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How to Guarantee Eugene’s Town Square Success

October 12th, 2018 by dk

Eugene’s proposed Town Square is a good idea. It could be a great idea, with one addition. Now that Judge Richard Barron has cleared the way for a land swap between the city of Eugene and Lane County, we’re headed in a direction that affirms our predecessors’ vision from 60, 100, and 160 years ago.

Eugene and Mary Skinner conceived of their 40-acre donation to become the hub of the city they founded. They could not have imagined how populous the city or county would become. When Eugene Skinner died in 1864, the population of the entire new state of Oregon was barely more than 50,000 people.

Forty acres would certainly suffice for central services of Eugene and Lane County, the Skinners must have supposed. They couldn’t have envisioned the size of government today — or how separated it has become from the daily business of its citizenry.

Lane County’s first Farmers Market set up on this parcel over a century ago. It was not deemed incompatible with the Skinners’ original intent. The donated land should be reserved for the well being of county employees — but workers have to eat, don’t they?

Buying and selling local produce may not seem essential to us, but we should tread carefully. In just a few years, we may look silly for having set aside the same acreage so county workers could park their cars.

The details of our needs change over time, so we must always return to the intent of the gift and the vision of its donors. If Eugene and Lane County have a central hub, it belongs on 8th Avenue and should include the Park Blocks.

A group of civic-minded architects proposed an ambitious plan for the area in the Eugene Register-Guard on Dec. 5, 1954. Two quotes will give you a flavor of the four-page insert:

  • “The plan is an opportunity for governments to work together in establishing a compact, unified center to better serve the people of Lane County.”
  • “The plan of Architects Collaborative for a county-city governmental and cultural center is a direction, not a design. It’s a guide for the future.”

Sixty-four years later, the current Town Square plan follows in those footsteps, requiring only one addition.

Our goal all along has been to animate the Park Blocks throughout the week and throughout the year. To that end, the center must not become too unified or too compact. A permanent farmers market will add seasonal changes. We need people outside to enjoy it.

Current thinking has city employees bunched along the area’s northern edge — in a new building on 7th Avenue and later in Lane County’s public service building. The city will need more space than that, and a perfect building may soon become available.

Wells Fargo plans drastic downsizing for 2019. Might they sell their downtown branch building at 99 E. Broadway? The city’s engineering department is currently leasing the fourth floor.

Divide the city’s offices between the southern and northern edges of the Park Blocks. That way we can be sure there will be people walking around and through the rebuilt Park Blocks throughout the week.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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