There's a lot to like about Bend. But I've never thought of this central Oregon city as being on the cutting edge of mixed-use urban development.
Well, I've never thought of my home town, Salem, as being cutting-edge in that way either. In fact, in any way. There's also a lot to like about Salem. However, there's a reason Oregon's capital city is often referred to as So-Lame.
Still, I've figured that since Salem is in the mostly progressive Willamette Valley we had an edge over Bend in urban design, given that Bend is more conservative politically (in-migration of Californians seems to be changing the tenor of Bend, though).
However, the current crop of City of Salem officials is decidedly behind the times. Even for Salem, which always seems to be playing catch-up compared to the much more with-it Willamette Valley cities, Portland, Corvallis, and Eugene.
Our Mayor, City Manager, and City Council are stuck in a timewarp, believing they're planning for life as it was in the 1950's, not today. Their big goal is to build an unneeded $450 million third bridge that would channel people away from downtown into the 'burbs.
More autocentric sprawl is what excites the powers-that-be at Salem City Hall. Making our town more pedestrian and bike-friendly is an afterthought (assuming even that; often it doesn't seem to enter their minds).
Thus as a Salemian it was rather depressing to read the Bend Bulletin today and see a prominent story, "Unveiling plans for a 'vibrant' core." Online version has a different headline. Here's an excerpt.
Download Bend finishes central district redevelopment plan; City will take the proposal to the public
Bend planners will share with the public the latest version of a plan to encourage redevelopment of the city center into a “vibrant district” at a final meeting on the topic Monday. The plan focuses on the area between the Bend Parkway and NE Fourth Street and from NE Revere Avenue to approximately NE Burnside Avenue.
The transportation and zoning plan is aimed at converting the area from an industrial and drive-through retail area to a pedestrian-friendly district where people can live, work and socialize. City planners wrote in the plan that “some community members have suggested that a portion of the area could become a new arts or cultural district for the city in the future.”
Industrial and commercial zoning in the area made more sense when Third Street was U.S. Highway 97, before the Oregon Department of Transportation built the parkway, according to the new plan. Proposed changes would include accepting some traffic congestion in the area.
“It should be noted that a certain amount of congestion can be healthy and beneficial for a city or neighborhood,” city planners wrote. “For example, driving more slowly through an area can increase retail sales and real estate values.”
Now, it seems Bend is being forced into this because its urban growth boundary plan was rejected by state officials for not including enough infill development. Regardless, I wish Salem planners had as much smarts -- forced or not.
In Salem there is a ridiculous fear of what passes for "congestion" in our sleepy city. We have rush minutes rather than a rush hour. When people can't park in front of the downtown business they want to visit, they clamor for more parking spaces instead of accepting they sometimes will have to walk a few blocks.
The above-mentioned third bridge is intended to ameliorate the rush hour (or rush minutes) congestion getting into and out of downtown. Whether it actually would do this is unlikely. But City officials have it as a goal.
They don't realize the truth that Bend planners know: no downtown business benefits when cars and people are moving by speedily. It is when traffic slows; when people stop and park; when they walk or bike around an area; this is when economic activity takes place.
If people are living nearby, so much the better. This is the beauty of converting ghastly strip mall streets like Salem's South Commercial and Lancaster Drive into mixed-use development where living, working, and playing can all occur without driving.
It sounds like Bend is getting the message. Salem, not so much, though there are a few encouraging signs in this direction.