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Controversy is swirling around redevelopment agencies as they rush to spend the remaining money in their coffers. But there is one decisions that has not received any criticism, and that is the decision by the Sonoma County Redevelopment Agency to spend $3.7 million toward the purchase of the old Albertson's site in Roseland to create a neighborhood plaza.

It is a feel-good project all the way around. In 2007, Roseland went through an urban vision planning process for the area. The centerpiece for that plan was a public plaza with an international flare. <NO1>(The link to this plan can be found at http://www.sonoma-county.org/cdc/pdf/roseland/sebastopol_road_uvp.pdf)

<NO>The county is reviewing plans for this area now. The keys to success in this venture can be found locally at the Spanish-style Healdsburg Plaza. In 1867 it was placed by Harmon Heald, a gold seeker and pioneer merchant, at the main intersection of town. This visible location increased the value of the commercial activity that surrounded it. The future Roseland plaza will be a commercial success if it is placed at a main intersection in Roseland, the corner of Sebastopol Road and West Avenue.

The Healdsburg and Sonoma Plazas are both surrounded by public streets with ample angled parking instead of private parking lots. In a successful marketplace design, the public streets let everyone know that the park in the center of the streets is public as well. Streets with parking provide the day-to-day visibility that small local shops need to thrive without large advertising budgets. The streets are ideal for police access and for setting up farmers markets.

And just like the public plaza, the nearby Joe Rodota trail, which is part of this project, would benefit from "eyes-on" from residents looking over it day and night. A new street that parallels the path with homes facing on to it would keep that space safe and vital as well.

When you go to Healdsburg Plaza, how much time do you spend walking around the perimeter of stores compared to the time that you spend dipping your hand in the fountain? Most people enjoy watching the activity in the plaza from the storefronts rather than being in the square itself.<NO1> An animated marketplace is created when the simple flat area of the plaza is made into a 3D &amp;&lsquo;outdoor room' through the use of multi-story mixed-use architecture. As in the Sebastopol Road Urban Vision Plan, the buildings surrounding the Roseland plaza need to be two to four stories of mixed use with retail on the ground floor and offices or residential uses above.<NO>

To be successful, the Roseland plaza area itself needs to be open and flat with a simple interactive centerpiece such as a fountain in the center. Omitting walls and berms from that space will keep the space flexible and visible, which is essential for concerts and public gatherings.

Have you noticed that all the streets in Healdsburg and Sonoma radiate out from the plaza in an interlinked fashion? Charming streets branching out from the new plaza design in this new neighborhood in Roseland would connect people in the area to the square, allowing the shops there to prosper. <NO1>These new slow streets will be a wonderful option to walking along busy Sebastopol Road.

<NO>Finally, have you noticed that the stores in these successful plazas are unique and not chain stores? What if the redevelopment agency was able to partner with Go Local and local banks to find a way to finance successful Roseland restaurants, shops and markets to help them to make the move into a store on the new plaza?

The county redevelopment agency can create a lasting legacy for Roseland with this final funding by approving and financing a plaza that uses the timeless principles of urban design that merchant Harmon Heald knew well in 1867.

Lois Fisher, an urban designer, lives in downtown Windsor.

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