Sonoma Stories: Click and smile, Santa Rosa is celebrating its 150th with a ‘citywide selfie’

An online mapping project invites residents of every neighborhood to submit stories and photos from the part of town they call home in what organizers are calling a 'citywide selfie.'|

So, what's in your neighborhood?

A brand-new online interactive project invites people throughout Santa Rosa to share what's most important and interesting about the parts of town they call home.

Once residents from all over Santa Rosa upload stories and images from their neighborhoods, the result will be what Margie Purser likes to call a “citywide selfie.”

“This is a fascinating city,” said Purser, a Sonoma State University anthropology professor and a prime mover of the so-called Santa Rosa Neighborhood Heritage Mapping Project.

It aims to bring to the city's 150th anniversary celebrations this year a snapshot of the neighborhoods. The interactive map will provide stories and photos, conveying what it is that gives a neighborhood its character and identity.

Residents can go at their leisure onto the project's website, expected to go live today:

Or they can arrange with Purser a neighborhood mapping party. Anyone with questions or an interest in a mapping party can contact Purser and her colleagues at

Purser said it's essential to the success and value of the project that residents of all the city's neighborhoods participate, not just those living in what have been considered the more historic and significant parts of town.

“You've got to have everybody, or it's not a map,” she said. “The more people who participate, the richer, more inclusive and more detailed our ‘citywide selfie' at 150 will be.”

Purser points out that a heritage map is different than a historical one. Though her project will, in the future, feature maps from Santa Rosa's past, the central intent is not to convey the history of a neighborhood but the elements of its current personality and character.

Once the project is completed, visitors to the website will be able to take virtual tours anywhere in the city.

Any Santa Rosa residents who has access to the internet can go onto the digital map, enter a street address and tell what's important about that place.

Participants can write, in English or Spanish, about an entire neighborhood or a place within a neighborhood: A park. A school. A street. A business. A community center. A natural feature such as a creek or hill or field or pond.

Possible stories could involve a meaningful event that happened, or an interesting person who lived there.

Stories of up to 250 words can be accompanied by photographs.

Purser and her partners helping create the map hope each participant will share why his or her neighborhood or place is important and how it contributes to the character of that part of town.

Stories and pictures from October's Tubbs fire certainly will be part of the map.

The launching of the Santa Rosa Neighborhood Heritage Mapping Project culminates nearly four years of work by an entire corps of people.

Purser said, “A dozen or so local organizations and institutions, from the Sonoma County Museum to Landpaths' Bayer Farm have partnered with us.”

Also essential to the project, she said, are the contributions from Sonoma State students in the anthropology, computer science and the geography, environment and planning departments.

“And then there are all the people from all over town who've helped out, offered advice, and volunteered time and expertise. It's been amazing,” she said.

Similar mapping projects have been conducted in large cities, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

Purser said Philadelphia's, called PhilaPlace and located at, is the mother of all community mapping projects.

According to the website, PhilaPlace “connects stories to places across time in Philadelphia's neighborhoods” and “weaves stories shared by ordinary people of all backgrounds with historical records to present an interpretive picture of the rich history, culture, and architecture of our neighborhoods, past and present.”

Though Santa Rosa is far smaller than Philadelphia or the other metropolises that have created community mapping projects, Purser said “making a map with 180,000 people presents a few challenges, to say the least.

“The project has taken many twists and turns, not the least of which came from last October's fires and their aftermath,” she said.

One website feature will be a map of the fire boundaries.

Though the mapping project is going live to contribute to Santa Rosa's sesquicentennial, which will be marked with a community celebration Sept. 8, Purser said the intent is that it be “a living document that can be added to for years.”

Sonoma State University covered the costs of developing the site.

Purser said additional funding will be necessary to sustain the project, and while partners such as the History Museum of Sonoma County and the Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library are interested in taking it on, they could not do it without financial support.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 or

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