Last Friday was a day to celebrate. After almost three years of preparation and planning – beginning with the SDAT (Sustainable Development Action Team) report, and including extensive stakeholder outreach to the business community and residents – Healdsburg began a new chapter. The city launched “Open Streets Healdsburg” on Plaza Street, creating the first outdoor meeting and dining place on public streets.
After the city council unanimously gave the green light for the pilot project at a special meeting, it took the responsible city departments only three days to implement the ambitious plan. Literally overnight, the downtown area was transformed. From Healdsburg Avenue to Center Street and from there to midway down the block towards East Street, Plaza Street is now closed to motorized traffic, creating a safe and welcoming space for kids to ride bikes and play, friends to meet for a drink, families to enjoy a take-out or picnic feast, or for anyone to just take a stroll or watch the world go by. Large tents protect from the heat, tables and chairs are available and the lighting gives the space a magical ambience in the evening. It’s an atmosphere which truly fits our awesome town.
Healdsburg 2040 wants to take this opportunity to thank everyone who brought the SDAT vision to life, including the roughly 320 residents who responded to our June survey about street closures — and overwhelmingly supported full, as opposed to partial, closures in the downtown area. We also want to thank the great folks at Duke’s for taking the initiative to rally fellow businesses on Plaza Street to support the project; in these uncertain times, not all business owners are willing to take risks and experiment with new concepts. The Farmers’ Market volunteered to move the Tuesday market to Matheson Street, and Encore Events Rentals generously supported the project by supplying tents, umbrellas, tables and chairs to the city at a significantly discounted rate, recognizing the difficult financial situation facing Healdsburg as a result of COVID.
Finally, we want to thank city staff for their passion, creativity and tenacity – and hard work. Community Director Mark Themig and his team drove the project, including working with a design team to create visual renderings of what Open Streets might look like. His skeleton team worked tirelessly to engage stakeholders and turn the vision into reality, despite severe budget cuts, and were onsite all day Friday, setting up, installing signage, cleaning tables, eliciting feedback, and making sure everything was running smoothly. Public Works Director Larry Zimmer and Fire Chief Jason Boaz and their teams provided essential support to ensure the safety of the closure, including studying and modifying traffic flow, installing barriers and ensuring emergency vehicle access — and they demonstrated flexibility when citizens and council members suggested a better place for the emergency right of way.
The Plaza Street closures, together with the new parklets in front of restaurants and shops, enliven the downtown area. It was exciting to see how many people used the new public space on the first day. Those spaces not only support the local businesses, when they need it most; they attract people desperate for a safe space to meet. What happens on our sidewalks and streets could prove critical to how we pull through difficult times as a community. The test phase until Labor Day gives us time to see what works and what needs to be changed. We hope that this is only the first step towards a truly family-, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly city. The opportunity to appreciate the value of public spaces was never more important.
Healdsburg 2040 is a group of interested citizens advising the city on the implementation of the SDAT report. The group is made up of four individual work groups, addressing arts and culture, housing, the General Plan and parks and connectivity. For a list of the members of Healdsburg 2040, visit healdsburg2040.org. The group can be reached at Healdsburg2040@sonic.net.