Below you'll find a spot-on critique by Geoffrey James of how the City of Salem does urban design. Or more accurately, doesn't.
James is an architect here in Salem. It's fair to say, a noted architect, judging from a portion of his bio:
Geoff began his long career in design in 1963 upon graduating as an architect. First licensed in the UK in 1966, he has worked on prestigious buildings around the world from England, Wales, Scotland, and Egypt, to the USA. Licensed in the US in 1979 he has designed buildings in seven states i.e. Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska, Hawaii, Arkansas, and New York.
He became president of PRA Pacific Region Architects in 1982, then the largest firm in the Willamette Valley, and designed many prominent buildings throughout Oregon. He has also master-planned residential communities, retail centers, office parks and industrial parks in Oregon and Washington. In downtown Salem he was the architect of record for three connected buildings, the Liberty Plaza retail office complex, the JCPenney department store remodel, and the connecting sky bridge over Chemeketa Street.
After Geoff read and agreed with my blog post about going back to the original vision for Pringle Square, he and I exchanged some emails. Geoff said it would be fine to share this message of his, which I heartily agree with.
I am convinced that the reason the capital city of Oregon lacks good design and vision is because it lacks design leadership.
The great cities of the world all have design leaders, and a Vision and an urban design Plan.
I have lived and worked in the capital cities of England, Wales, and Scotland, and have visited the European capitals that are "Meccas" for tourists and visitors.
Why are they so attracting? Well, because each city is attractive, beautiful, and each has an ambiance that is special and unique.
Even the capital city of the Inland Empire (Spokane), where I worked, is an oasis of culture, with its Riverfront Park and exciting downtown, and 16 block Skywalk.
They all have something we do not have: a city architect, a city planner, and an urban design plan.
Salem has a planning administrator, who just says it's ok to have apartment windows 20 ft. from the Eco Earth walkway, because "that's what the apartment design code says."
No long range planning, no visioning, no urban design plan.
In 1974 at least we had the CSDP Central Salem Development Program. Now we have no real design plan.
Salem's approach is to maybe bring in some U of O students, then hire a consultant for each stand alone project, like the Riverfront Park (went through three consultants at $300,000 each).
Or the conference center, but no vision of its context, like implementing the Mayor's comment that "we need to create views of the River" (from that center).
Other than the Urban Land Institute Study, which was short and sweet, and initially was taken seriously, the [Pringle Square] developers soon departed from that, and want to squeeze a maximum of rented space and paved parking in, so the green spaces are minimal.
So, it may be up to us, the people, to regain some say in how our city develops.
A current example of secret and poor planning by administrators is the $65 million City Hall addition. It removes part of Mirror Pond, creates a canyon effect along Commercial, and is a poor solution. The police department does not really need to be physically in the Civic Center, when the crime and the murders are generally in the north east part of town.
The civic group should demand to know what is going on. The council sub-committee and the city management is being super secretive, and I disagree with their direction.
Maybe the Riverfront Park groups should form a coalition and work for an improved Riverfront South Plan and include the Civic Center expansion in that work. The two topics are connected (and maybe should be physically connected), because Linda Norris recently commented that it (Civic Center addition) will provide "additional parking" that can be used by Park visitors.
It's time for a Design Charette (like we did at Fairview) and a comprehensive Central Salem Community Plan, not by staff, but by the people of Salem.
Let's all get together and do this.