Can we picture the Springs as it will be, as it should be? When I recently viewed “Picturing the Springs” by Michael Acker at the Depot Park Museum, I could not stop thinking about what our Springs community once was, what it is now, and what its future might be.
The photos and stories drew me into a different place and a different time. The place was hopping. Hot springs, pools, parties, dance halls, vacation cottages, hotels with verandas, the Springs was the place to be. The town of Sonoma was not.
Local entrepreneurs came up with all kinds of schemes and attractions for tourists. In the beginning it was not a car culture. Tourists came by train and strolled about the Springs easily. Later photos show cars parked along the commercial strip of the Springs, but the place is still vibrant, with all types of businesses along the highway.
We cannot go back to the past, but we can learn something from studying Mr. Acker’s exhibit. Though we don’t have tourists arriving by train, how about arriving by shuttle from hotels and other destinations? How about not creating a cookie-cutter strip as envisioned by most planners? Instead of trying to attract big investors and developers, why not start working with small, locally owned businesses?
While we will never become the hot springs, party culture of the past, how about community food vendors, food truck nights at parking lots, stalls in buildings for food vendors, artists, and crafts people, reaching out to local artists to paint murals on every building? And yes, even letting people run small businesses out of their own homes.
Yikes, this smacks of “commercialization” of our neighborhoods, you say. Well, if you want a community for the people, by the people, then maybe the people should be getting the economic benefit. Maybe they should have the independence to become small-time entrepreneurs. Maybe we should not have to all work for corporate giants and maybe we should all not have to rent from them either. And maybe, just maybe the corporate giants in our midst should start paying a living wage and think about their employees as partners and not commodities.
I went to Sacramento a few days ago. The endless, sameness of chain stores, strip malls, and car culture made me appreciate Sonoma Valley all the more. Why are we so afraid of anything different than this business model? Why do we fear bright color, a little chaos, variety, and diversity? And why do we fear mixing business, pleasure, and where we live?
One day on a walk up Keaton, a man invited me to view the remains of Keaton’s Shack. In its heyday, it was no shack. There was dining, dancing, drinking, and who knows what else going on up on that hillside. Reading about Keaton’s Shack at the Acker exhibit completed the picture.
Years ago I visited a planned community in Colorado, where housing and businesses were all mixed together in the same blocks, arranged around small parks or plazas. Different types of architecture were mixed together. Housing included large houses with ADUs in back, apartment buildings, and live work lofts. Many buildings had commercial space on the ground floor and housing above. We can do it here, we can make the Springs the place to be once again.