"Maybe 40% of what doctors do is mistaken."
That was one of the first of many OMG! zingers medical provocateur Vinay Prasad, MD MPH, flung at us at today's Salem City Club presentation, rather drily titled Evidence Based Medicine: Weighing the Evidence for Effective Health Care.
But not one moment of his talk was boring. In fact, it was one of the most interesting and entertaining City Club talks I've experienced. And I've been to many of them. Prasad is a great speaker: funny, caustic, informed, blunt, spontaneous.
I found what appears to be a very close version of his talk on You Tube. So if you find my summary of what Prasad told us today piques your interest, check this video out. His talk starts at about four minutes in.
Later in his talk Prasad noted that there's no way to know exactly what percentage of medical care is ineffective. So it could be less or more than 40%. Regardless, it's a lot.
If you're thinking that this makes him less than universally popular among his fellow doctors, you'd be correct. After his talk I asked him how his presentation is received by other MDs. He told me that in Europe and Canada he gets a standing ovation. But in Texas, say, speaking to cardiologists, Prasad said he'd get boos.
Which speaks volumes about the sorry state of our American health care system. Or more accurately, non-system. As is well known, we spend way more on health care than other comparable countries yet have health outcomes that are worse.
There are many reasons for this, but paying for costly medical services that don't provide any real benefit is a major contributor.
Prasad noted that we have a bias toward believing in continual technological process. He showed a slide of an old Model T next to a Tesla Model T. Now, this was the only error I recognized in his talk, since I couldn't find any sign via the Great God Google that a Tesla model with that initial actually exists or is planned.
But it is conjecture, so some apparent Prasad literary license is fine with me.
His point with the auto analogy is that we can see how much cars have progressed since the Model T era. Ditto with computers, cell phones, televisions, and so much else. But with health care we can't discern progress with the naked eye. Controlled studies are necessary.
And these frequently demonstrate what the title of a book he's co-authored refers to: Medical Reversal. This is when doing something is found to be no better or worse than a prior standard of care.
Examples: routine hormone replacement therapy for post-menopausal women and steroid injections for certain spinal problems. Regarding the latter, a a controlled study where half the patients got a salt water injection revealed that both groups felt better.
Which points to the power of placebos. And a question I asked during the Q & A period.
It went like this: "If both steroid and salt water injections benefit patients with back pain, please comment on the ethical issues surrounding placebos, since doing away with ineffective treatments seems like doing away with a witch doctor a tribe believes in, and who makes them feel better."
Prasad's answer made sense, though it raises additional questions. He said that a medical treatment shouldn't be more costly than a placebo, and also shouldn't be any riskier than a placebo.
And he correctly pointed out that bottles of pills marked "Placebo" can be bought on Amazon, since it has been found that even when people know a treatment is a placebo, it still provides benefits to many.
Publication bias is one reason why ineffective treatments get so much attention. Journals like to publish reports of positive findings involving new forms of medical practice. So studies that show something doesn't work, or is a review of the effectiveness of an established medical practice, don't get as much publicity.
Prasad said about doctors, "A lot we learn because someone senior to us taught that it works." In other words, doctors believe in their own experience -- much of which surely shouldn't be trusted, because it isn't based on solid science.
Again, the 40% figure is just a guesstimate. But Prasad told us that the actual percentage of ineffective treatments in medicine is much more like snow in Chicago than a massive California earthquake. Meaning, it happens frequently, not rarely.
Even randomized clinical trials came in for some criticism, since companies funding them often hope to make billions of dollars by getting a new drug, device, or whatever approved. So they put considerable effort into increasing the odds that a clinical trial will show that their innovation is effective.
I'm vague on how this is done. But if you peruse Prasad's impressive web site, you'll find countless (almost) papers, articles, and other material to read on a wide variety of subjects. The News and Media page has some profiles of Prasad.
I enjoyed "Did he really just tweet that? Dr. Vinay Prasad takes on Big Pharma, Big Medicine, and his own colleagues -- with glee." Here's how it starts out:
Dr. Vinay Prasad is a professional scold: He takes to Twitter each day to critique this cancer drug as ineffective, or blast that one as overpriced, or dismiss the clinical trial of another as completely irrelevant.
So it’s a bit of a surprise to catch him at the bedside of an elderly man with lymphoma, laughing gently with his patient as he inquires about his day — and painstakingly explains a potent drug’s unpleasant side effects.
Prasad’s empathic bedside manner — and generally affable mien — is at stark odds with his digital persona as a caustic crusader for the principle that solid scientific evidence, not hope or hype, should guide how we as a society spend $700 billion a year on health care.
Just 34, Prasad has become an influential voice in the medical community through his prolific, high-impact publishing, a steady stream of media cameos, and — of course — his vociferous Twitter presence. Among his main arguments: Drug costs have spiraled out of control. Conflicts of interest run amok in health care. We don’t have any idea how well new cancer drugs and diagnostics work, thanks to ill-designed clinical trials. And more than half of all practiced medicine is based on scant evidence — and possibly ineffectual.
Needless to say, such positions haven’t won him many close friends among pharma companies — or even among some fellow doctors. He doesn’t much care.
People of Salem and surrounding areas, here's my strong advice for what you should do from 11 am to 3 pm on Saturday, January 19. Attend the 2019 Salem Women's March on the Capitol Mall.
My wife was an organizer of the first 2017 Salem Women's March. We loved it. In 2018 we went to the rather weirdly named Salem Womxn's March. We loved it also.
(See below for the photo/video web pages I made of the events.)
Here's how the 2019 Women's March is described on a Facebook event posting:
The Third annual Women's March in Salem is scheduled. There will be educational and promotional booths from 11 AM to 3 PM. The Rally with speakers will start at noon and the March at 1 PM. There will be food and coffee trucks available.
Salem-News has a story about the march, "Salem Women's March 2019 is coming up."
Thousands of women from Salem, Eugene and surrounding areas will rally and march in Salem, along with thousands of women in cities across the country and the globe on Saturday, January 19, 2019 as part of the third annual Women's March.
“The Women’s March is not just a March, it is a movement and it has shown its power to change political outcomes and the direction our society is going,” said Debbie Miller, President of the organizing Board for this year’s Women’s March in Salem.
The event is from 11 a.m. through 3 p.m at the Oregon State Capitol Steps/Mall on Court Street.
Women will march in support and solidarity with other women and supporters to remember and solidify the power and the influence that women built by taking to the streets in 2017 and 2018, bringing particular attention to equity in healthcare, wages, and power.
“Not only are a large portion of national leaders ineffective, but they are also destructive to the welfare of their constituents.
"We must make sure they never feel we think their selfish, greedy and amoral behavior is seen as normal. So, we take any and all opportunities to rise up, making ourselves visible and heard all the way to D.C.,” said Joan Warnock, Secretary of Women's March Salem.
-- Professor Wendi Warren Binford: Director of Willamette University Clinical Law Program
-- Danielle Meyer: Chair of the Salem Human Rights Commission and KMUZ Community Radio program host
-- Shelaswau Bushnell Crier: lawyer, teacher at Willamette University, member of several state advisory committees and served as VP for Salem-Keizer NAACP
-- Jennifer Hofmann: Americans of Conscience blog creator and writer
-- Sarah Bennett: Homecare Worker-activist in campaign for care workers rights
For more information or questions on logistics, including accessibility, email: [email protected]
If you missed the 2017 and 2018 marches, or even if you attended them, live (or relive) the great spirit of those days via these Adobe Spark web pages I made of the events.
First off, please resist the temptation to think, This blogger guy has too much time on his hands.
That thought denigrates the important subject of this post -- how I feel about the shopping carts at three stores in south Salem (Oregon version, not to be confused with the copycat Salem in Massachusetts; sure, the Massachusetts Salem came first historically, but we Oregonians consider ourselves superior to every other state because... well, just because).
Yes, there are more important issues in the world.
But I'm the designated weekly grocery shopper in our two-person household, our dog being incapable, or unwilling, to perform any useful chore other than lying on her back and wagging her tail in a Pat Me signal.
And I consider that a quality shopping cart is an important contributor to the quality of my shopping experience. So I've taken photos of the carts at Trader Joe's, Fred Meyer, and LifeSource Natural Foods -- my habitual three grocery store stops -- and will comment on my feelings about each.
