It's interesting how people delight in visiting quaint towns and say something like, "It's like it's right out of the movies." Directors go to great lengths to find or create the perfect setting for the stories they tell on the big screen, but every idea in their head for such a set comes from some real places.
Terms like smart growth, sustainability, and placemaking are becoming buzz words in urban and suburban communities that are looking for new, more creative ways to build new communities. Urban sprawl is becoming more and more a mistake of the past as developers and local communities start to grasp the concept of identity and its importance. This has led them to design town centers, business district, squares and main streets that are more walkable, creative and community-oriented.
Michael Ryan of Smart Growth America says, "Creating attractive places where people want to be increases foot traffic and helps support the local economy. He also points out that, "Interesting places with more community interaction also reduce crime and instill a sense of identity to a neighborhood." He also says making a town into the place to be "is a way to boost safety by increasing people and eyes on the street."
Towns like Sebastopol, near Santa Rosa, Ca. where I'm visiting, bring together a variety of smart growth and placemaking practices that just work. In this town you will find abandoned barns and warehouses converted into coffee shops and small breweries. The shops in the center of town have attractive storefronts, and public parking spaces are not too hard to find.
The one problem I see with many smart growth programs is that they are usually state or local government programs. It is my hope that in the future, residents and local businesses start taking an initiative so they don't need laws telling them how to build community. Below is a slideshow of what I'm talking about. A neighborhood in Sebastopol has artwork made of recycled parts on almost every front lawn. I find it hard to believe that some local ordinance requires this. It looks to me like an authentic initiative by the residents.