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The Main Streets Approach for Fairfax?

June 15, 2015

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Last year when I was in Detroit for the Kellogg Foundation Food & Society Conference, there happened to be another big event at the same venue: the National Main Streets Conference. All day long I’d meet people from this “other” conference in elevators and on escalators, and I was blown away at how effortlessly and confidently these Main Streets folks talked about their successes in preserving historic architecture…. while revitalizing local economies and small businesses…. while fostering stronger human relationships in communities…. while HAVING FUN. I mean, What?!

These issues are close to my heart. I grew up in Portola Valley (between San Francisco and Silicon Valley in the hills west of 280), which used to be a place where the Alpine Inn historic pub parking lot would have just has many horses “parked” as there were cars. It was legit country life with vast open spaces and tight-knit community, and yet just a short drive from the City. These days, “PV” is known as the land of McMansions and, looking at any parking lot, you will see Mercedes, Ferrari, Tesla, Lotus, BMW, another Ferrari….and a dearth of genuine community feel.

Horses, the bygone mainstay at historic "Rossoti's" est. 1850

Horses, the bygone mainstay at nationally registered, ever-popular Portola Valley pub “Rossotti’s” est. 1850s

Palo Alto, our closest town had its quaint main street with local shops in historic buildings, with a mix of local teens, local families, and Stanford university professors and students. These days, it’s a heart of Silicon Valley and a franchise megapolis with towering stucco architecture with the likes of Restoration Hardware and Cheesecake Factory, and a bounty of yuppies and techies. Now its nickname is “Shallow Alto.” Sigh.

In San Francisco, after living for over a decade in Pacific Heights and Russian Hill, in 2005 I moved to Hayes Valley because it wasn’t so perfect. It was an “up-and-coming” neighborhood with a few great restaurants, a few great stores, and an ubiquitous reputation as being diverse, down-to-earth, and, well, pretty awesome. Same with parts of the Mission when I moved there from Hayes Valley. You can guess what happened to areas of both neighborhoods: Gentrification, an influx of hipsters and, at least in Hayes Valley, a lot of older cool architecture torn down. Another sigh.

Now I live in Fairfax in West Marin County, which reminds me so much of Portola Valley pre-McMansion, pre-Ferraris. The small town is still made up of local businesses, the gorgeous natural open spaces are still intact, and the vibe among everyone in town is still super friendly. I don’t have the heart to see yet another cool place — that’s not yet totally on everyone’s radar — go down (or up?) in flames.

This blog is switching gears now to the Main Streets “agenda”, more specifically following some friends and I in Fairfax as we see what we can do by following the Main Streets process to help at least our one small town keep things real in these times of inevitable change — revitalizing local businesses and economies, preserving historic architecture, continuing to protect open space, and strengthening our local diverse culture whether that’s ethnic, economic, artistic, or other!  Wish us luck. 🙂

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