(Strangely, I Googled "grocery store shopping carts rated" and didn't find any hits on the first few results pages similar to this post. So either I really do have too much time on my hands, or people who care as deeply about the quality of shopping carts as I do don't have blogs.)
Trader Joe's has excellent medium size shopping carts. I like the energetic color. There's very little difference between the carts. Meaning, none I've used has had a bumpy wheel or other deformity. And there's zero problem pulling them out of the stack of carts, unlike the carts at the next store, which would go nameless if it wasn't called Fred Meyer.
Also, I've never found a used napkin, grocery list, plastic bag, or other leftovers from a previous shopper in a Trader Joe's cart. Either shoppers at this store are more neat and considerate than shoppers at other stores, or an employee clears debris from the carts (I'm guessing the former).
This is a Fred Meyer shopping cart. I was kind of disappointed that it looks so good, because until recently Fred Meyer had some horrible carts. I was looking forward to insulting them, but it appears that Fred Meyer has replaced the bumpy, squeaky, misshapen, disgusting carts that used to irritate me.
That said, there's still some things that irk me about the carts at Fred Meyer, though maybe the new carts don't have this particular drawback: getting stuck in the line of carts. Usually this was due to a strap on the fold down thingie at the back of the cart getting attached to the cart in front of it.
After yanking on the handle of a cart and finding it stuck, often I'd move on to another row of carts because I didn't want to take the time to unstick it (needed to save my time to write a blog post about how this irritates me).
Also, Fred Meyer has more stuff left in its carts than any other store I visit regularly. I'll throw away an advertising circular, but I draw the line at a used facial tissue or other obnoxious leftover. So even with the new carts, Fred Meyer is at the bottom of my ratings. The gray color is too utilitarian for my taste (cheapest color, though, according to a purveyor of shopping carts).
LifeSource Natural Foods has my favorite shopping cart. It is very similar to the Trader Joe's cart, but I prefer the calming green color. Nice fit for a store that has "natural" in its name.
The carts are high quality with no discernible problems. I feel good pushing one around, using my non-patented "leave it and walk" technique that I also use at Trader Joe's and Fred Meyer.
It doesn't make sense to me to push a cart down the length of an aisle just to pick one item off a shelf and put it in the cart. Instead, I prefer to leave my cart at the end of an aisle, then walk to get the item and bring it back to the cart. This keeps the aisle free of one more cart, though I have to admit it leaves another area filled with an extra cart.
So overall my shopping cart ratings are:
(1) LifeSource Natural Foods
(2) Trader Joe's
(3) Fred Meyer
Today, being a subscriber to Salem Weekly, I got a letter from our alternative newspaper that said the paper is being closed down, effectively immediately. I'll share my thoughts about this following the letter.
Download Salem Weekly letter
I feel a sense of loss, yet also thankfulness.
A.P. Walther, who I assume wrote this letter, has been the tireless force that's kept Salem Weekly up and running since its birth in April 2003 as a monthly.
Wikipedia describes the origins of the paper. I remember with fondness the Coffee House Cafe, a marvelously funky and welcoming place.
The Salem Monthly traces its origins to a coffee house in Downtown Salem, Oregon known as the Coffee House Cafe. Dating back to the mid-1990s, the Coffee House Cafe served as a popular meeting place and hangout for Salem's youth culture. In its later years of operation, the cafe began publishing a newsletter to engage customers in Salem's community and cultural affairs. Inspired by the reaction to the cafe's newsletter, cafe owner, A.P. Walther decided to start up a publishing operation for an alternative newspaper in Salem, Oregon.
The main thing I want to say is: Thank you, A.P., for your 15+ years of service to Salem by serving as Salem Monthly's/Weekly's publisher.
I know that for that much, or most, of that time you also was the artistic director, advertising salesperson, and deliverer of copies downtown via your bicycle, which towed a cart filled with papers.
The first time I saw you cycling along on a publication day, I thought, How marvelous! The Statesman Journal publisher sure doesn't hand deliver copies of that newspaper to downtown boxes.
Equal thanks go to Helen Caswell, the chief reporter for Salem Weekly.
I don't know when Helen started writing for the paper, but I know it has been for a long time. The Salem Weekly "Our Authors" page says that Helen moved here in 2008.
It's an open secret that Helen used several pseudonyms to disguise the fact that sometimes (many times, I'm sure) she wrote almost all of the stories in Salem Weekly.
Here's the email addresses for A.P. Walther and Helen Caswell.
I invite you to share your own thanks for their exceptional service to our community over so many years. Some other Salem Weekly writers are listed on the above-mentioned "Our Authors" page.
Here's a photo I found of Helen and AP on Google Images. It's a screenshot from a You Tube video of a CCTV program, The Valley View.
I love both Helen and AP, though I can't say I was close friends with either of them. It's just that every encounter I had with them was wonderfully positive. I don't believe in God, nor in souls, but these words come to mind: They are two sweet souls.
For a couple of years I was fortunate to have been able to write a Strange Up Salem for Salem Weekly. The deal was that I didn't want to be paid, and I also didn't want someone telling me what to write, or to edit the column. AP kept both bargains.
When AP first contacted me, asking if I wanted to write for Salem Weekly, early on he told me, "Brian, I'd prefer if we mainly talked by phone. I'm dyslexic, and it is difficult for me to write email messages." (I'm pretty sure AP used the term dyslexic; if not, sorry for giving you a mistaken diagnosis, AP.)
That moved me. Gosh, a publisher of an alternative weekly who finds it tough to write. So admirable!
And that wasn't only the only hurdle AP had to overcome during the time I wrote the column. Several times he'd tell me that an issue couldn't be published on time, because there wasn't enough money to cover printing costs. But somehow AP would find enough cash to get Salem Weekly back on track.
As for Helen, she'd send me nice email messages about many of the Strange Up Salem columns I wrote. Helen was unfailingly positive -- never saying a bad word about a column, even though some of them deserved more than a few bad words.
Anyway, I'm so grateful for what AP Walther and Helen Caswell have given Salem. I'd say, there are no words. But I've just written 677 of them, so that'd be a lie.
Living as I do on the West Coast, in Oregon to be exact, it's tempting for me to be thankful that we don't get nasty hurricanes like Florence, which has dumped an astounding amount of rain on North Carolina and neighboring states, and killed 11 people so far.
Florence already has set rainfall records and left tens of thousands of people in shelters and more than 1 million homes without power. Officials confirmed at least 11 deaths, including one Saturday in South Carolina.
But Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and other officials repeatedly warned Saturday that although people might think the worst of the storm is over, the volume of rainwater it will drop in the coming days will cause flooding not seen in a generation — if ever.
But actually I should be feeling more emotions than just thankfulness. Like, sadness, guilt, and anger. Why? Because scientists know that human-caused global warming is making storms like Florence considerably more powerful, and hence, more deadly.
Since I'm a human who has contributed to rising greenhouse gas emissions by the simple fact of living in an industrialized nation for the past 69 years, I feel sadness because people are dying from weather events exacerbated by higher temperatures.
I feel guilt because I know that even though my wife and I do our best to live in an environmentally-wise manner, there's more that we could and should have done to reduce our personal carbon footprint.
And I feel anger because I know that our country's president, Donald Trump, is doing his best to dismantle Obama-era efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, including withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord.
Before I talk about what I, and everybody else who cares about our one and only Planet Earth, should do to help reduce the chance of more storms like Hurricane Florence, I need to address people reading this blog post who question whether global warming really has made Florence more deadly and destructive than it would have been otherwise.
Here's some links, and excerpts from each, for your perusal:
Hurricane Florence is a climate change triple threat
In this sense, the sometimes fractious debate about whether we’ll see more or fewer storms in a warmer world is somewhat misplaced. What matters is that there is a consensus we’ll see stronger and worse flood-producing storms – and, in fact, we’re seeing them already. That brings us to Hurricane Florence: a climatologically-amplified triple threat.
...Some headlines have reported that Florence is a warning of what is to come. But in reality, it is a warning of what has already arrived. Far worse is to come if we don’t get serious, in a hurry, about acting on climate change.
Global warming didn't cause Florence, scientists say, but it's making hurricanes more intense
A warmer world makes for nastier hurricanes. They are wetter, possess more energy and intensify faster. Their storm surges are more destructive because climate change has already made the seas rise. And lately, the storms seem to be stalling more often and thus dumping more rain.
