I wish Salem had more cheerleaders.
I'm not talking about the rah-rah pom-pom wielding variety (though I love them too; my granddaughter is one), but people who manifest these qualities:
(1) They have an over-arching creative progressive vision for the marvelous town Salem can become.
(2) They have the charisma and drive to draw others into supporting this vision.
(3) They have the power, talent, influence, and resources to convert visionary dreams into reality.
I got to thinking about this after someone thanked me for my blog posts about Sustainable Fairview, the project to redevelop the Fairview Training Center in south Salem that had grand ambitions, yet has mostly failed to achieve them.
Curious to re-read some of those posts, here's part of what I found I'd said in "Sadly, the vision of Salem's Sustainable Fairview has been much diluted."
I remember the three-plus years (2003-2006) when my wife and I owned shares in Sustainable Fairview Associates, LLC. We went to many meetings where the master plan for the 275 acres was being discussed. There was an overall integrated vision for the property, the goal being to create a world-class sustainable development that would draw people from far and wide.
...bit by bit, the 275 acre Fairview property has been balkanized. Pringle Creek Community bought part. Simpson Hills, LLC bought part. Olsen Design & Development bought part. Now the City of Salem likely will buy a part. And Sustainable Fairview Associates still owns a part.
Thus one sustainable vision has turned into five visions of... this and that. Pringle Creek Community has upheld the original vision, so far as I know. The other buyers, not so much (and in the case of Simpson Hills, that might be an overstatement).
...Yesterday I heard from a fellow SFA investor who sympathized with my frustrations, but said that he still hoped to live at Fairview one day and form a community with like-minded people. Well, that’s great. I hope that his dream comes true.
However, special settings that attract special people require a special mindset for their creation. The soul of Walt Disney still is felt in Disneyland. The soul of John Bogle still is felt in Vanguard. The soul of Conrad Hilton still is felt in Hilton hotels. By contrast, conventional people create conventional settings that attract other conventional people. When I say “conventional” I don’t mean untalented or unsuccessful. I mean something that is hard to put into words, but is apparent to anyone who visits a special place.
...[here's] one of the most frustrating things about living in Salem: too often, people are overly cautious and uncreative, failing to dream big and follow through on that unique vision.
Understand: Salem has creative people. Salem has progressively-minded people with great vision. Salem has wealthy people who can make things happen. Salem has charismatic people who are good leaders.
The problem is, these are different people. I can't think of anyone who combines the qualities of "creative," "progressive," "wealthy," and "charismatic."
Now, before I get accused of being overly elitist, let me explain why I included "wealthy" in my list of attributes for a civic cheerleader. I'm not talking billionaire. I'm speaking about someone who has the personal financial resources to devote to visionary causes, both through donations of his/her own time and, yes, direct monetary contributions.
Think Larry Tokarski of Mountain West Investment. But a creative, progressive, charismatic version who, when he/she speaks, others pay attention, because this is a guy/gal who can make great things happen.
Part of Salem's problem is that our town isn't a corporate headquarters. We don't have software or high-tech companies headed by liberal entrepreneurs who can fill the role of civic cheerleader, whereas other cities about our size do have these sorts of people in their citizenry.
Another problem is how our city government is organized. Almost by design, the City of Salem lacks the inherent capacity to be a local government cheerleader.
City councilors aren't paid. Neither is the Mayor. They don't have staff. The City Council has the power to set priorities, but not the power to implement them. This power resides with the City Manager and other top department heads. Yet nobody at the City of Salem is anywhere close to being the Civic Cheerleader our town needs.
Yes, discrete things get done. One after the other. Pretty much by happenstance. A bike path here. Road improvements there. Ride sharing gets approved. The Third Bridge boondoggle staggers on. Budgets are passed. And so on.
Yet all this doesn't begin to add up to a cohesive, exciting, creative vision for Salem's future that makes citizens go "Wow! I'm SO on board with what's happening!"
Mayor Bennett doesn't inspire. City Manager Powers is very laid-back in his public appearances. The eight city councilors have moments of enthusiasm, but these are irregular and poorly known due to the Statesman Journal's lack of attention to covering City Hall matters (Salem Weekly does better but only is published every two weeks, despite its name).
So there's a void in Salem when it comes to what this town needs. To repeat, cheerleaders who have:
(1) An over-arching creative progressive vision for the marvelous town Salem can become.
(2) The charisma and drive to draw others into supporting this vision.
(3) The power, talent, influence, and resources to convert visionary dreams into reality.
Right now those with the creative progressive vision don't have the power. Those with the power don't have a creative progressive vision.
The prevailing ethos in Salem seems to be "we'll just muddle along and hope for the best, but without really trying for anything more than average."
There are many reasons for this, but I believe a lack of cheerleaders -- of the variety I've described -- holds our town back from becoming truly noteworthy. This should be our goal: mindblowing uniqueness, not ho-hum I've seen that before.
I'll end with another excerpt from my post about Sustainable Fairview, since what I said applies to Salem as a whole.
Sustainable Fairview Associates had an opportunity to create a world-class sustainable community here in Salem that would have been a truly special place. It would have drawn people from all over the country, and even the world, who wanted to live and work at Fairview.
Some places people seek out. Other places—Aspen, Sedona, Carmel, Ashland—draw people like a magnet. And they are interesting people, unconventional people, special people. Whenever we go to visit friends in Ashland I realize that there are more artistic and creative souls in this southern Oregon home of the Shakespeare festival than there are in Salem, which has five times more people.
...Thinking big, thinking “outside the box,” thinking creatively—the lack of such thinking is what frustrates Laurel and me as investors in Sustainable Fairview Associates.
If we had wanted to invest in something conventional we would have left our money in index mutual funds. Instead, we were seriously seeking to help create a special setting that both we and the world could enjoy. Maybe it still will come to be. I doubt it, unless some special people with a special vision take over the management of SFA, and create a development that matches their sensibilities.