dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

A Strong Center, A Clear Future

January 10th, 2006 by dk

The Register Guard, January 18, 2006

Two local investor groups want to spend $200 million on downtown Eugene. This investment carries with it the potential to cure every problem facing the city and the region, from health care to school equality. Along the way, it can create jobs, reduce crime, lower taxes, and fill potholes. It will relieve pressure on the urban growth boundary, revitalize neighborhoods, and ensure the success of bus rapid transit. It can reduce air pollution, energize the arts community, and connect us better to our neighboring towns. It can begin to mend the urban-rural split that has plagued Lane County for generations. In short, it fixes everything.

Tom Connor, Don Woolley, and the Opus Group from Minnesota have joined together to rebuild the west end of downtown. A local investment group headed by the Giustina family is already at work with the city for a project on the east end. Both groups need help from the city for some parking, some city-owned land, and some privately-owned land. Both projects are meeting the city more than halfway.

Gertrude Stein famously quipped of Oakland, California: “There’s no there there.” Indeed, troubles compound for a city whose center has lost its hold on its people. A city without a recognizable hub is a suburb without the peace and quiet. Newcomers choose their homes based either on price alone or on price and the neighborhood. Proximity is not a factor, so people settle near others like them, making good schools better and struggling schools worse. Everybody drives more because there’s no organizing principle to where things go.

If price is all that matters, people will naturally move to the edges of town or to neighboring villages where land is cheaper. The farther people spread, the harder it is to make mass transit practical. As busses become less viable, traffic and pavement conditions worsen. The air gets dirtier and every errand takes longer. Nobody ever loved their hometown waiting at a stop light.

Rejuvenate downtown and everything changes. Some people still choose the two-car garage in Veneta over the carport near downtown, but others are attracted to the city life near the center. Slowly, homeowners begin to choose a neighborhood because it’s close to downtown or near a rapid transit station. Neighborhoods become less homogeneous; schools become integrated; block parties become more interesting.

Those near the center enjoy driving less, which means those on the edges can enjoy their driving more. The streets are less crowded and trips can be consolidated when there’s more in one place where everybody wants to go. Planning for roads and land supply and magnets like hospitals becomes easier when there’s less risk of a new “hub” popping up in a greenfield somewhere. When the center is strong, the future is clear. When the future is near-certain, land speculation nearly disappears.

If whatever follows the West Eugene Parkway helps people get to downtown, where they can eat, shop and be entertained, the opposition will melt away. We can be forgiven to not support a road designed to help others avoid us.

A vibrant center becomes a place people want to go, even if it’s not very often. For anniversaries, for shopping excursions, for a day with a visiting nephew, there’s a there there. The downtown entertainment district outside our front door attracts people from the outskirts the same way the wilderness out their back door attracts us.

As the heart of the region beats, it pumps lifeblood into the center for the arts, then pumps the same lifeblood out to the edges for the outdoors. “The world’s greatest city for the arts and the outdoors.” Indeed.

People in towns all around will have reason to say they live near Eugene, because people coming and going will become what’s normal. A strong heart helps circulation, and good circulation is the key to a healthy life.

Young people will still be attracted to downtown, but now there will be attractions beyond one another. When everybody gets mixed up, nobody worries they’ll be outnumbered. The crime that comes from boredom or from blight goes away. A busy street is safer in the city. A quiet street is safer in the country. We’ve had these two reversed.

We’ll all be asked to invest in this vision. Not with our money, not in the long run, because this investment will attract much more money than it costs. But we’ll have to invest our hope, our support, our pride of place.

In the end, what we have to give will do more to ensure success than all the millions these few want to spend.

Tags: No Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.