Hurricane Florence's Slow Speed is Ominous
According to a paper published earlier this year in the scientific journal Nature, hurricanes are now moving more slowly across the Earth than they once did. From 1949 to 2016, the speed of tropical cyclones worldwide over land decreased by 10 percent.
In the North Atlantic, where both Harvey and Florence originated, hurricanes have slowed some 20 percent in their track speed. (This study did not account for 2017’s slow storms, including Harvey.)
“Storms can get worse without getting more intense” if they’re slow moving, James Kossin, the author of that paper and an atmospheric research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told me at the time.
...The paper did not formally attribute this effect to human-caused climate change, but scientists have long hypothesized that tropical cyclones will move more slowly in a warmer world. That’s because a warmer world will have more stagnant, slow-moving air masses, which will stall out storms of all types around the world.
A global slowdown of tropical-cyclone translation speed
As the Earth’s atmosphere warms, the atmospheric circulation changes. These changes vary by region and time of year, but there is evidence that anthropogenic warming causes a general weakening of summertime tropical circulation.
...The unprecedented rainfall totals associated with the ‘stall’ of Hurricane Harvey over Texas in 2017 provide a notable example of the relationship between regional rainfall amounts and tropical-cyclone translation speed.
Hopefully these stories have convinced any global warming skeptics perusing this post that climate change is making storms like Florence more powerful. Or at least that this is such a distinct possibility, it makes sense to reduce greenhouse gas emissions just in case.
(An analogy: if you smoke cigarettes, science can't say for sure that you will get lung cancer. But science can say that if you smoke, your chance of getting lung cancer is much higher than it would be if you didn't smoke. Thus most people these days have decided not to smoke, being aware of the probabilities.)
What to do, then? Here's some suggestions.
(1) Vote for Democrats. Facts shouldn't have a liberal bias, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, though, they do -- since most Republican politicians at both the federal and state level have become either global warming deniers, or global warming minimizers. Meaning, they either say that global warming isn't happening, or if it is, there isn't much we can do about it.
So make sure that you cast a vote for Democrats in the upcoming mid-term election. And after that, in the 2020 presidential-year election. It isn't much of an exaggeration to say that the habitability of our planet for humans depends on this, given the degree to which the United States contributes to greenhouse gas pollution.
(2) Make global warming a local issue. Where I live, Salem, Oregon, recently elected progressives on the City Council were successful in making a citywide greenhouse gas inventory part of the Strategic Plan that guides City Hall priorities.
The progressives also have stalled an unwise proposal for a billion dollar Third Bridge across the Willamette River that would increase considerably carbon emissions in Salem. Now the bridge idea needs to be killed off entirely by the City Council and better transportation options embraced.
(3) Do little things, since they add up to big things. It's easy to become disheartened when the Trump administration, Big Oil, and other despoilers of the environment are working against efforts to slow down global warming.
But there are many bright spots, including a report that "a group of almost 400 of the world’s leading investors, controlling over $30tn [trillion] (£23tn) in assets, have agreed to work together to back initiatives to combat climate change and help meet the objectives of the Paris agreement."
However, everybody who isn't one of the world's leading investors also can do something to reduce their carbon footprint. Ride a bike more. Drive less. Become a vegetarian or vegan. Recycle. Instead of flying, vacation close to home. (Check out "25+ Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.")
I hugely enjoyed today's Salem Art Fair visit.
Here's photos, and commentary, of what caught my eye (and also my stomach) this afternoon. I share photos of my Art Fair purchase, a coffee mug with an unusual bumpy glaze.
The Art Fair is a great $5 bargain, especially since this also pays for entry to evening entertainment. I'm probably returning tomorrow.
Yesterday Laurel and I visited the 2018 Salem Tour of Homes. Here's photos of what appealed to us when we visited seven of the more expensive homes in south Salem.
As much as we enjoyed the "eye-candy" of various architectural features, I end the Adobe Spark web page with these thoughts:
So in the end, as happens every year we visit a Tour of Homes, we return home -- our minds filled with visions of what we'd like to have in our house, but also happy to know that what we do have has helped make us happy for the past 28 years, and will continue to do so for as long as we live where we are.
Wishes are one thing. Reality is another. Truth be told, we wouldn't trade our house for any that we saw on the Tour of Homes, because our house, well, feels like ours, and the others didn't.
I rarely channel the Universe, because I'm usually dubious that it has a message for me, or anyone else.
But the recent toxic algae water crisis here in Salem must have caused my cosmic connection to become more finely-tuned, since I'm picking up a communication for our city from the Universe that's coming in loud and clear.
When in doubt, let it out!
After all, the numero uno problem with how the folks at City Hall handled the cyanotoxin water tests was their mistaken decision to keep the initial positive test results to themselves, instead of immediately telling the public, We have a problem, and here's what it means.
In other words, when they had a chance to let the results out, their inclination was, No, let's not.
Now, the good news is that the Oregon Health Authority is poised to issue rules that require municipalities to both test for cyanotoxins and to notify the public of test results. So in one sense the crisis in Salem is over, and likely won't be repeated.
At least, not in the same way.
However, I see this as a learning opportunity not only for City officials, but for everybody in Salem. By and large (an important caveat), this town would be a more pleasant place to live if we all embraced the adage...
When in doubt, let it out!
OK, it's reasonable to ask, let what out? Well, here's a few examples that I'm letting out of my mind.
Sense of style
New business notions
Visions of the future
Regarding the latter, whenever I need to be reminded of the desirability of letting go and getting out of my own way, I head on over to You Tube and bask in the two-minute delight of Twitch and Alex dancing hip-hop on So You Think You Can Dance to a cleaned-up version of Outta Your Mind by Lil' Jon.
OK, I readily admit that it is difficult for me to envision the Mayor, city councilors, City Manager, Public Works Director, or other officials dancing away like this when they're contemplating how to respond to some issue in Salem.
I'm just sayin' that the energy, looseness, and vitality of Alex and Twitch is what we need more of in Salem, both outside and inside City Hall. Again...
When in doubt, let it out!
With the above-mentioned caveat. Nobody likes unfettered expression of hate speech. Nobody likes loud mouths who don't let others express themselves. Nobody likes boring unfiltered monologues. Sometimes it is necessary to keep what's inside ourselves shut tight within our craniums.
But most of the time, it'd be good to let it go more than we do.
Too often we're fearful. Of what might happen if other people knew how we really feel. Of how information we share might be used against us. Of being viewed as rabble-rousers, discontents, eccentrics, weirdos, unhinged, too far out there.
I'll end with an excerpt from former FBI director James Comey's book, "A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership." I read a few pages every day, stifling my inclination to skip right to the Good Parts about Trump.
Here's Comey talking about meetings of a 12-member FBI team charged with investigating the Clinton email server.
Some members moved in and out as a few senior executives retired, but the group remained a collection of very bright people with strong personalities, who frequently clashed with one another, as siblings might. I liked that.
One of the junior lawyers was given to exhaling in disgust at statements she didn't like and then interrupting aggressively, no matter who was speaking. This annoyed many of her colleagues. I loved it. I wanted her on the team because she didn't care about rank at all.
Her directness added value even when she was wrong. I wanted to hear her perspective and knew it would come without prompting, even if she interrupted a senior official to offer it. That interruption would stimulate great conversation.
So my caveat about loud mouths who don't let others express themselves has a caveat of its own. Sometimes this is OK, even desirable. Thought Comey himself clearly has flaws and weaknesses, I really liked what he said in that excerpt. He's a fan of...
When in doubt, let it out!
Whether or not you were there in the 60's and early 70's (I was) to groove to tunes such as "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" and "Son of a Preacher Man," you'll love Enlightened Theatrics' Shout! The Mod Musical at the Grand Theatre in downtown Salem.
I saw Shout! last night at a preview performance where the five women who sing, dance, and act with marvelous professionalism came back on stage after the show in street clothes to respond to questions from the audience, along with other members of the production.
What blew my mind further, which was already pleasantly blown by the musical, was how fortunate we in Salem are to have cast members and supporting staff with such amazing credentials.
For example, several of the women in the cast said they have a background in opera, so they observed that it was a bit of a stretch for them to get used to dancing while singing (well, not much of a stretch, given how at ease they looked on stage).
