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Sonoma County Gazette
Empire Building in Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa Mapping Project Launches
as City Reevaluates Identity

Jul 30, 2018


By Will Carruthers

At a time of growth, rebuilding and change, a local anthropologist has launched an interactive online mapping project to allow Santa Rosa residents to explore the city’s history and get to know some of their neighbors’ stories.

Margie Purser, an anthropology professor at Sonoma State University, launched the Santa Rosa Neighborhood Heritage Mapping Project in mid-July after four years planning and developing the site with help from students and community members.

Purser hopes the map will act like a “birthday picture” of the city in its 150th year. The website - allows Santa Rosa residents living within the city’s urban growth boundary to add geo-located stories to an interactive map.

Although Purser didn’t plan for it, 2018 seems likely to be bookended by historic events that could reshape residents’ views of the city: the Tubbs fire violently reshaped the community last October, the city annexed the long-unincorporated Roseland neighborhood in January, and this November, residents will vote in district elections for the first time.

“Tragedy has brought us a lot closer together but it has also made us a lot more aware of places we might not have known about,” Purser said of the fire.

Once enough stories are added to the map, Purser hopes it will provide residents an opportunity to share stories outside of the city’s dominant history.

“It’s not that the official story is wrong at all. It’s that it’s kind of like the story you might put on the tourist brochures down at Railroad Square: it’s short, it tends to hit the high points and it tends to be date-heavy,” Purser said. “We all know that there were a lot of other things going on at the same time while the timeline narrative was going on. So how do you get those?”

To find those stories, Purser spent the spring visiting community groups around the city talking about the project. Alberta Manuel, a long time Santa Rosa resident, met Purser at the Santa Rosa Juneteenth Festival in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. After hearing about Purser’s project, memories of the park and the surrounding South Park neighborhood came flooding back to Manuel. When she moved to the neighborhood in 1967, Manuel, her two sisters and a group of neighborhood girls formed a baseball team.

To start the team, the young women - all Native American - built their own baseball diamond in the empty, overgrown lot that would one day become Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The team went on to compete in the Santa Rosa City League, playing official games at Howarth Park and Franklin Park. They even gained some recognition around the Bay Area, according to Manuel.

Since then, South Park has received a proper park and community center, and residents often hold community events, including the Santa Rosa Juneteenth Festival. On that Saturday, the history of the park was unknown to most of the attendees. The map may also reveal long-standing differences between the city’s neighborhoods.

“Santa Rosa is a very bifurcated place in a lot of ways,” Purser said. “[The city is split] in two or maybe four quadrants based on everything from where the freeways are to very, very different neighborhoods with different populations and histories.”

Some of the racial divisions between neighborhoods are visible on a map of 2010 Census Data published by the University of Virginia, Purser pointed out.

Purser plans to hold Neighborhood Mapping Parties in areas with very few stories on the map. In tests this spring, Purser found that people share more stories at parties than they would alone with their computer.

“You get more stories and more stories about each dot on the map when people do it together as a social event,” Purser said. “They start telling each stories and it reminds them of other related stories.”

Residents with questions about the project, contact

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