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Volunteers were shaping sand bags, adobe bricks and handfuls of a mud-and-straw mixture called “cob” into a circular bench and earthen pizza oven outside a rural Sebastopol coffee shop Friday. And that was just the start.

Between now and Sept. 21, participants in the inaugural Sebastopol Village Building Convergence will tackle at least 12 projects designed to beautify Sebastopol, bring people together and create outdoor gathering spots that foster community and sustainability.

Part of a 10-day combination workshop, lecture series and celebration of what communities can do together, the VBC, as it’s widely known, is focused on sharing the joy and promise of greater connectivity between neighbors.

Modeled after similar events rolled out in Portland, Ore., over the past 13 years, the convergence includes a packed schedule of workshops and lectures, musical entertainment, movement classes and fellowship designed to inspire and educate.

It’s unclear how many people will choose to participate, though an average of 200 daily consult the event’s website, said Sebastian Collet, a Portland transplant who helped create the local event.

“It’s the first time we’ve done this, so it’s a big experiment. But there’s wonderful people involved,” said Marty Roberts, who is organizing painting of a downtown city street.

The theme of the extended event is “reclaiming the commons,” encouraging the creative design, development and stewardship of outdoor gathering places that help counteract social and cultural forces that tend to isolate and divide.

The “place-making” effort involves a series of building, painting and landscaping projects at different venues around town, many of them happening over several days.

Today and Sunday, that will include volunteers gathering to paint a block of McKinley Street, filling in outlined renderings of pre-approved pieces — one, “Spirit Bird,” near Laguna Park Way and the Rialto Cinemas, and the other, “Spirit Canine,” about a block west from there. Animal prints and migrating salmon painted onto the street will link the two, with the overall aim of better integrating the new Barlow center with the central commercial district.

Also today, crews will continue working at the corner of Bloomfield Road and Highway 116/Gravenstein Highway South, building a decorative, sheltered bench at a Sonoma County Transit stop. The bench will be constructed of cob and adobe bricks made in August by several dozen volunteers during a “cob stomp” work party. Nearby, the bench and pizza oven is being built outside Hardcore Espresso, a funky roadside coffee place with an eclectic collection of outdoor seating.

One of those working Friday, Frederika Sumelius, 66, said she wanted to learn the process because she’s building a new home in Richmond and hopes to make at least some of her new furniture.

Longtime Sebastopol residents Ellen and Roger Sherron came by to check on the progress. They, too, are thinking of putting a bench and oven in their yard, said Ellen Sherron, 65.

“We really support the idea of community, of getting out of the house and doing things as a community,” she said. “Somehow we feel really powerless in our little homes. Everything seems too big for us to do anything about it. You just feel so small, like you have no power. But when you talk to your neighbors, and you work together, it’s empowering.”

Karmendra Rossy, 38, proposed the Highway 116 bus stop as a VBC project site in part to help highlight the availability of public transit. He and Miguel Elliott said they hope it’s the first of many “bus stop repairs.”

Just coordinating work on that one project “is already kind of shifting my perception of myself in Sebastopol, and how I can influence Sebastopol,” Rossy said. “Just on a personal level, I can really sense the empowerment of claiming my community.”

Additional place-making projects include community kale patches to be planted at various locations for use by local residents; construction of a children’s fairy village with natural materials under the trees at Ives Park; continued work on a long-term landscaping project at City Hall; creation of a meditative garden behind the Sebastopol Community Center; and mural painting at The Barlow.

A full schedule of events is available at sebastopolvbc.weebly.com and includes a series of short presentations on Sunday night at the Sebastopol Grange. Modeled on the popular TED Talks, it’s called SEBtalks. The theme is “The Heart and Mind of the Community.”

One continuous feature of the convergence is a daily “open village” at the Sebastopol Grange on Highway 12 for sharing, swapping clothes, repairing bikes and other kinds of networking that strengthen community and resiliency in the face of an uncertain world, organizers said. The open village runs from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday to Saturday.

VBC publicist and real estate agent Cassandra Ferrera said the community is “super intrigued” by the convergence, and said the varied offerings provide so many ways to “plug in” that there’s likely something for everyone.

“My sense is it’s ambitious, and it’s going to be quite a spirited gathering of community-minded folks,” said contractor Chuck Johnson of Artisan Builders, who is coordinating construction of a unique fence and gathering spot at the grange.

“After the event is when it’s really going to capture the imagination of the greater Sebastopol community,” he continued. “They’re going to see the results.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.

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