I got to ask a question of the costume and wig designer, Shelbi Wilkin, regarding how she was able to come up with the outfits worn by the "Mod 5," who are known as Blue Girl, Green Girl, Orange Girl, Red Girl, and Yellow Girl. Wilkin said that it took a lot of research, mentioning as an aside that she is finishing up a MFA in Costume Design.
I was impressed. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a Master's Degree in Costume Design.
But now that I know, that explains why the women's clothes looked so spot-on for the times -- the first act is set in 1966, my high school graduation year, and the second act took place in 1968 and 1970, as I recall.
Since I was coming of age in the Shout! era, I can testify that the musical is an accurate reflection of the cultural changes that took place in the few years between 1966 and 1970.
The first act is frothy and fun.
I and other gray-haired members of the audience were treated to a time-machine ride back to Beatlemania, epitomized by Yellow Girl's ecstatic acquisition of Paul McCartney's comb after his trash was ransacked by smitten girls (even some dandruff on it was cause for joy).
And when the theme song from Goldfinger was performed, I recollected that I saw that 1964 James Bond movie four freaking times, I loved it so much as a geeky teenager.
Somewhat disturbing to me, though, and this feeling foreshadowed the second act, was how sexist some of the lyrics to 60's songs performed in Shout! sounded to my 69-year-old ears. Naturally I didn't think that at the time, because it was taken for granted back then that, for example... (from "Wishin' and Hopin')
All you gotta do is hold him and kiss him and squeeze him and love him
Yeah, just do it
And after you do, you will be his
You gotta show him that you care just for him
Do the things he likes to do
Wear your hair just for him, 'cause
You won't get him
Thinkin' and a-prayin', wishin' and a-hopin'
Indeed, in the first act the five women are inundated with admonitions from an advice columnist in issues of Shout! magazine that basically reduce every problem a Mod Girl might have to a bad hair style, lack of a moisturizer, and such. These are light-hearted moments in the musical, yet point to the fact that though the sixties were swinging, feminism wasn't much on display.
This began to change in 1970, as do the women in the second act. The musical's mood becomes a bit more somber, though by no means serious. Talk of domestic violence makes an appearance. The carefree girls in the first act have learned some life lessons, which mirrors my memory of the times.
I went to college in the San Francisco Bay area. It was the Summer of Love in 1967. Just two years later, the 1969 Altamont Free Concert was a mayhem-filled nightmare (I was there; not part of the violence, thankfully).
So Shout! shows both how wonderful the 60's were, along with some of the dark side of those sunny times. Go see the show! You'll love it.
My wife and I moved to our house on five non-easy-care acres in rural south Salem way back in 1990. We were about forty then. The couple we bought the house from were in their mid-60's.
When we asked them why they were selling, they said "It just has gotten to be too much for us to maintain."
Well, we're now pushing 70. (I'm pushing harder than my wife, but she's not far behind.) And a while back we bought the empty lot next door, so now we have ten acres to maintain.
So why aren't we moving to a house in town that would be much easier for us to handle? That's a big question with all kinds of answers. I've taken a stab at them in numerous blog posts, including:
Too old for ten acres and a big house -- too young for retirement living
A bone scan, my doctor's lifestyle advice, a nighttime walk in the country
Musings on the problem of where to live after retiring
Retired folks need friends. Nature provides some for us.
Our baby boomer quandary: keep living in large house, or downsize?
The joy of being crazy -- in a sane way
Regarding the last post... yes, it is indeed crazy to envision ourselves doing what's necessary to keep our house and property in decent order as we find ourselves heading into our 70s, which could be followed by our 80s.
Yet we have neighbors who do just that: stay in their country home for much longer than most "sane" people would consider reasonable.
An obvious reason for this is that it's really tough to locate a city home that offers us what we have now. We know, because we've given a realtor what amounts to a near-impossible task: find us a house in the Salem city limits that has privacy, trees, and quiet.
That's what we enjoy on our ten acres. Finding it on a city lot is rare. So that is one of the anchors that keeps us moored to our current home.
There's other anchors, though. And they aren't logical or reasonable. Heck, they're barely describable. They're rooted in feelings that I barely know I have, because they're so engrained in how I view our property, I mostly take them for granted.
A few photos I took recently of our yard brought some of those anchors into a greater sense of awareness.
There's lots of rocks in our yard. Tons of rock, literally.
Many years ago Keith Ecklund, who called himself the Garden Poet with good reason, landscaped the area around our house. He got a good deal on a gigantic load of granite rocks, which was dumped on the ground and made good use of as Keith and his crew did their landscaping thing.
I love those rocks. Many have gotten buried under repeated applications of bark. I've got unburying them on my to-do list. For one of these days. There's no way we can take the rocks with us, and it's highly unlikely that a house in town would have the same granite'y feel.
So those rocks make a good heavy anchor for staying where we are.
Then there's all the plantings we've cared for in our yard over the past 28 years. Many have come and gone, but the overall look and feel of our yard has remained about the same since the Garden Poet did his thing. Sure, any house we'd move to would have azaleas, rhododendrons, and such.
But they wouldn't be the ones we've come to know and love. I'd miss them. They're another anchor.
We've got a large yard. A very large yard.
When we drive into Salem, naturally we're struck by how much smaller virtually all city lots are. Newly built subdivisions are particularly skimpy on yard space, given Oregon's pioneering land use laws that require buildable land within city limits to be largely used up before an urban growth boundary can be expanded.
We support those land use laws, since they preserve farm and forest land. But we also have grown accustomed to the expansiveness that comes with having a house in the country. So there's another anchor.
These twin fir trees, with Oregon grape at their base, along with a rock piece of art, have grown a lot since we moved to our house. I'd like to watch them grow more.
Sure, they've gotten so enormous, one or both could crush our roof if they ever fell over in a windstorm. But they're old friends. I'd miss them, even if a new house had equally large firs, because they wouldn't be these firs.
Then there's my Oregon grape "forest." A large area on the other side of the twin firs was left un-landscaped in the Garden Poet days. Brushy vegetation grew there. Year after year, leaves and branches accumulated.
About five years ago I decided to reclaim that area. It took a heck of a lot of work to clear everything out and plant Oregon grape and other native plants. This photo shows some of the original Oregon grape, which is growing more happily now that the other vegetation is gone.
The Oregon grape I planted is looking good. Now that it's well established, in the spring, like right now, it gets yellow blossoms and a bunch of new growth.
I can easily see myself watching the Oregon grape grow older, just as I am. Sure, it's irrational to want to stay in a house for that reason, but it's a reason that appeals to me every morning when I walk up to the road with our dog to get the newspaper.
So anchors abound. We don't know how long they'll keep us rooted to our house and property.
Life might have other plans for us. Anchor chains can be broken in many ways: disease, disability, a change of residential heart. For now, though, those anchors are more of a pleasure than a pain.
It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood... of the cherry blossoms on the Capitol mall. Lots of people were enjoying the blooming profusion this afternoon along with me, my wife Laurel, and our dog, ZuZu.
Here's photos of our excursion, viewable by clicking on the image below.
As I say in this Adobe Spark web page, ""This was the first time I'd photographed cherry blossoms. What I learned is that just when I began to think that one bunch of blossoms looks like all the rest, a change of perspective showed me that this wasn't true.
In case you aren't a baseball fan, the title of this blog post is a big thumbs-up to the quality of the plays and musicals the Enlightened Theatrics folks have been gifting Salem through their Grand Theatre productions.
I feel bad that my wife and I went to see their most recent play, The Foreigner, only last night -- which was the next to last performance, the last being a matinee this afternoon. So my praise of the cast is intended to help spur people to go see the next Enlightened Theatrics productions, as shown above.
The highest praise I can give the cast is that my wife, Laurel, and to a somewhat lesser extent, me, usually aren't big fans of farcical plays. By farcical I mean over-the-top acting, lots of physical humor, and a decidedly unbelievable plot.
Yet even though The Foreigner has all of those characteristics, we left the play saying to each other, "Wow, that was really enjoyable." In lesser directorial and acting hands, seeing The Foreigner could have been a painful experience for us. But the Enlightened Theatrics production was a delight.
The reason: great acting, great set design, great attention to detail.
Regarding the acting, the words that went through my head after seeing The Foreigner were "inhabit the role."
