Having served on the Town of Windsor Planning Commission for over twelve years, award-winning urban planner Lois Fisher shared her experience and knowledge with the Windsor Democratic Club as its guest speaker on March 24. She is the president of Fisher Town Design which creates walkable neighborhoods as an alternative to suburban sprawl.
A Windsor resident since 1989, Ms. Fisher discussed the town’s incorporation process with a plaza, the Town Green, as the unifying design component, surrounded by mixed-use functions including both housing and business. The integration of the public realm, the plaza, with private functions was the theme of her presentation.
Ms. Fisher explained the concept of “eyes on.” This term describes planning so that buildings front on the public realm, whether that is a town plaza, a park, or a walking path. When such items are in the back of structures, activity infrequently viewed. Criminal activity can often be a significant aspect of public spaces which lack the “eyes on” feature. One only needs to consider the Prince Greenway walking path in Santa Rosa to understand the negative consequences of placing the public function in the back of buildings. Rather than becoming a positive part of the public realm, adding a safe, walkable corridor, the Prince Greenway has become a place where crimes often occur.
Plazas were a significant part of early California planning. The communities of Sonoma and Healdsburg are two great examples of the plaza as the central feature of a town. Ms. Fisher explained that the Windsor Town Green was created prior to the development which surrounds it. The contrast between the plaza type design with the post-World War II era strip mall, with massive surrounding parking lots, is stark.
In her work, Ms. Fisher, along with the other members of Windsor Planning Commission and the members of the Windsor Town Council, have used the principles of mixed-use design. Private businesses and residences share a common, safe, walkable space. In the future that downtown space will be served by the SMART Train, when service is expanded to Windsor.
Ms. Fisher was involved in the design of the Petaluma Theater District project. She expressed support for the Courthouse Square reunification project in Santa Rosa. She said that the elimination of expensive, fixed features like a fountain was smart planning. One could see how converting outdated, surface parking lots in downtown Santa Rosa into a theater-district type project could be a significant step, after the square reunification, in revitalizing downtown Santa Rosa.
Coming up: County Supervisor James Gore will be the guest speaker at the April 28th meeting of the Windsor Democratic Club.
— Barry Hirsch