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The Best Direction for Springfield’s Future: UP!

April 4th, 2007 by dk

Springfield needs more elevators. Not that Springfield needs more tall buildings or fewer stairs. The elevators aren’t as important as the particular lessons we learn when we ride them.

A friend once offered me this brain teaser. “Which direction do most people in Manhattan travel to get to work?” I puzzled out the commuting patterns from Connecticut from the north, New Jersey from the east, and the boroughs. His answer was deceptively simple: “Up.” From wherever they started, the one direction almost everyone travels is up.

When you stop to think about it, an elevator ride is a harrowing experience. There you are in a metal box, racing straight up or plummeting toward the ground, together with a bunch of strangers. Maybe you can even recall the very first times you rode an elevator and you confused it with an amusement ride. It’s so very unnatural at first! There’s a cable above you that will catch you before you hit bottom, and we all learn to trust that it’ll work correctly and the doors will open when we reach our destination.

But each elevator ride also teaches us a different sort of trust. Remember the setting. Half a dozen strangers in a metal box, from which there is no easy way out until the doors open. But it’s worse than even this. There’s a little red button that can stop the box and keep the doors from opening, and that button is a short lunge away from each stranger.

It’s only after riding an elevator over and over that we learn that it’s not really unsafe. First because almost never does something bad happen. But more significantly, we learn to trust strangers. If one of the people in the elevator decided to use the red button, all the other people in the elevator would immediately unite against that one person.

People who don’t ride elevators don’t easily learn they can unite with strangers to overcome obstacles. People who live in urban environments learn this lesson well. They become comfortable on street corners, in parking garages, on mass transit, because strangers no longer frighten them. Small town environments get people used to avoiding strangers altogether if they can.

Surprise enlivens a city and strangers bring surprise. Small towns turn their energies inward, forming clans of safe groups that eat and work and play and worship together. When somebody new shows up, they are treated with suspicion.

Trouble is, small towns like ours can’t stay small. We keep attracting new people. Prognosticators expect our regional population to double in the next generation. We can’t make new friends as fast as the strangers are arriving. So we’ll have to learn to treat those we don’t know with less suspicion. If we could all take elevator rides together, we could learn this skill quickly.

Instead, we’ll have to tackle projects together, expecting to work with people we don’t know, accepting that there will be surprises along the way, enjoying the energy of lots of different sorts of people working together on a single project.

Case in point. The American Institute of Architects is spending 2007 exploring the Franklin Corridor. Franklin Boulevard and its adjacent riverfront connects the entrance into downtown Springfield with the entrance into downtown Eugene. In between, there’s Glenwood, the I-5 bridge at Judkins Point, the University of Oregon and the new federal courthouse.

To better imagine an exciting future for this stretch of roadway and riverfront, AIA is inviting all comers to wrestle with the issues involved. Assisted by University of Oregon architecture students, design professionals, and civic leaders, everyday citizens are invited to learn and contribute to what may be our most defining connector for generations to come.

The first Open House and Design Workshop happened in Eugene the first weekend in February. The next one is Friday the 13th at the historic Train Depot from 5 until 7:30, followed by a full-day workshop at Springfield City Hall on Saturday beginning at 9:30. Everyone is invited, regardless of background or expertise. Refreshments will be provided on Friday and lunch is included on Saturday. And it’s all free, supported by various sponsors, beginning with a $15,000 grant from AIA itself.

You are invited to attend Friday evening, just to check it out. You’ll have opportunity there to sign up for Saturday, or you can pre-register at

You might find it as exciting as that very first elevator ride you had as a kid. Certainly we all know that planning our future will have its ups and downs. It makes it all the more important that we learn to trust one another.

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