Now, since I know next to nothing about acting, which includes what inhabit the role actually means, all I can say is what those three words meant to me as I watched The Foreigner from a front row seat.
I'm sure I've noted this before about other Enlightened Theatrics productions, but what continues to impress me is that I never feel that members of a cast actually are acting. Which may sound weird, because what else would actors do but act?
OK, I know they're acting, but each and every cast member of The Foreigner struck me as inhabiting their role so completely, it seemed like their performance flowed naturally from their understanding of their character -- as opposed to a conscious decision to act in a certain way.
Yes, I'm sure what I'm talking about is akin to Acting 101, something so basic to acting it's sort of ridiculous to mention it. But even if that's true, the cast of The Foreigner were like doctoral students showing the nuances of Acting 101 at a very high level.
This was really important in a play that stretches credulity in so many ways.
Like, people believing that a foreigner (who actually was someone feigning an inability to speak English beyond a stilted "thank you" to protect his privacy at a Georgia lodge) could learn English quite fluently in just a few days of tutoring. Or, being able to hit someone over the head with a croquet mallet that conveniently knocks them out, yet leaves them otherwise none the worse for wear.
Farcical plays require great acting, or the inherent absurdity of plot lines becomes exacerbated by the audience feeling "Even the actors aren't buying this stuff."
But the cast of The Foreigner managed to make the twists and turns of the play seem believable through their whole-hearted embrace of their characters. Sitting as we were in the front row, I really enjoyed the subtle changes of expression by the various cast members as their lines were spoken and heard.
I was reminded of the cast of "Get Out," the movie that got several well-deserved Oscar nominations. In that movie there were close-ups that showed waves of subtly varying emotions pass over the face of an actor, as if we were seeing the external signs of an internal attempt to come to grips with the situation their character had been presented with.
So instead of bursting full-on in some display of outrage, irritation, joy, curiosity, or whatever, watching The Foreigner I had the feeling of being privy to the mental precursors that led up to the eventual display of emotion. And that made all the difference between feeling "This person is acting like _____" and the much more pleasing "This person is actually _____."
Bottom line: with The Foreigner, Enlightened Theatrics put on another wonderful production. I'm happy that we decided to see the play near the end of its run. Next time we'll get tickets earlier, so I can praise the production sooner and hopefully spur some people in Salem to enjoy high quality live theatre.
I'm a left-leaning atheist. Last night I had pleasant interactions with a Christian conservative.
That was the goal of the Bridging Our Divide meeting at the IKE Box: to get people to listen to those with differing political views with empathy, respect, open-mindedness.
Here's part of how the Bridging Our Divide web site describes their mission (they're based in Portland, but hold meetings around the country):
Bridging Our Divide is working to promote constructive dialogue across political and ideological divides by creating forums for conversation.
Our work is focused on hosting Community Dialogue Events and Common Ground Debates in various cities around the United States.
As a nation, we're being split apart by an inability to communicate and see common ground. There's a growing sense of division and contempt fueled by partisanship, social media, and geographic separation.
We need to work together to improve communication between people with different ideologies and different visions of America, because our core values and needs overlap more than they differ.
Many on the left and right are failing to see the underlying values and humanity of those on the other side of the political divide. We're seeing a rise in extremist rhetoric on the right, and on the left, many have taken to labeling, shaming, and shutting down those with a different perspective. This drives away potential allies, pushes others further in the opposite direction, and creates a climate of contempt for everyone involved.
I saw two city councilors at the meeting, Chris Hoy and Jim Lewis. They occupy different ends of the political spectrum, which naturally was what the Bridging Our Divide organizers wanted -- diversity. Here's a slide that shows the self-described make-up of the people who registered for the meeting.
I put myself in the "liberal or left-leaning" category. Like I said, one of the women at our table said she was very conservative. The other three were a very liberal man, a left-leaning woman, and a man who didn't really share much about his political views. Here's a photo of my four discussion partners.
Prior to the small group part of the meeting, Shiloh Halsey, the Bridging Our Divide founder, explained what his group was all about and described how the evening would go.
Then five people who had volunteered to be part of a kick-off panel went up to the stage and answered questions designed to elicit how they view their political persuasion and the general state of political discourse in our country at the moment.
This took almost an hour.
There were two liberals, two conservatives, and an independent (a political science professor from Corban University who was one of the local organizers). In line with the warm and fuzzy tone of the meeting, the panelists did a pretty good job of not being too in-your-face about those with a differing political viewpoint.
Nonetheless, I probably wasn't the only person in the room who felt, at times, like what was being said was off-base. One reason I felt this way was that all five of the people on stage, if I recall correctly, said they were Christian. And one man in particular wasn't shy about bringing Jesus up when he defended his conservative worldview.
At first I thought this was strange, that all five were Christian, but since most people in this country are, I guess it wasn't really so surprising. It was mainly that, as an atheist, I don't feel the need to talk about my non-belief in God when discussing politics, so when the Christian panelists brought up their religious beliefs, that struck me as unusual.
My liberal mind also took issue with a prevailing perspective among the five panelists: that it is difficult to find unbiased news sources. Actually, it isn't. Just stay away from Fox News, and read the New York Times and Washington Post. That's what I do, daily.
After a short break the small group discussion part of the meeting began. To me, this was the best aspect of the evening. I wish the panelist part had been a bit shorter, so the small group discussion part could have been a bit longer. We got some tips ahead of time from Halsey (click to enlarge):
The small group part of the evening consisted of one of the people at a table choosing a question from a list provided by the organizers and asking it of another person.
This was an enjoyable experience. Mostly I talk with people who see the world pretty much as I do, from a non-religious liberal perspective. So it was refreshing for me to be able to ask the conservative Christian woman, "Do you believe in life after death?" Not surprisingly, she did.
I responded with "Well, I hope you're right." Which was absolutely true, even though I don't believe in an afterlife. Hey, common ground! The woman is certain she'll live on after she dies, and I wish this was true.
There's a power to simple non-judgmental listening. (Well, mostly non-judgmental; like I said, I couldn't help but mentally disagree with what some of the panelists were saying, because it struck me as factually wrong.)
I came away from last night's meeting feeling like I understood conservatives better. A theme of the meeting was that social media, like Facebook, exaggerate political differences, because we only get sound bites, by and large, and aren't able to directly experience the presence of the person expressing an opinion.
When I hear a conservative viewpoint coming from a person I'm sitting next to, I realize that they're a complex human being with whom I have much in common, aside from our political differences. Social media detract, and distract, from this realization.
The Bridging Our Divide meeting wasn't life-changing for me, but it definitely was life-affirming.
I came away determined to do two things simultaneously: (1) keep on expressing my own political views as strongly as ever, while (2) trying to do a better job of looking upon those with a differing view as people who are just like me, in that they feel they have good reasons for believing as they do, and also want to make the world a better place.
Wow, in the course of writing about the 2018 Salem Women's March, which looks like it will be a Womxn's March for reasons I'm unable to fully fathom, I just realized that I never put up a blog post about the 2017 Women's March.
I must have been so eager to share the Adobe Spark page I made of that event -- words, photos, videos -- on Facebook, that I forgot to do the same in a blog post.
It's fitting that I'm doing this on Christmas day, since the 2017 Women's March was a huge gift to Salem. There was amazing energy, enthusiasm, joy, and community spirit on that cold, wet, windy January 21 day. Hopefully organizers of the 2018 march will be able to recapture that.
I'm a liberal. Which is why I support liberalism. Meaning, in this context, open-minded discourse about the nature of reality where all views are welcomed, so long as they're backed up by reason and facts.
The interesting thing is that liberals can act in illiberal ways. Of course, so can conservatives.
But it's more shocking and surprising when liberals try to shut down discussion of certain topics because they've bought into a dangerous tribalism that views one side, their side, as possessing all goodness and truth, and the other side as being all bad and wrong.
Recently I had a taste of this when I -- a old white heterosexual man -- dared to critique the decision of some women who decided to call an event next month the 2018 Womxn's March, rather than a Women's March, as the highly successful 2017 event that my wife helped organize was called.
Now, what surprised me about the response on Facebook wasn't that people were disagreeing with me. I'm used to that as someone who regularly writes about local political goings-on.
