Locals Give Feedback on Healdsburg's Future

By Laurie Wachter

What is community to you? To your neighbors? To your local business owners? What should the future of your city look like?

A group of Healdsburg locals asked themselves those questions last November. They knew every community member would have a different vision of the future and wondered how to learn the community’s priorities.

They sought help from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) by applying for a Sustainable Design Assistance Team (SDAT) grant in December. The SDAT grant was an opportunity to get an unbiased, outside perspective.

Healdsburg’s proposal was one of only eight accepted in the entire country. The AIA visited in April to learn more about Healdsburg, its issues and its values. After listening to over 100 residents in five interactive sessions, they decided an SDAT project would be a good fit.

August 13 & 15 Town Meetings

At 6 pm on August 13th, a multi-disciplinary team of volunteer experts will arrive in Healdsburg. They will listen to as many voices as possible to learn what the community looks like from local eyes. The next day, they’ll integrate what they hear into a vision of Healdsburg’s possible futures. Then, on August 15th at 6pm, they’ll share their roadmap to the future with the entire community. Or at least as many as can fit into the Healdsburg High School gym (1024 Prince Ave,).

After that, it’s up to the community to choose which of the recommendations they want to implement right away and lay out next steps.

Everything old is new again

Back in 1982, Healdsburg was in the path of intense growth pressures. The Bay Area was expanding both in population and economy. Santa Rosa’s growth had exploded and was spilling over into Healdsburg. Commuting was increasing. Shoppers were heading into Santa Rosa, taking local sales and tax monies with them. Healdsburg was economically depressed. The fountain in the Plaza was a popular gathering spot for the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and several businesses surrounding the Plaza were boarded-up and vacant.

Healdsburg called on the AIA then, too. After an intense process, their Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) laid out a strategy for a stronger Healdsburg economy. They concluded, “Healdsburg is going to grow, but it faces some severe limits to the amount of growth. Change is coming and so is accompanying growth.”

The plan proposed three possible directions. Healdsburg chose to invest more in tourism, featuring Healdsburg’s agricultural tradition. The city continued acting as a service center for the vineyards. They also worked with the wineries to promote Healdsburg tourism. They drew visitors attracted by the vineyards, the Russian River scenic/recreation corridor and Lake Sonoma.

The result is Healdsburg as we know it today – a mecca for wine and food lovers, a scenic destination for bicyclists, boaters, rafters and fishermen, a home for retirees and much more – while still retaining its “hometown” feel.

Healdsburg’s Sustainable Future

When the AIA team came this April for their preliminary evaluation, they talked with people with diverse views of Healdsburg.

One resident told them, “when Healdsburg re-created itself from an agricultural town to tourism, they created a super-desirable place to live.” The only problem was that “all the people with money bought in.”

A young Healdsburg native said that he knows between 4 and 10 people who leave each month. Other voices chimed in to say, “there is no middle-class in this town” and “there are no places to live.” Someone noted the High School population has declined from 620 to 560 since last year. And a third person pointed out that’s half what it was a generation ago.

A group discussing arts and culture expressed their hopes. One was to expand events like Operation Jazz Band for 5th-grade students to create more on-going involvement with the arts. Another wanted us to create arts events in the image of popular holiday events like the FFA parade and Día de los Muertos.

The most important part of mapping Healdsburg’s future is the community’s willingness to speak up and express their views. They also need to listen to others’ ideas and then work together to support change. The AIA-SDAT teams have seen many communities divided over important issues come together to create a better future. As one attendee said, “We need to rely on the next generation and the one after that to create Healdsburg’s future.” With the SDAT, Healdsburg is doing its best to lay out a map for those generations to follow into the future.

INFO: healdsburg-sdat.org/

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