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Eugene Can Welcome Newcomers Without Being Overwhelmed

January 31st, 2020 by dk

We usually talk about gentrification as if it’s one thing. After it’s done, it is. But when it’s happening on the ground, it involves multiple factors that silently align. They often come together accidentally at first. Slowly, they coalesce into consensus. Then people see a crescendo that seems unstoppable. The best strategy is to interrupt those accidental alignments early.

Asheville, North Carolina has a backwater hippie vibe that wouldn’t seem unfamiliar to you. It’s a vibrant arts community, with as many vegans as pickup trucks. For most of the past century, its remote location, nestled in the mountains, protected it.

That’s changing. The airport has grown rapidly over the past five years, as “destination airlines” (like Allegiant) have disrupted the efficiency-minded “hub and spoke” model. Hotel rooms have been built at such a rapid pace that the city council has placed a moratorium on future projects. Large houses are being built into the surrounding hillsides. Locals stay inside on weekends to avoid the tourist traffic.

Nobody’s happy. Bookstores place plaintive placards by upholstered chairs, asking customers to buy books before curling up with them. Bars promise sidewalk shoppers free heat with any purchase. Bathroom policies become more prominent than menu offerings. Car horns convey pent-up frustration with those who don’t know their way around.

Even those who welcome the growth agree that the changes are suddenly coming too quickly. It’s hard to keep any place distinctive (a.k.a. “weird”) when it’s being overrun with newcomers. Locals feel outnumbered, outmaneuvered, outbid. They’re losing what they had, but they can’t quite stop it.

It may be too late for Asheville, but not too late for Eugene, to consider remedies. Most involve helping residents keep their homes. Watch how locals cope with changes. Assist their efforts to adapt. Help them resist any coming crescendo.

We already do many things well in this regard. Oregon shields homeowners from property tax spikes. Food and water grow and flow nearby, so those are not at risk. Our transit system makes driving optional, at least for those who live near major arteries. Bike paths, and (soon) electric scooters also help. On-street parking can be permitted where congestion becomes a recurring problem.

But there’s more we can do to slow the pace of change. It’s past time for Eugene to write reasonable rules for auxiliary dwelling units. New state rules that require cities to allow duplexes are coming soon. A citizen panel is being formed to suggest protections against short-term-rental abuses.

We’re losing entry-level housing stock in central locations. So-called “student housing” codes should be rewritten to facilitate varieties of eventual reuse. Our fixed-fee system development charges incentivize larger houses, when smaller homes are what new buyers prefer. Minimum residential lot sizes should be scaled to encourage the gradual infill that residents and politicians say they prefer.

These are ounce-of-prevention suggestions, because the pound-of-cure solutions that come later are much less attractive. When we see restaurants protecting their restrooms before promoting their food, that’s an early warning sign of a coming crescendo of change.


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

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