The surprising thing was that I was being told that as a "cis-gendered white male" I didn't even have the right to weigh in on whether calling this event a Womxn's March was a good idea. I found that idea so absurd, I pushed back on the attempt to suppress my free speech.
Today I came across a summary of a recent talk by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt that does a good job of explaining the dynamics of what was going on. Even though obviously my blog post and the reaction to it didn't take place in a university setting, the same left-wing tribalism seemed to be at play here.
In "The Age of Outrage," Haidt starts off by noting that our strong tendency toward tribalism is rooted in evolutionary history.
I’d like you to consider an idea that I’ll call “the fine-tuned liberal democracy.” It begins by looking backward a few million generations and tracing our ancestry, from tree-dwelling apes to land-dwelling apes, to upright-walking apes, whose hands were freed up for tool use, to larger-brained hominids who made weapons as well as tools, and then finally to homo sapiens, who painted cave walls and painted their faces and danced around campfires and worshipped gods and murdered each other in large numbers.
When we look back at the ways our ancestors lived, there’s no getting around it: we are tribal primates. We are exquisitely designed and adapted by evolution for life in small societies with intense, animistic religion and violent intergroup conflict over territory. We love tribal living so much that we invented sports, fraternities, street gangs, fan clubs, and tattoos. Tribalism is in our hearts and minds.
We’ll never stamp it out entirely, but we can minimize its effects because we are a behaviorally flexible species. We can live in many different ways, from egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups of 50 individuals to feudal hierarchies binding together millions. And in the last two centuries, a lot of us have lived in large, multi-ethnic secular liberal democracies. So clearly that is possible. But how much margin of error do we have in such societies?
Well, not as much there used to be. Haidt notes several reasons for this. Our society needs a balance between centrifugal forces that push people apart and centripetal forces that bring people together.
Currently the centrifugal forces have gained strength, owing to, according to Haidt: (1) no unifying common enemy, as there was in the two world wars: (2) social media being a tool to express outrage; (3) diversity reducing bonds of trust between individuals; (4) the more radical Republican party, and (5) the new identity politics of the Left.
Which gets me to Haidt's discussion of intersectionality, a word that had been thrown at me once or twice in the debate over Womxn and Women. Here's how Haidt views the term.
Let us contrast [Martin Luther] King’s identity politics with the version taught in universities today. There is a new variant that has swept through the academy in the last five years. It is called intersectionality. The term and concept were presented in a 1989 essay by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA, who made the very reasonable point that a black woman’s experience in America is not captured by the summation of the black experience and the female experience.
She analyzed a legal case in which black women were victims of discrimination at General Motors, even when the company could show that it hired plenty of blacks (in factory jobs dominated by men), and it hired plenty of women (in clerical jobs dominated by whites). So even though GM was found not guilty of discriminating against blacks or women, it ended up hiring hardly any black women. This is an excellent argument. What academic could oppose the claim that when analyzing a complex system, we must look at interaction effects, not just main effects?
But what happens when young people study intersectionality? In some majors, it’s woven into many courses. Students memorize diagrams showing matrices of privilege and oppression. It’s not just white privilege causing black oppression, and male privilege causing female oppression; its heterosexual vs. LGBTQ, able-bodied vs. disabled; young vs. old, attractive vs. unattractive, even fertile vs. infertile.
Anything that a group has that is good or valued is seen as a kind of privilege, which causes a kind of oppression in those who don’t have it. A funny thing happens when you take young human beings, whose minds evolved for tribal warfare and us/them thinking, and you fill those minds full of binary dimensions. You tell them that one side of each binary is good and the other is bad. You turn on their ancient tribal circuits, preparing them for battle. Many students find it thrilling; it floods them with a sense of meaning and purpose.
And here’s the strategically brilliant move made by intersectionality: all of the binary dimensions of oppression are said to be interlocking and overlapping. America is said to be one giant matrix of oppression, and its victims cannot fight their battles separately.
They must all come together to fight their common enemy, the group that sits at the top of the pyramid of oppression: the straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christian or Jewish or possibly atheist male. This is why a perceived slight against one victim group calls forth protest from all victim groups. This is why so many campus groups now align against Israel. Intersectionality is like NATO for social-justice activists.
This means that on any campus where intersectionality thrives, conflict will be eternal, because no campus can eliminate all offense, all microaggressions, and all misunderstandings. This is why the use of shout-downs, intimidation, and even violence in response to words and ideas is most common at our most progressive universities, in the most progressive regions of the country.
Well, I'm a straight, white, cis-gendered, mostly able-bodied atheist male. So I guess that puts me in the crosshairs of those who practice the extreme form of identity politics that is also found on liberal college campuses.
As Haidt argues, intersectionality is a bad idea on those campuses, and it also is a bad idea elsewhere. What's most ridiculous is that I'm on the side of the Womxn's March organizers. I simply disagree with them on some points and have been trying to explain why I feel that way in an open, reasonable fashion.
I heartily agree with Haidt's view of the danger that intersectionality poses. It needs to be resisted. Haidt says:
Let me remind you of the educational vision of the Founders, by way of E.D. Hirsch: “The American experiment . . . is a thoroughly artificial device designed to counterbalance the natural impulses of group suspicions and hatreds . . . This vast, artificial, trans-tribal construct is what our Founders aimed to achieve.”
Intersectionality aims for the exact opposite: an inflaming of tribal suspicions and hatreds, in order to stimulate anger and activism in students, in order to recruit them as fighters for the political mission of the professor.
The identity politics taught on campus today is entirely different from that of Martin Luther King. It rejects America and American values. It does not speak of forgiveness or reconciliation. It is a massive centrifugal force, which is now seeping down into high schools, especially progressive private schools.
Today’s identity politics has another interesting feature: it teaches students to think in a way antithetical to what a liberal arts education should do. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a Utilitarian or a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any one situation.
But nowadays, students who major in departments that prioritize social justice over the disinterested pursuit of truth are given just one lens—power—and told to apply it to all situations.
Everything is about power. Every situation is to be analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult, a fundamentalist religion, a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety, and intellectual impotence.
We live in strange times. They got a bit stranger for me yesterday, after I wrote a post on my Salem Political Snark blog, "Salem should have another Women's March, not a Womxn's March."
Among other things, I talked about how using Womxn rather than Women didn't seem to be a wise idea, especially since the 2017 Salem Women's March was a huge success, and people thinking of attending the 2018 event would be confused by a word that is both unpronounceable and unfamiliar. I said:
My biggest concern, though, is how featuring "Womxn" in the name of the event is going to affect how Salemians view the march. Obviously the focus of the 2018 march should be on the horrors being wrought by the Trump administration, women's rights, and the "Me Too" wave of sexual harassment awareness.
Anything that detracts from this focus is a distraction. And often progressive groups get involved in unproductive disputes over who is more politically correct to the Nth degree which dissipate energy that should be directed at the real enemy: Donald Trump and his Republican cronies.
It appears that the organizers of the 2018 Salem Womxn's March have settled on that name. Well, I'm hoping that they will change their minds.
"Womxn," in case you're wondering, is another step away from having "men" right there in "women," replacing the previous "womyn" which reportedly is a white, liberal-feminist concept while "womxn" includes transgender people who identify as female, along with other marginalized womxn.
OK. Words come and go. I'm fine with that.
In my blog post I echoed what some women were saying on the Facebook page belonging to Salem Resists. Those women felt that it made more sense to use "Women" in the name of the event, especially since numerous major cities in this country are having Women's Marches on Saturday, January 20, while Salem would be having a Womxn's March on Sunday, January 21.
(Note: I've corrected the paragraph above to take out a mention that the Womxn's March is being sponsored by Salem Resists. I've been informed that Salem Resists just shared a notice of the event, but isn't sponsoring it.)
Well, my post was met with a bunch of comments from women (oops, womxn) who said that I shouldn't be talking about the upcoming event, even though my wife was a lead organizer of the 2017 Salem Women's March and I created a web page that chronicled it.
Here's an example:
Well, I don't agree that my opinion doesn't matter. Everybody's opinion matters on everything, is my writer's attitude.
Once society starts saying that only certain people can express their opinion about something, we're headed down a dangerous road that leads to censorship, limits on free speech, and obnoxiously extreme political correctness.
Philosophically, I heartily disagree with the assumption that only those who have had a certain experience -- such as being female or a racial minority -- can weigh in on certain subjects. My disagreement stems from the fact that everybody has a unique life experience.
