Originally run in The Press Democrat, Close to Home: Putting Santa Rosa on the national map - https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9094548-181/close-to-home-putting-santa
Skylines, clockwise, are: Providence, RI; Grand Rapids, MI; Sioux Falls, ND; Vancouver, WA; Salt Lake City, UT; Little Rock, AR
I love Santa Rosa for many reasons. I know you do as well; there is a lot to love. Our assets are diverse and incredible. We are Beer City in the heart of Wine Country. We hold an important history in agriculture and regional commerce. Our outdoor recreation events and opportunities are world class and the foundation of our tourism economy.
Underneath all of what makes Santa Rosa amazing is our people — diverse and resilient. Our Latino population is nearly 30 percent. While we are certainly an older city — 23 percent of residents are over age 65 — our younger generation (under 18) is nearly a quarter of our city and growing. The metro region of Santa Rosa is the second gayest in the country, with 12.4 same-sex couples per 1,000 households, according to a 2010 study.
We also face challenges. For one, approximately 18,500 people must commute into Sonoma County to work every day, and more than double that leave Sonoma County every day. With virtually full employment locally, this commute pattern shows two critical needs: more housing and more high-wage employment opportunities.
Other cities are wonderful in their own way. While also facing challenges, they are thriving, with downtowns boasting interesting skylines providing a mix of civic, residential and commercial uses necessary for the health and prosperity of their residents. Providence, Rhode Island’s nightlife attracts young professionals and has driven its reputation as a vacation destination. Downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan has a burgeoning art district, Sioux Falls, South Dakota has a well-used greenway and outdoor sculpture garden. Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics in 2002, and Vancouver, Washington has built a positive reputation for urban renewal. Little Rock, Arkansas has long been an attraction for history buffs, and the pulse of its downtown entices tourists to stay.
These cities are the same size as Santa Rosa, give or take a few thousand. With a population of just under 180,000, Santa Rosa is the fifth largest in the Bay Area and 26th largest in California. Nationally, Santa Rosa is in the largest 150 cities by population. That Santa Rosa is a major city, diverse in its assets and people, is an unassailable fact. But we have yet to embrace this fact, and we are pushing prosperity away as a result.
It is vital to ask ourselves not whether Santa Rosa is a city, but what kind of city do we want Santa Rosa to be? It is vital that we strive for a prosperous city, where business, industry and the environment thrive so that our residents can thrive as well. This prosperity isn’t only for today, it’s for tomorrow. After all, if we don’t provide housing for our teachers to live in our city, how prosperous can the future of our children — and of our businesses — truly be?
That question drives our action at the Metro Chamber. We work every day to address our housing crisis, knowing that environmentalism isn’t about living alone in the wilderness, it’s about building what we need to live amongst each other.
We work every day in support of our education system, knowing that providing all children with opportunity is as much an economic development issue as is business attraction.
We work every day to help create a more vibrant downtown with a bustling center of commerce and arts, knowing that doing this benefits the city as a whole.
And we work every day to support our members, knowing that our community will thrive on the success of the entrepreneurs, medical, technical, manufacturing, tourism, nonprofit and so many other sectors in our economy.
The skylines and major events that serve as common markers of prosperity for cities our size are important to push for in Santa Rosa. However, as Harvard economist Edward Glaeser reminds us, “the real city is made of flesh not concrete.” Without embracing the need to build housing everywhere in our city, the need to support our teachers and education system, the need to encourage business and innovation, it isn’t a skyline and events we put at risk. Rather we risk the prosperity of our families and the future of our children and grandchildren.
As I near the end of my first year with the Metro Chamber, I hope to share more about what we are doing in partnership with many others for our shared prosperity — and on behalf of the Metro Chamber, I wish everyone a happy new year.
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