It wasn’t a surprise. In today’s Salem Statesman-Journal this headline hit my eyes: “State rejects city’s review of land-use policies.” A shock it was not: the Salem City Council is notoriously tone deaf when it comes to singing tunes of sustainability and environmentalism.
But even though my expectations of council members are low when it comes to all things Green, the lack of understanding of Council President Jim Randall still was shocking. I read:
The Salem City Council thinks that a voluntary, market-based approach with minimal planning is the only way to promote dense mixed-use development of the sort proposed by the Fairview development in South Salem, Council President Jim Randall said.
My wife and I are investors in this development, Sustainable Fairview. We know a lot about it. And we totally disagree with the notion that a “voluntary, market-based approach with minimal planning” is the way to foster further dense, mixed-use development akin to Fairview.
This definitely wasn’t how Sustainable Fairview came to be. The project flowed out of intense state, city, and community planning. It required a complete rezoning of the 275 acres that used to comprise the Fairview Training Center to assure that development would proceed in line with principles of sustainability (energy use, wastewater management, de-emphasis of auto transportation, and so on).
Here’s how the Sustainable Fairview web site’s “Planning and Development” section describes the history of the project:
The Fairview Master Plan is consistent with Oregon’s most forward-thinking visions and goals for sustainable development. From its inception in 2001, Sustainable Fairview Associates (SFA) used the Governor's Quality Development Objectives, the City of Salem’s long range planning effort, Salem Futures, and the Governors Sustainability Executive Order as guidelines for its development program. Likewise, SFA has relied on local, regional, national and international expertise in planning, engineering and design (see Land Planning Team).
Finally, community charrette and numerous public forums were used to both inspire and refine the elements of the plan to be innovative, yet practical and economically exciting for the city in which we live. The Fairview plan has generated development of new mixed-use zone ordinances and aspires to be a model for facilitating new development patterns that create a strong sense of place and community.
Jim Randall and the rest of the Salem City Council members need a crash course in land use planning and sustainable development. Otherwise Salem is going to continue to have its land use policies rejected by the state, which, entirely appropriately, expects that local jurisdictions demonstrate at least minimal competence in planning.
[Next day update: A few additional thoughts, spurred in part by Max’s comment that Salem planners don’t have a supportive environment. Absolutely. I wasn’t being critical of the professional planning staff, who I’m sure could come up with a great mixed-use vision for Salem if they were working for a City Council and Mayor who valued sustainability.
Salem is a backwater. It’s frustrating for me to have lived here for 29 years and see an area with so much potential remain the ugly duckling to Portland and Eugene’s swan. By and large Salem’s civic leaders have precious little imagination, creativity, and daring. Their motto is, “Even if it’s broken, why fix it?”
Concerning market-based approaches to mixed-use development, a phrase from my old Systems Science program days comes to mind: “discounting the future.” Meaning, a bird in hand is worth two or more hiding in the brush that you aren’t aware of yet. So the future is given less value than the present. Making money now is a higher priority than investing in the future.
That’s an incredibly selfish attitude, especially over the long run. The “present” I’m living in is going to run out, almost certainly, before the present of my daughter does. So the world I’m helping to form now is going to be the world she inherits. If that world isn’t capable of sustaining human civilization, then I’ve failed her.
This is what sustainability is about: assuring that future generations have the same opportunity to live a good life—or an even better life—as we have now. That takes planning, because the free market discounts the future. It is present oriented. Make money now. Consume limited resources now.
So Jim Randall’s idea that limited or non-existent planning is going to result in a positive sustainable future for Salem is ridiculous. It likely flows from two sources: (1) ignorance of what sustainability means and how important it is, and (2) a political unwillingness to embrace planning even if he overcame that ignorance.
Sad. I just hope that Salem voters will recognize how poorly they are being served by the current City Council and kick as many members as possible out in coming elections.]
[Further update: Sustainable Fairview Associates (the group developing Fairview) has sent a letter to Mayor Janet Taylor and the Salem City Council that emphasizes the need for planning in support of mixed-use development. Hopefully it will help open some minds.
The letter is mentioned in today's Statesman-Journal story, "Board rejects using Salem Futures outline," about the Council's ill-advised decision to throw away hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless volunteer hours that went into the Salem Futures planning effort.]