Sure, women have their own special perspective. Yet so does everyone else. Like, to choose someone I'm pretty damn familiar with, me.
As I noted in my blog post about Women vs. Womxn, I was deeply involved with the 2017 Salem Women's March, surely more so than most or all of the women who are involved in planning for the 2018 event. As noted above, my wife was a lead organizer of the 2017 march and she kept me informed of all the goings-on.
Standing on stage during the speaking part of the event, holding onto a "tent" pole to keep the shelter from blowing over on a cold wet windy January day, I had a wonderful view of the thousands of people in attendance, who were marvelously cheerful and energetic given the blustery weather.
It was an experience I'll never forget. So I feel completely entitled to express my views about plans for the 2018 Womxn March, since I'm well aware of what worked and didn't work in 2017 (such as, the sound system needed improving, given the unexpectedly large size of the crowd).
But even if I wasn't as well informed as I am, I still believe that I'd have a perfect right to express my opinion about not only the Womxn March, but anything else that my little mind sprouts up in the fertile field of my consciousness. Free speech has few limits. I can be wrong; I can be stupid; I can be boring.
And I still can speak.
The notion expressed by the women who felt that I should be silenced because I'm a man offends me. If that sounds politically incorrect, too bad. When we start putting limits on who can express an opinion because of their sex, race, age, ethnicity, or any other characteristic, we've crossed into dangerous First Amendment territory.
Which I'm pleased to share.
I don't know if this is a great idea, a crazy idea, a great crazy idea, or some other variety of idea (such as, worthless).
I just keep envisioning the notion of a citywide Mingling of the Tribes effort here in Salem that would bring people together in these divisive times to better understand our differences and foster respectful communication, while having fun in the process -- without trying to force agreements.
Back in March I took my first blog post crack at this idea in "Salem should have an annual political roast: 'A Mingling of the Tribes.'"
Nationally, politics is really divisive. Less so in Oregon. Here in Salem, we're kind of at a middling state of political tension. Intense nastiness rarely is overt, but under the surface irritations fester.
Conservatives, progressives, and everybody in-between (or something else) never are going to hold hands and sing kumbaya together. But I've got a more realistic goal:
Local politicians and other community leaders get together annually for a good-hearted roast of each other and, equally importantly, themselves.
...I sort of like this name for the roast: “A Mingling of the Tribes." By tribe, I mean a collection of like-minded people who normally hang out mostly with each other. Salem has many "tribes" with different political, cultural, religious, and other sorts of views.
So I like the theme of mingling, strange bedfellows, that sort of thing.
This morning, during my half-baked barely-concentrating daily attempt at meditation, I found myself thinking, a common occurrence when I'm trying not to think, about the Mingling of the Tribes idea.
Once again it hit me that what bothers me the most about the state of our country today is the divisiveness. I readily admit that I've contributed to this in my progressive zeal to change things. Conservatives do the same thing, divide.
There's got to be a better way. That way isn't going to happen at the national or even state level. If it is going to happen, it will have to happen at a local level where people can meet face-to-face and talk eye-to-eye.
I envisioned a community-wide ongoing effort with a goal of getting different "tribes" in Salem to understand each other better, to communicate with each other more effectively, while still feeling free to fight for what one believes in fairly, respectfully, truthfully, and vigorously.An image that came to mind is football teams eating together before a bowl game and exchanging back-slapping hugs after the game. During the game they battle. Before and after, they mingle. A time for each.
I have ideas for how this would go. But almost certainly how anybody thinks it would go isn't how it would actually go. The goal would be to spark some collegial fires in Salem and not worry overly much where or how they spread.
Web site. Facebook page. Community events. Videos. Neighborhood association presentations. And yes, an annual roast. Lots of possibilities.
My wife is a retired clinical social worker who was a psychotherapist in private practice. She knows a lot about how to guide people who vehemently disagree on certain issues to interact positively with each other. I'm sure she'd be glad to advise on the Mingling of the Tribes idea.
I'm not thinking only politically.
Salem also has divisions along economic, racial, ethnic, religious, geographic, cultural, sexual preference, and other sorts of divides. There are countless opportunities to get people talking with each other who strongly disagree on specific issues, yet almost certainly agree on many others, including the basics of living in a complex, often-frustrating world.
Anyway, I just wanted to share these rough ideas that came to me today for what they're worth. Which may not be much. This Mingling of the Tribes idea may be too crazy to pursue. It just feels right to me, especially at this time in our country's history.
YES, SALEM, OREGON HAS ITS OWN "WATERGATE" SCANDAL.
City staff aren't adequately watering downtown hanging baskets.
So says my informant, who would go nameless if I didn't say it was Carole Smith, a downtown business owner and resident. I have broken this story in hopes that a Floral Pulitzer Prize will be mine. (Well, mine and Carole's.)
Click below to view our exposé. Be warned: some of the photos are graphic, showing horribly mistreated vegetation.
Main point of this review: There's five days left to see Enlightened Theatrics' current production, the play Next Fall. Get your tickets. Now. The last shows are Wednesday-Sunday, November 8-12. My wife and I loved Next Fall -- one of the most enjoyable plays we've ever seen.
There's even a two-for-one ticket offer that likely still holds:
Next Fall is about a gay couple who bicker, argue, make up, break apart, drive each other crazy, help each other be sane, cry, laugh, and otherwise display all the strengths and weaknesses of every other long-term committed couple, homosexual, heterosexual, whateversexual.
Having seen other Enlightened Theatrics shows, we expected the acting to be superb. Indeed, it was.
But what blew me away was how natural the six actors were.
Never, not once, did I think "That line sounded like self-conscious acting" (a thought I often have even with famous actors in big-budget films). The dialogue seemed 100% real. And we had great front row seats, so even a whisper of inauthenticity wouldn't have escaped us.
This speaks volumes about both the quality of the actors being showcased in Salem by Enlightened Theatrics and the directing ability of home town director Vincenzo Meduri.
We Salemians are super-fortunate to be able to see a play like Next Fall for a reasonable price, not to mention being able to buy popcorn that doesn't cost more than the ticket, and be able to eat it in my seat (before the play started, not during, I hasten to add).
Wikipedia tells me Next Fall first opened off-Broadway in 2009. So it must have been written by Geoffrey Nauffts sometime sooner.
Now, I'm not gay, and my understanding of what it means to be gay today is almost entirely based on hearsay, not direct conversations with gay people. So maybe my feeling while watching Next Fall -- things must be better now, aren't they? -- is wrong.
Like I said, the acting was entirely natural and believable.
I just couldn't help but wonder whether two forty-something gay guys would have so much trouble today coming out to their parents. (Well, actually only one of the guys in the play has this problem; the other has his own problems, some Woody Allen'ish as regards his obsessive health anxieties.)
One thunderous compliment I can extend to the cast and crew of Next Fall is that I heard my wife laugh out loud at least once. This is almost unheard of for Laurel at a play, as she, like me, is almost entirely prone to inaudible inward amusement.
So congrats to Nauffts and Paul Bright (Adam) for the line that got Laurel laughing -- as I recall, Adam's mention that someone's guilt over gay sex struck him as akin to the guy dressing in leather and flagellating himself with a whip, which Adam notes is "something that I'd like to see."
Sin-related guilt has a big role in the play.
Adam is an atheist. Luke, his live-in lover, is a Christian. Their discussions about religion aren't so much theological as relational, which makes them way more interesting. In fact, my main after-play question concerned whether Adam viewed Jesus or another gay guy as the central intruder into his loving relationship with Luke.
Which was fitting, for the play is so subtly written, there's little room for rooting for one character over another. Sure, since my wife and I are atheists we felt that Adam mostly got the better of Luke when they argued over religion.
But the Director's Note in the program is spot on.
At this very moment in our country and in our world, we are continually being forced to pick a side. We are pressured to divide ourselves based on differing opinions and beliefs... This way of thinking has permeated so deeply within ourselves that we as a civilized community have forgotten what it is to empathize with anyone or anything that is different from ourselves.
...I hope this production gives our audience a chance to really examine what it means to choose a "side." I hope this production creates a dialogue about empathy and how we communicate with each other. I hope audiences gain courage to continue to live in truth and peace, and I look forward to our audiences leaving with a greater appreciation for their own loved ones.
