Running into an idea

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

I am a runner. I know everyone already knows that. The fun thing about running for me, besides the great exercise, is that I often come up with a lot of new ideas, usually spurred by my surroundings. Two interesting things happened to me on my run today. One, I found a very sweet little chihuahua on a corner as I was crossing the street from the running trail to the sidewalk. Naturally, I went on a search around the neighborhood to see if anyone recognized this cute little fellow. I finally found someone who had picked up the little guy from the same corner many times. She pointed to the house where I could return him, looking equally as annoyed as I was at the idea that someone would let her dog get loose repeatedly. Well, that’s not really the point of my story today, but let’s just say I returned the dog to a woman who gave me dirty looks as I lectured her for the need to both tag and micro-chip her adorable little dog. Needless to say, I’ll be running down that road a lot more often from now on, just in case.

The second interesting thing about my run today is that it finally dawned on me why I find the break-up of land use in Petaluma fascinating. For those of you who are not familiar with Petaluma, let me try a brief explanation of the landscape. Hwy 101 runs north and south straight through the middle of this town, which has about 60,000 people. The west side is the older side of town. Old houses, more established trees, historic buildings, and of course, the wonderful downtown with the quintessential Main Street vibe. The east side of Petaluma is the newer, more “suburban” side.

Growing up in mid-town Kansas City, I have never been able to stand the suburbs, so I haven’t really been able to put my finger on why I don’t mind it here. I think it’s because the way things are spaced out makes it feel different, like you’re in a hybrid zone. And here’s where the idea of balance comes into play. Running down the trail today, I realized I had open fields to my right, and typical suburban-esque homes (small yards, homes stretched nearly to the fence lines) to my left. Every time I wandered down a street that looked like I would fall straight into Leave it to Beaver, I would find a little (or big) sanctuary of open green space tucked in the middle of the neighborhood. And the best part for a runner is the fabulous running trail that weaves its way through the entire east side of town, connecting all of these wonderful spaces.

So my rather long run today helped me see, literally, why I like Petaluma. I think they’re on to something here. This is not leap-frog development, just good planning. They’ve found a balance between a suburban lifestyle with larger homes and smaller yards, and an open space feel with parks, trails, and open fields. Everything mixed together. For some, it’s the best of both worlds.

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