Our towns, villages, and cities are built to cater to people on foot, a design style that other cities around the United States are trying to emulate. The Coalition for a Livable Marin is dedicated to ensuring that this style of building and this style of living doesn't just survive in Marin but thrives.
Downtown Fairfax, downtown San Anselmo, downtown San Rafael, downtown Novato, Tiburon, Sausalito, Mill Valley, Larkspur, and all the others – each town center is an example of this style. The key markers that make it uniquely Marin are easy to spot here, once you know what you’re looking for.
It’s all wrapped up in the form our towns took when they were built:
Buildings engage the street when they open right up to the sidewalk and provide something interesting to walk by. They are narrow but deep, extended far back from the street.
These must be within walking distance of somewhere to provide a stable customer base and to provide the street life that signals a vibrant community.
And that walk from somewhere else must be pleasant, filled with unplanned meetings and the beauty of changing architecture. Without that, it's just a shopping mall, isolated from the fabric of the town by a great moat of parking and busy arterial streets. Traditional-style growth must be organically integrated with the rest of town, seamlessly linked to the whole.
As it turns out, Marin's particular style of development is ideal for transit ridership. Every bus passenger is a pedestrian at the start and end of their journey; making neighborhoods near bus hubs friendly to pedestrians means making them friendly to transit.
All this changes how people interact with their town. It becomes an extension of the home, not simply a place to drive through or drive to but a place to linger in, to hang out with neighbors.
The values Marin upholds
And that has a remarkable effect on the issues Marin cares about most.
With so much available by foot, traffic declines when a town takes this compact shape. Fully a quarter of all Marinites commuting to San Francisco in the morning take transit, but less than 1 percent of Golden Gate Bridge traffic is from buses. Forty percent of all our children walk, bike, or take a bus to school rather than get dropped off by their parents. Another 10% carpool. Had we not preserved our traditional development, Marin would look much more like our neighbors: half the transit ridership, a tenth the rate of walking and biking to school. Just imagine what 101 would look like with a quarter more cars!
And all that foregone driving? It makes us healthier and happier. Studies have shown that driving elevates stress hormones and suppresses the production of oxytocin, a brain chemical associated with happiness and pleasure. Walking reverses this, suppressing stress hormones and promoting oxytocin.
Not to mention the avoided air pollution and CO2 emissions! Promoting places where people can trade their cars for their shoes, if they want, is a fantastic way to fight climate change.
So while becoming happier and healthier, while a sense of familiarity and home forms, we’re making the environment a little better.
We have the right pattern of development today, in the very heart of our towns. Let’s keep it up.