Downtown Novato, a Marin County Community in California

I only evaluated the more urban dwtn center of Novato this is roughly btwn Novato/Diablo Blvd, 7th St, Carmel/Olive Ave., and the Redwood Hwy.

The town was originally a Mexican community starting in the 1830s but remained very small. American pioneers planted orchards and vineyards in the 1850s. Is population started to grow with the construction of a railroad in 1879 connecting it to surrounding towns Sonoma County. The area around the train depot became known as New Town, and forms the edge of what today is Old Town Novato (mostly demolished). After World War II, Novato grew quickly with the construction of tract homes and a freeway. As the area was unincorporated much of the growth was unplanned and uncontrolled. Novato was finally incorporated as a city in 1960 with 17K residents.

From an urban perspective, Downtown Novato is an area of decent urban form but with lots of cultural and retail amenities. The historic Grant main street is packed with restaurants, bars, boutiques, and interesting stores. Housing prices are astronomical like the rest of California but fortunately the City had the will to construct several hundred units of affordable housing and many of them are located Dwtn. Novato does have direct rail connection to Dwtn San Fran but that trip takes at least an hour. Only 40 min drive (without traffic of course) to Dwtn San Fran and Dwtn Oakland.

The most important thing to improve from an urban perspective in Dwtn Novato is more density. For one, the communities in Marin County need to welcome more people considering the Bay Area’s severe housing shortage. 2nd many of these Marin County communities has transit access and thus could hosts very dense TOD downtowns. Increased density would also improve the overall urban quality of Downtown Novato as well. Specific areas for improvement include better park amenities, more walkable schools, and improved urban form.

Click here to view my Novato Album on Flickr

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Several dedicated bike lanes run through dwtn. Good connections to the regional network. No dedicated bike stations.
* Good overall diversity among all factors. Specifically a very high number of families live here.
* Very safe district.
* Fortunately the City has a good # of affordable housing. Around 300-500 units in the dwtn area.
* Good array of cultural amenities including many restaurants, bars, cafes, and breweries. Also plenty of art galleries, a cinema, performing arts center, and a couple local museums.
* retail amenities include several supermarkets (Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and Safeway), several drug stores, a couple book stores, lots of boutiques & creative stores, banks, Gyms, and plenty of dessert shops.
* Quality streetscaping.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Not great density at only 7,000 per sq mile
* A couple roads on the edges of the Novato central district are without sidewalks. Most intersections have modern ADA curb cuts.
* Drives to dwtn Oakland and San Fran are around 40-45 mins so not terrible. But only transit to San Fran 1:15 is somewhat viable. Dwtn San Jose is a very long trip. No other larger employment centers in Marin County.
* No schools within Dwtn Novato but several quality options about a 1 mile that are semi-walkable.
* Housing is very expensive starting with a handful of 1-bedrooms selling around 500K. A good amount of 2-bedrooms all selling btwn 600K-900K. 3-bedrooms are a bit more expensive and 4 bedrooms are around 1M-1.5M but mostly outside the downtown area.
* Rentals are much more limited and expensive. The few 1-bedrooms lease for around 2K, 2-bedrooms 2K & 3K, and very few 3-bedrooms.
* Only the Lee Garner Park is in the Dwtn area. Some good parks a couple miles away but not walkable.
* Much of the modern in-fill is autocentric.
* Good massing in the core of dwtn on Grant Street but plenty of strip malls and autocentric development even in the dwtn area.

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