Davis California | Progressive, Corky, and Unique

by Brendan Colgan

Davis, California is located 18 km (11 mi) west of Sacramento, and 113 km (72 mi) northeast of San Francisco. I must admit prior to traveling there, I didn’t know much about it beyond the fact that it is particularly well-known for its liberal political agenda and it is home to the University of California, Davis (UCD) campus-which has one of the best agriculture, veterinary/animal husbandry, and biology departments in the world (if you want to become a California vintner, study at UCD). Having been invited to come visit for quite some time, I finally decided last year to take a trip out there to visit a good friend of mine and to help out at his family’s water purification business H2O to Go – (Davis tap water is very hard and metallic-tasting. The only treatment administered by the city is the addition of sodium hypochlorite (chlorine) and it is not optimally fluoridated). Though I was only there for 5 days, I was able to experience some of the things that make Davis a unique, peculiar, and progressive place. Here are just a few:

Bikes, Bikes, and Bikes

University of Davis in 1963, image taken by Ansel Adams

With the rapid expansion of the Interstate Highway System during the 1950s and 1960s, the automobile (quite literally) became cemented in American life. Since then it has been completely paved-over simply to accommodate them (see Asphalt Nation by Jane Holtz Kay).  Yet, amidst this pro-automobile culture, there is also a counter-car culture (often consisting of hippies from the 1960s). Moreover, there are places in the U.S. where  alternatives to this motorized entrapment are prioritized.  Davis California is one such place.

Davis’ pro-bicycle culture emerged during the 1960s when it first became a political issue. Yet, its temperate climate and flat terrain make it particularly conducive for bicycles. Moreover,  Davis’ college-town atmosphere and its large population of young, active students requiring cheap modes of transportation seem to contribute to Davis pro-bicycle environment. Today, Davis residents enjoy an extensive network of bike paths and crossings-within the city’s 25.690 km2 (9.919 sq mi) area there are over 88.5 km (55 miles) of bike paths. It is widely considered to be the “Bicycle Capital of America” and, since 2010, is home to the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame.  It is certainly the most bike friendly place I have ever been.

The Davis Toad Tunnel

One of the first things I heard about when I arrived in Davis was the infamous (though Id never heard of it) Davis Toad Tunnel, a six-inch diameter pipe which runs under one of Davis’ main roads that, despite the name, is for frogs. The concept was originally proposed by Julia Partansky, the mayor of Davis from 1998 to 2000, with the idea that it would allow frogs to travel from the area where they lived to Core Area Pond (AKA Toad Hollow) at the other end. To this day, it is still not really known if any frogs have ever used the tunnel.

Toad Hotel at the Entrance to the Infamous Toad Tunnel

The Toad Tunnel became perhaps most famous after it was covered by John Stewart on the Daily Show.  See the clip here:


Dark Sky Ordinance.

Poorly designed lighting often emits light upward and not down where it is most often needed. For this reason, Mayor Partansky proposed Davis adopt dark sky legislation or “light ordinance“-another one of her ideas that has since become quintessentially Davis. This legislation required the lowering all street lights and having their direction point downward so citizens could gaze at the stars during the night without light pollution.  This has been an increasing trend across the country, but is nonetheless another aspect that gives Davis a unique feel.

Farmer’s Market
Davis is home to one of the U.S.’s most renown  Farmer’s Markets. In 2009, the Davis Farmers Market was voted “America’s Favorite Farmers Market” in a survey published by American Farmland Trust. In 2010, it took #2 in the “Large Markets” category. It is open every Saturday mornings year-round and on Wednesday evenings in the spring and fall.
Smoking Ban in Public Spaces
Though this is becoming more and more true all over the U.S.,  Davis was among one of the first cities to ban smoking in public restaurants/bars  and within a certain distance of the entrance.
Greenbelt and public parks/spaces
Davis was designed with an extensive network of parks and other public spaces, particularly green space. The so called “Davis Greenbelt” is a nearly continuous stretch of parks and bike paths that stretch across all of Davis.

And finally, even though this is may be an inside joke for the students  UCD, a UCD law student’s parody of Jay-z’s rap song New York, but it may perhaps shows a few quirks of the city.

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3 Responses to Davis California | Progressive, Corky, and Unique

  1. Ares says:

    Maybe one should add the pictures of the Davis police using pepper-spray during a demonstration: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-15809742

    I think it shows once again how hard it is to decide what the character of a place is…

  2. bcolgan4 says:

    In response to Ares’ comment:

    A place’s character is not something you ‘decide’. You don’t make character, you develop character (over time). You aren’t given character, you have character. Character is a collective constant that is understood and observed as such. To suggest that we may understand the pepper spray incident as part of Davis’ character is, I believe, a misnomer. It is an event, that undoubtedly has negative repercussions for Davis’ reputation but I wouldn’ consider it ‘quintessentially Davis.’ Moreover, I would point more towards the character of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (which includes its interaction with law enforcement) than I would the character of Davis.

  3. Anthony Rizzo says:

    The character of a city is the character of its people and people don’t all exhibit the same behavior at the same time, consequently the good will be exhibited with the bad. It is important to remember then that even an otherwise upstanding citizen can have a bad day. This does not excuse his behavior nor should it arise alarm. Panic always leads to disaster. Reprehensible behavior should be followed with corrective measures. The good in a person should call his community to task and thus awaken the consciences of all to do better inevitably making a city or town more livable.

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