Heading home from Santa Rosa a few weeks ago, I was surprised to find that I had to wait 15 minutes to exit Highway 101 in downtown Windsor. For those of us living in Windsor, traffic jams happen south of town.
I was anxious to exit as I was meeting friends at a Town Green event. When I finally arrived at the concert, the green was absolutely packed with people. There was no place left to sit on the grass. Being an urban designer I had a funny feeling that the Town Green was over capacity and about to somehow burst.
The green made it through the concert just fine, but I was left with this puzzle: Where were all these people coming from? They couldn't all be from Windsor. According to Windsor Parks and Recreation staff, around 8,000 people were at the green that night. In a town of 26,000 that would represent approximately one out of every three people in town. From my experience on Highway 101, it seemed that many people were coming from Santa Rosa and beyond. Was the Windsor Town Green experience one that would draw folks from other towns?
To answer that question, I attended another concert the following week. What I learned shows why Santa Rosa's plans for a square in Roseland are inadequate. The concert was well attended, but the green wasn't as packed as the week before. I asked in a perfectly non-scientific way to anyone who would talk to me, "Where are you from?" The answer was that more than half were from out-of-town, with the bulk being from Santa Rosa. If they were from out-of-town, they were asked another question, "Why did you travel to Windsor?"
The answers were quite varied, but there were some common themes. A family atmosphere was high on the list. Teens, children, babies and dogs are there. Music was a magnet, particularly since it was free. Some said that it is the only venue in Sonoma County that allows open containers. Others liked that the police staff the edges of the green, keeping a low profile compared to the Wednesday Night Market in Santa Rosa. People said they felt safe in the Town Green, but they did not feel safe in Santa Rosa.
I asked a Santa Rosan why he didn't attend concerts in Santa Rosa's Old Courthouse Square or in Juilliard Park. He replied, "There is a street right through the middle of Old Courthouse Square. At the Windsor Town Green you are contained. It sets the boundaries. It is the focal point for the community."
People come because the venue is open and yet contained. The buildings that face onto the green create a three-dimensional "container" that is made even more attractive by the open containers of beer and wine that are served there.
Of the scores of parks and acres of parkland in Santa Rosa, an experience like the Windsor Town Green is not available to locals. That will be the case until Old Courthouse Square is re-unified, and the public streets are reinstalled on the sides of the square.
In the meantime, Roseland residents are being promised a square on Sebastopol Road. The Roseland folks are likely imagining something on the line of the Healdsburg Square or the Windsor Town Green. Yet the proposed urban design plans lack key ingredients for success. The lacking keys are: