, I’ll share my ten.   In random order, they are:

  • Sheila Baker
  • David Freedman
  • Dan Lyke
  • Ned Orrett
  • Panama Bartholomy
  • Kevin McDonnell
  • Don Curry
  • Ann Wurr
  • Hannah Beausang
  • Barry Bussewitz

 Feel free to quibble with my selection process.  You’ll probably make good points.  But I'll still stand by my decisions.

I hope you visit the exhibit which will run through March 24.  Petaluma Arts Center, 230 Lakeville Street, next to the SMART station.

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. He can also be followed on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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