Sunday, February 26, 2023

Chapter Eleven - Building a Livable Community


Old Town’s Revival

As we began to redesign Goleta’s Old Town District, we realized our efforts might apply to a livable city as well.

As recently as 2005, the Institute of American Architects defined a such a community as. . . “broadly speaking, a livable community recognizes its own unique identity and places a high value on the planning processes that help manage growth and change to maintain and enhance its community character.”

Thoughts of forming a new city of Goleta were also revived, as the actual planning of Old Town’s future began. There had been several unsuccessful efforts to form a city since the 1970s. The Goleta Old Town Revitalization Committee, a mix of local officials and residents that wanted Old Town’s infrastructure and services upgraded, was now created, and I was appointed its chairman. Hearings were held in Old Town’s Community building so county planners could learn what Goleta’s residents wanted for a future town center. We were following the precepts of community organizing in bringing citizens together to solve some of the problems afflicting such a diverse community.

Goleta in many ways was a microcosm of small-town America and all that had happened to those communities since the sixties: rapid population growth with little concern for the environment. It had an early history combining both rural and urban life with industrial and research centers while being adjacent to the Santa Barbara Airport. I wanted to participate in this organization (that included some future Goleta city mayors), because it could aid in giving the Goleta Valley its “own unique identity” that planners and architects deemed requisite for a livable community.

I had read and was influenced by M. Scott Peck’s book The Different Drum, describing the elements that bring a community together to achieve whatever they want. His approach epitomized for me the essence of community development. Dr. Peck, a medical doctor, psychologist, and author of a better-known prequel, The Road Less Traveled, broke down the steps that a community goes through to come together in a meaningful way in The Different Drum.

He warned that the process could take time. Any community usually goes through four stages to reach agreement and to be able to function effectively, whatever its goals. He characterized these stages as Pseudo community, Chaos, Emptiness, and (true) Community.

Pseudo community is the first gathering of any group with the initial pleasantries and avoidance of conflict in the desire to be nice to each other. But it is a false community, because until the second stage of Chaos is reached, individual differences aren’t revealed, and a discussion of the real problems doesn’t surface.

Chaos described the early stages of our hearings when open discussions brought out the conflict between those residents who loved Old Town’s funkiness and cheap rents, and those landlords and landowners who wanted to improve their properties. The goal of the Old Town Advisory Committee was to bring the sides together. There was also a Goleta Beautiful organization that wanted to preserve and restore some of the more historic Old Town structures.

Dr. Peck’s third stage is Emptiness: a time of resignation, when the group or organization gives up their individual prejudices, ideologies, control needs, and begins to see what can be accomplished as a group. In Old Town, it wasn’t until the second year of the hearings that this happened. More Old Town residents were put on the committee, and we began to see a vision of what a revitalized Old Town could be for the Goleta community.

After many hearings and dialogues with planners, architects, developers, and residents that included a weekend Design Charrette that I will discuss in a later chapter, the committee members began to have a sense that we were all in this together and would be able to create something beneficial for the community.

Dr. Peck wrote:

". . . initially I thought this book’s title should be “Peacemaking and Community”. But that would put the cart before the horse. For I fail to see how we Americans could effectively communicate with the Russians, (or any peoples of other cultures) when we don’t even know how to communicate with the neighbors next door, much less the neighbors on the other side of the tracks."

In our culture of rugged individualism— in which we generally feel that we dare not be honest about ourselves, even with the person in the pew next to us—we bandy around the word, “community”. . . [but] if we are to use the word meaningfully, we must restrict it to a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other.1

The Old Town Revitalization Committee needed two years and 100 hearings to finally form the Old Town Revitalization Plan.

Once the Plan’s CEQA (California’s Environmental Quality Act) study was approved—a study required to name and mitigate the environmental hazards we might encounter—the County applied to the state of California for the formation of a Goleta Old Town Redevelopment Plan, which would allow a percentage of the tax monies to be withheld for use in Old Town to upgrade its housing, improve San Jose Creek that flowed under its main thoroughfare, and infrastructure.

The final report approved by the County on June 16, 1998, stated: “The purpose and objectives of this Redevelopment Plan are to eliminate the conditions of blight existing in the proposed Project Area and to prevent the recurrence of blighting conditions in said Area.”

1 Peck, M. Scott. The Different Drum. Simon & Schuster, 1987. P. 56

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