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June 25, 2015


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@Soleri: (building upon the last TBT) came across this yesterday.


Warning….Warning….Warning….. The article has a lot of pictures and if you’re on a tight data plan, you might want to wait until a visit to Starbuck’s to open. It’s about downtown Santa Rosa, Cali but I think this is what Phoenix needs to look like for a livable in-town neighborhood. These areas do not need to be large; a block or two is plenty.
Would you travel to specifically visit it? Not really. But would you like to live within a mile of it? I think so.

wkg, I visited Santa Rosa a few years ago but I'll confess I didn't really come away with a great feeling. For one thing, there's a suburban-style mall downtown, the kind that was meant to enliven but instead deadened its location. But the pictures do not lie. There are some really good bones here. It's also very pricey - this is California, near the coast, and near very high-value areas like San Francisco and the Napa Valley. The problem they face is getting millenials and urban pioneers living in a place that doesn't quite generate the excitement you might wish.

Down the coast is San Luis Obispo, which is much better but has similar issues. It's a college town with two great streets. But it's also a bit isolated. I really liked it but I would never dream of living there. It's a classic small city but if it's going to boom, will be with retirees wanting suburban space with a few urban amenities nearby (see also: Santa Rosa).

I saw something on the other end of this scale in Klamath Falls, Oregon - classic main street with significant architectural assets but swimming in a wide sea of suburban crud now. This was like finding a diamond in a cesspool.

Other interesting places on the small-but-beautiful scale: Santa, Cruz, CA, Eureka/Arcata, CA, Ashland, OR, Bellingham, WA, and a bit larger but wrestling with the same issues, Spokane, WA. Maybe because it is bigger, I wondered if Spokane might break through to a kind of regional urban mecca level like Asheville, NC. I spend a few days there some years back and despite its wonderful bones, I knew it was hopeless. How many people want to live in a region more defined by meth labs, evangelical Christians, white survivalists, and don't-tread-on-me gun nuts?

Phoenix was similar to Santa Rosa some 60 years ago. The problem since then is that its downtown got big-city aspirations, so there are huge swaths that were clear-cut for a boom that never gelled. The big deal today is a large bio-medical campus. It appears to be taking off but it could be anywhere - there are really no anchoring buildings that create urban magic. There is also a boom in cheaply constructed if expensive apartments going on now. I have mixed feelings here since more people cannot hurt a downtown as comatose as Phoenix's. But the problem is that you really can't fake urbanism. The people moving downtown will still have cars and the spatial requirements that come with them. The variegated urban ecology you want cannot be force-fed into existence. That part died when Phoenix boomed. I'm old enough to remember when Phoenix still had some urban character and I watched its slow death with regret and resignation. It's too late for resurrection but not too late for the Josephine Tussaud brand of urban place-making.

OT but necessary reading: Arizona's love/hate relationship with Obamacare. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/theslice/conservatives-obamacare-scotus-subsidies-arizona

Great quote: [Jan] Brewer, whose gubernatorial term expired in January, says she still has “the scars on my back” from clashing with Arizona’s Republican hardliners. “We have some really, really—I don’t even know if they’re right-wing Republicans, they’re libertarians,” she tells me in an interview in a downtown Phoenix law office. “They’re anarchists. And they’re mean!”


I have been fortunate enough to visit (although never live in) some of the cities you and Soleri are discussing (Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz). They are breathtakingly beautiful, charming, and generally devoid of a lot of the insanity associated with living in California.

Reflecting all of that, they are also crazy expensive.

Santa Barbara might be the best of them all; and I get Carmel. Could never afford to live there, but I get it.

If you've never had the chance, a week or two vacation in California up or down the coast can be a lot of fun. There are areas where the natural geography is almost overwhelming.

Soleri writes:

"Phoenix was similar to Santa Rosa some 60 years ago."

Well, I guess so.

Other than the geography, the climate, the proximity to the Pacific ocean, the whole "wine country" deal, the location, the proximity to what was becoming Silicon Valley, the distance from Mexico or to San Francisco, the two were almost carbon copies of each other.

If you want to take pot shots at Phoenix, knock yourself out. But comparing it to Santa Rosa at any time is beyond stupid.

Too funny. A thread about trains and three guest engineers drove the thread off the tracks immediately.

Don't forget yourself, Ruben.

INPHX, your attack style of commenting probably plays well on Redstate.com or talk radio, but I think for people with IQs over 100, it was obvious what I was referring to: the built environment of the cities being discussed. Go ahead and play stupid or play pedantic or just play in traffic, but my point was made in casual conversation, not an affidavit or an Emil-like term paper.

Santa Rosa has been helped by commuter rail service opening. The trick will be getting it to the ferries connecting to "the City" (SF), but it's a decent start.

Spokane has surprisingly good bones downtown. Alas, it has only two daily trains. You can go to Seattle or Portland, but they come in the middle of the night. Also, Spokane is surrounded by right-wing car-dependent exurbia, tilting the vote red. Not surprisingly, the economy struggles.


I don't think the Santa Rosa commuter rail line is open yet- looks like Fall of 2016.



Delayed several times- funding problems.


Is that the right rail line or am I missing something?

My bad, INPHX, you are correct. Here are the details:


California is steadily building passenger trains and they are being used. The transformation in Southern California is amazing.

Santa Rosa is the territory of the old Northwestern Pacific, a division of the SP and beloved of railfans.



I have been following the proposed High Speed Rail in California fairly closely and somehow stumbled upon the expansion of the shorter, commuter lines while reading. That's why I was aware of the delays in the SF metro area.

It does appear that a lot of property values shot up when the commuter lines were proposed.

Spokane, here I come !

Soleri, thanks for the ACA article link.

This poor old train of a thread never got up enough momentum to make it over the El Cajon pass and now it's sitting on a siding in Riverside, CA waiting for another engine from Bakersfield to give it a push.

Kind of sounds like an old Buck Owens song.

Traffic has been good. Most don't comment.

I'm taking up a collection to get Ruben a ticket for a sleeper berth on the Siberian express from St. Petersburg to Beijing with a stop for Yak Whiskey. All aboard!

Can I take Caitlyn Jenner with me? She has some rubles she won't be using anymore.

She's busy with Bill.

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