Please, Salemians, let's all vow to never again say these words:
"This is Salem, not Portland." Or the variant, "This is Salem, not Portland or Eugene."
My minor gripe about those sayings is that they're obvious. Of course, Salem isn't Portland or Eugene. In the same fashion, I'm not you; a cat is not a dog; coffee is not tea. Things that are different aren't the same.
Simply as a matter of logic, I'm sure we can agree on that.
My major gripe is more important. It concerns the usual underlying message of someone saying This is Salem, not Portland or Eugene.
"Salem should stay just as it is. There's nothing people in this town can learn from those cities. Or any other city. How we do things now is an essential part of our everlasting identity, so let's not change."
It's that sentiment that drives me nuts. I come across it frequently, often in response to a post I've put up on my Strange Up Salem Facebook page.
(If you haven't given that page a "like," do it now. Wonderful things will happen as a result. Well, at least this thing -- the number of likes will go up by one.)
Only last Friday I heard those words, This is Salem, not Portland or Eugene, said by T.J. Sullivan, the Chamber of Commerce representative who argued against passage of a mass transit payroll tax at a Salem City Club debate about this issue.
Advocates of a payroll tax point out that Portland and Eugene have much better mass transit/bus systems than Salem does. Our neighboring cities help pay for mass transit through a payroll tax that, in each case, is more than three times higher than what businesses in Salem are being asked to pay.
But according to Sullivan, there is nothing Salem can learn from the experience of Portland or Eugene.
Supposedly Salem is unique. Salem does things its own special way. It is better for Salem to remain idiosyncratically dysfunctional, than to follow in another city's footsteps toward a more livable and economically vibrant future.
Bluntly speaking, this attitude is dumb. It's like me saying, "I'm a different person from my Tai Chi instructor, so there's nothing I can learn from him." That, obviously, is completely untrue.
Likewise, Salem won't lose its identity by adopting/adapting good ideas and best practices from other locales -- just as I don't become my Tai Chi instructor by learning from him.
Sure, we here in Salem don't want the negative sides of Portland or Eugene. However, we sure do need to look at what those cities to our north and south do better than Salem. Along with how cities all over the freaking world do things.
For example, I like our comparative lack of traffic jams. I like our downtown Historic District. I like our lower cost art and entertainment scene.
At the same time, I don't like how difficult it is to ride a bicycle here. I don't like how downtown is overly autocentric. I don't like the emphasis on outlying big-box stores rather than walkable shopping areas.
Salem isn't an island unto itself.
Businesses and people looking to relocate to the Willamette Valley have choices. If Salem doesn't evolve, grow, change, move with the times, we're going to both be at a competitive disadvantage with nearby cities and cheating those who already live here out of a more livable future.
If we're going to have a civic saying, how about something like: Salem is Portland without the problems.
If that were true -- and we're a long way from it being so -- wouldn't those words be a great way of promoting our town?
So let's take the best of what Portland and Eugene have to teach us, while letting them keep the negative sides of their cities.