Here’s an open secret: Salem, Oregon is an unappealing city. Here’s another: the Salem City Council is determined to keep it that way. Crazy. Salem already is crippled by poor planning, lack of creativity, and a boring downtown. Yet the City Council is busily engaged in shooting the city in its foot to hobble it even more.
As I said in “Salem City Council knows zilch about sustainability,” state planners have rejected Salem’s land use policies as being inconsistent with good mixed-use development. Rather than doing the right thing and fixing the plan, the City Council is appealing to the state Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).
That’s a waste of money. Also, a waste of all the time and effort that went into the Salem Futures planning effort. The Statesman-Journal editorial board agrees. Today’s paper says that “Effective land-use planning is key to Salem’s future.” Right on.
This isn’t rocket science, befuddled City Council members. Just think about where you like to go when you’re on vacation or driving through a new town. “Wow, take the next exit, dear! Look at that sprawling subdivision…and the strip mall. And…oh my god, it’s a bunch of big box stores! Wal-Mart. Target. Costco. It’s all so…beautiful.”
No, my friends. This isn’t reality.
What you actually do is stop in Sisters on the way to Bend because the stores are so unique, there’s a strict “Western only look” zoning code, and no garish signs. Or, on the coast, you drive right though butt-ugly unplanned Lincoln City and head for oh-so-charming Cannon Beach, where you can have a pleasant time walking around downtown and not take your life in your hands to cross a four-lane highway.
The Statesman-Journal editorial is fine as far as it goes, but it omitted mention of downtown Salem’s notorious lack of vitality. Finally some of the boarded-up buildings are being renovated, but there’s not much to draw people to the city’s core.
Several times a week I go to a Tai Chi class on Court Street. Mondays Laurel and I now go to a tango class at 7:00 pm. So for the past few weeks I’ve been looking for something to eat when Tai Chi is over at 6:00 pm and I’ve got an hour to kill. The first coffee house I went to said, “We’ve stopped serving food.” The second one told me, “We’ve shut down the stove, but it’s still warm and we’ll make you a hot sandwich if you can wait a while.”
I look at my watch. It’s 6:15 pm, not midnight! But in downtown Salem the sidewalks roll up really early, so it might as well be. Mostly those sidewalks are inhabited by street youth after the sun goes down, and they aren’t big spenders. If people actually lived downtown, things would be different.
But, ooh, that would mean mixed-use planning, and the City Council doesn’t want to have anything to do with evil commie socialistic bureaucratic anti-free market planning. So the City Council fiddles with its LUBA appeal while Salem burns.