Landscape Survey of Central San Rafael
By: Amanda Artz
I decided to explore Central San Rafael on Friday. Every time I drive past this city I can’t decide whether I like it or hate it, but by looking deeply into the landscape I was able to come to certain conclusions and understand it better than before.
Driving into town I was immediately reminded of an old town San Francisco. There was a mix of steep, slanted streets along with level, main roads. The slanted streets look like natural paved hillside, yet the leveled roads give the whole town a terraced feeling, like someone had purposely designed this to make it look more appealing. Perhaps this uncommon design was created with the thought that it would bring in people who loved the feel of San Francisco but didn’t want or couldn’t afford to live in such a big city.
There is definite evidence of planned landscaping. Non-native trees line every street neatly, spaced exactly the same length apart. A square is physically cut out of the sidewalk where every tree grows. The unnaturalness of non-native shrubs and flowers reminds me of pimples dotting an otherwise perfect complexion. The whole place looks too planned and very cookie-cutter. I find it laughable then that this city, which obviously tries extremely hard to look so neat and classy, would choose above-ground telephone poles with harsh, exposed wire to line these same streets. It seems like a giant, visible contradiction.
I was not aware of how Victorian Central San Rafael was. I feel like I am standing on the street of an east coast town. Beautiful, historic houses can be seen down every street, giving the whole area a very family-oriented feel. More “modern” buildings are intermingled within the classic Victorians, reminding me of a field of wild flowers slowly being taken over by non-native, invasive weeds. This observation said the most about the people who live here. I feel as though San Rafael is in an identity crisis fueled by a battle of the older and younger generations. Perhaps the younger generation is pushing for a more modernized community, slowly trying to eradicate the old town feel of the city. But by looking at the landscape carefully, I believe it is the other way around. Most of the “modern” buildings seem like they stemmed from the 70’s and 80’s. Some buildings resembled those of the Brutalist style like on the Sonoma State Campus, symbolizing a time when futuristic architecture was in high demand. With new ideas of sustainability and restoration surfacing, I think the younger generations are moving to stop the modern development of this city and preserve it for what it is: a true, historic gem. The people of this town scream environmental consciousness, from the giant crowd shopping at the weekly farmers market to the domination of Pruises lining the streets. The future looks amazing for this little town and I think in ten years it will have a genuine, unique identity.
Driving towards the 101, one last thing caught my eye. Amidst the modern, drab buildings stood a wonderful Victorian house with two palm trees standing at the entrance. This symbol of hospitality was like a glimmer of hope in my eyes and made me feel that with the help of my generation, San Rafael will someday be restored to a welcoming, naturally beautiful city.
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