It's time we faced the facts, fellow Salemians: we live in a cursed city. I proposed this notion about a year ago in "Salem's curse continues: riverfront development stalls." The evidence for cursedness was strong then; it's even stronger now.
I've come up with the Salem Curse theory because it explains why the city remains the zero point at the center of four engaging compass headings. I'm pretty sure that somewhere along the urbanization line Salem sold its soul and now is doomed to live with minimal spirit.
To the north is oh-so-trendy Portland. To the south is oh-so-hip Eugene. To the west is the beautiful Pacific Coast. To the east is the majestic Cascade Mountains. And in the middle sits...
Thus the curse of Oregon's capital isn't to be infected with evil. Hey, that'd be interesting, cool, something to be proud of. (Las Vegas does just fine with that sort of curse.)
No, Salem's curse is existential.
It's to be doomed with a void at the barely beating heart of our slow-moving metropolis. It's a lack of creative energy, a deficit of imagination, an emptiness that blocks attempts to cure the lethargy that infects Big Ideas and turns them into a shadow of themselves.
Last weekend my wife and I were in Bend. It's got a river running through it, just like Salem does. Except, Bend has made good use of its river. You can shop, dine, recreate, and walk along it.
Salem's river is mostly just a glance from a car window as you speed across a bridge from one side to the other. As noted in the above-linked post, efforts to improve Salem's riverfront have stalled.
So now, instead of staring at ugly Boise Cascade industrial buildings, we'll be treated to the sight of them half-demolished.
Then there's the site of the former Fairview Training Center.
My wife and I used to be investors in Sustainable Fairview Associates, the LLC that bought the property from the state with marvelous plans to develop the several hundred acres into a Green community that would be a model of environmental cutting-edge'ness for the nation.
So far, as with the riverfront, not much has happened. Pringle Creek Community peeled off thirty-some acres and has made some promising progress, with a few pioneering homeowners now living there.
But Sustainable Fairview Associates is still looking for someone to fulfil the dream that is still just that: a vision, not reality.
While Wilsonville's Villebois followed the same trajectory as Fairview for a while -- both are sustainable mixed use ventures being built on a former state property -- Villebois was named the 2010 Community of the Year by the National Association of Home Builders.
And Fairview isn't really any sort of community at all. Again, it's the Salem curse at work. Great ideas take root and flourish in other parts of Oregon. In Salem, most of them wither.
Salem's Courthouse Square debacle is another example of our city's curse. Only in Salem would a ten year old county building and transit center that takes up a full city block be declared utterly unusable.
More proof that something metaphysically out of the ordinary is going on here: nobody, absolutely nobody, has been found to be responsible for Courthouse Square's exceedingly early demise (except a dead guy who can't speak for himself).
What's to be done about Salem's curse?
I don't know. I'm no expert in exorcising a city. Besides, we aren't talking about a supernatural problem. Salem's blahness is decidedly observable. It is easily sensed by anyone who spends more than a little time here.
I came up with my Strange Up Salem notion as an out-of-the-ordinary antidote to the ho-hum vibe that permeates the city I've lived in or near for thirty-four years. Having seen grand ambitions for a more vibrant Salem fail repeatedly, I'm now a believer that -- as I said in this post -- we are the strange that we've been waiting for.
So screw the fact that the riverfront is largely a pile of ugly rubble. Screw the failure of Sustainable Fairview to be a model Green community. Screw the derelict Courthouse Square project that's added a useless square block to a downtown which already has lots of vacant storefronts.
You, me, us -- we can look the Salem Curse right in the eye and say, "You got no control over me, bro." We can be as energetic, creative, eccentric, wild, and crazy as we want to be, strange creatures prowling in the Land of Blah, roaming free and happily.
That's how a curse is broken: ignore it.