Eugene’s Prime Location in Four Corners

When Mary Skinner first saw the flat spot on high ground 150 years ago, she declared it perfect for her husband Eugene and their young family. Let’s become reacquainted with what our city’s founders found here.

In a word, proximity.

The Willamette River wended its way to population centers north. The hillside aerie gave an expansive view of this valley’s southern edges. Mountain passes gave protection from and access to the ocean, as well as points south and east. Frontier families always looked forward — what better reason was there to be in front? This location here offered ideal frontages.

The Skinners chose their home as a base camp, a staging ground. Wherever you wanted to go, you could get there from here. We mustn’t lose that as we plan our first urban expansion in a generation and a half. We’re continuing what Mary and Eugene Skinner did a century and a half ago — staking our claim.

That claim is marked by its outer edges, like a spread blanket on a crowded beach or the tent stakes on a camping site. It’s almost eery to consider how complementary our four corners have become, as if the dreams of a single frontier woman anticipated every modern transit mode.

Only Eugene’s northeast corner would look familiar to the Skinners. It remains the same vital transit corridor it always was for clean water and wild salmon. We’ve added recreational kayakers to the mix, but little more. May the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers always flow through us.

The transit lines that emanate from our northwest corner are less visible and more dramatic. Our airport has been growing faster than the national average every year for decades. Airport officials project this to be the facility’s busiest weekend ever, or nearly so. For the type of businesses, residents and tourists we hope to attract in the decades ahead, nothing has a larger impact than convenient air travel.

To raise our median household income faster than our cost of living, there’s only one way to do that. We need people who don’t live here to subsidize the salaries of those who do. “Buy local” campaigns can raise our region’s standard of living only marginally.

Our distance from the nation’s population centers poses a challenge to our economy’s export sector, so we must focus on what we can offer that has value without weight. Knowledge and experience top the list, and the airport accelerates both.

Every time a Eugene resident steps on an airplane to give a lecture or close a business deal, they return with more money than when they left. Every tourist who flies to Eugene for a wine tour or a sporting event leaves behind most of the money they packed. The airport adds wealth to our region. We must help it continue its impressive growth.

Our southern corners are primed to help us distribute weightier goods. Each is poised for significant growth and we can help.

Goshen is slightly beyond the southeast reach of our urban area, but it can bring our city tangible benefits nonetheless. Lane Community College will be training many of the industrial workers that area’s development will require. EWEB’s involvement will be essential. For hard goods traveling inland by truck, Route 58 offers our umbilical connection to most of the continent. Making that nexus more efficient and attractive will benefit our entire region.

Finally, the southwest corner can become a new economic connection to the deep port of Coos Bay. An intermodal transfer station will connect container trucks to the Coos Bay Rail Link, giving our region a fluid connection to California, Latin America and the Pacific Rim. Building a transfer station and rail yard for the short line to Coos Bay will boost local businesses. Freighters can reach parts of the world far beyond even Mary Skinner’s imagination.

Trucks, trains, ships and planes — every commercial transit mode wants to better its connection with our region. How we parcel new lands into our urban growth boundary should be designed to help them grow. Each improvement will deepen our economic stability, while raising the value of proximity that Mary Skinner first recognized.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.