Life is short and precious and love is the greatest gift we can give.
Nicely said, Vincenzo Meduri.
Today at least 26 people were killed in a Texas church shooting. Listening to news of this tragedy on my car radio, I heard these sorts of sentiments from people in the small town where the murders occurred.
"Trust in faith." "Know that they're with God." "So many prayers are going out to the community." "May God comfort them all."
Ordinarily I'm annoyed by religious proclamations like these. My atheist mind, which works quite a bit like Adam's, will think such things as If God has the power to comfort the living, why didn't he use his power to prevent the 26 deaths?
But having seen Next Fall the night before, and being moved by how religious faith -- even if misguided -- supports believers in dealing with tragedies that otherwise would make no sense to them, I was more understanding of those who looked to God in a time of horrible hurt.
This isn't my way. However, there are lots of ways.
In Next Fall Adam and Luke managed to find common ground that transcended their Christianity and atheism. As Meduri said above, love was the key.
(A New York Times review of the off-Broadway production, "Love With a Proper Atheist and Other Leaps of Faith," is well worth reading.)
I wish life was perfect. It isn't. The Buddha taught this. Life is suffering. We're born, we grow old, we die.
Our goal shouldn't be to try to eliminate suffering in a vain attempt to make life perfect, but rather to look upon things as they imperfectly are without unduly reacting to them with thoughts and feelings of Ugh! So wrong! Horrible! Can't be!
Likewise, the place where we live has to be accepted as a blend of positives and negatives that will forever dance together in an intertwined dance of opposites that both attract and repel.
Take our current home in rural south Salem, Oregon. When my wife and I think about the pros and cons of where we've lived for 27 years in the course of questioning whether we should move at some point, our ponderings end up pretty much like this:
No close-by neighbors
Large landscaped yard
Surrounded by nature
House with lots of room
Out in the country
No close-by neighbors
Large landscaped yard
Surrounded by nature
House with lots of room
Out in the country
Well, damn, our likes and dislikes are the same!
I like that we can barely see only one other house. But often I feel isolated from other people. It's great to have so many trees and other vegetation on all sides of us. But taking care of all of this naturalness can be a big pain in the butt. The drive into town is pleasant. But it'd be nice to be closer to stores, restaurants, entertainment, and other attractions in Salem. We enjoy 3200 square feet of spaciousness. But every square foot needs to be cleaned and cared for.
And the same would be true, yet in a different way, if we moved into the Salem city limits.
Now the likes and dislikes would be reversed. We'd have plenty of neighbors close-by. Almost certainly, some would do stuff that'd irritate us. Urban delights would be near at hand. Yet we'd miss our nature trails. Etc, etc.
This might seem strange -- that what we like also is what we dislike -- but it's really no different from how I feel about my wife, Laurel, who I love deeply. The qualities that attracted me to her really are the same qualities that irritate me at times.
For example, she's strong and independent. So she isn't shy to disagree with me, to tell me that I'm wrong. She's organized and neat. So when I'm not, I hear about it.
The same is true for our own selves.
Isn't it the case that our greatest strengths also are our greatest weaknesses? I'm good at writing and speaking. However, I also can be horribly verbose. I'm an energetic citizen activist. However, I also can be excessively pushy and confrontational.
With age (I turned 69 this month) comes a bit of wisdom.
I've stopped believing that if I only lived here rather than there, everything will be great. I've also stopped believing that if my wife, or myself, was this way rather than that way, everything will be great. It won't be, because life always is a mixture of good and bad, pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness.
Still, each of us has the ability to look upon where we are, who we are, and how other people are with varying degrees of acceptance. On the where front, I'm a big fan of what Melody Warnick talks about in her book, "This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live."
(See my previous blog post about the book, "I'm attached to Salem, Oregon. Check out this 'place attachment' scale.")
Here's some excerpts from Warnick's opening chapter:
We always want the postscript to stories like these [of moving to a new place] to be "and they lived happily ever after." Though only some of us will move in a given year, mulling the possibilities is practically a national pastime, especially because of the long-standing habit of conflating geography and happiness.
As Eric Weiner points out in The Geography of Bliss, "We speak of searching for happiness, of finding contentment, as if these were locations in an atlas, actual places that we could visit if only we had the proper map and the right navigational skills.
Anyone who has taken a vacation to, say, some Caribbean island and had flash through their mind the uninvited thought I could be happy here knows what I mean.
If the idea that a place can make us happy is a fantasy, it's both sweet and pervasive.
...Researchers who measure place attachment don't try to examine the objective magnificence of one's city -- the soaring beauty of its skyscrapers and statues, the leafy depths of its parks. That would be like measuring a couple's love for each other by posting their photos on Hot or Not.
Instead, scientists study residents' emotions by asking whether or not their town feels like home. When it comes to place attachment, our towns are what we think they are. That means your city doesn't need to be the Platonic ideal of a city in the same way you (thankfully) don't have to be particularly goregous, clever, or wealthy to love and be loved.
...Ethan Kent, a senior vice president with the nonprofit Projects for Public Spaces, told me that Americans are emerging from an era of thinking of towns and cities as products for residents to consume.
"Now," he says, "the energy is more around the idea that the cities that succeed are the ones that allow people to help create them. That's how they become better places, but also how people are going to become more attached to them. When people help create their place, they see themselves reflected in it. It reflects their values and personalities and becomes more an extension of themselves."
So let's help create wherever we are.
Get involved with your city government, neighborhood association, civic organization, volunteer group, or whatever. Become friends with people who live nearby. Greet strangers with a hearty "hello." Pick up litter. Display a bit of beauty. Patronize local businesses.
These are just a few of the commonsense ideas Warnick talks about in her book.
The place where we live never will seem anywhere close to perfect if we view it as a detached object to be viewed from the outside, rather than as an intimate subject that's part and parcel of our own mind.
A local man with a great name fashions some marvelous creative writing on his Facebook page. I love these vignettes by Geronimo Tagatac, a really interesting guy. This is the Salem I want to live in.
And the great thing is, I already am. It just takes eyes like Tagatac's to see it. Here's his most recent "Salem." offerings.
Salem. A woman made of wet leaves rustles into the espresso house, turning and flashing orange, yellow, red, lemon, and pale green. She carries the smell of tropical rain and visions of soundless animal silhouettes sliding through damp spaces between trees. She whispers to the barista in the language of ancient reptile. The barista stares into the woman's blurred eyes and says, "We have a selection of herbal teas."
Salem. The rain's singing to the swelling creek that forms the park's east edge. In the coffee house, a woman with a tiny, shivering dog puts the end of her thick braid of hair into her mouth and hums. The man at the next table stares at her and remembers a sister with whom he hasn't spoken to in twenty three years. She had a voice like falling rain.
Salem. The shrinking group of retirees at the coffee house table lean in toward each other. Above them, a ghostly octopus drifts, its tentacles weaving a cephalopodic signal that draws tiny phosphorescent creatures that paint a glow on the aging men's faces. "What's this about the war on coal?" one of them asks.
Salem. The cool air pulses into the espresso smell each time someone pushes through the coffee house door. A dark-faced old man with mahogany colored hands sits at an outdoor table, remembering the sudden sound of gunfire in his family's village, 75 years ago. And the gun powder and burning thatch smell as his father lifted him and ran.
Salem. The sidewalk's decided to have a cup of espresso after the morning rush. It pulls itself through the coffee house door and smiles at the barista, who gives him the once-over and smiles, because his expansion lines and stains remind her of her ex-boyfriend who played in a band called The Resilients. She remembers the basement rehearsals and the mattress-on-the-floor nights where she felt adrift with him on a gritty sea.
Salem. In the espresso house, the laptops have shut themselves down. Their keyboards and USB ports emit a pink goo smelling of smoked apricots. A gray, monitor lizard raises itself on its hind legs, puts its front paws on the counter, and hisses, "What have you got for conversation." The barista stares at him for a moment and says, "How about a triple shot with dexedrine?"
Salem. The coffee house floor is singing about its long-ago days as a tree. The light remembers its journey from the sun and stars. The woman at her laptop recalls her father raking leaves on a fall day, a month before he died. Her laptop stares back at her and can't recall anything but a switch going on, and a sudden storm of algorithms.
Salem. Flaming hail and asbestos-clad frogs bedevil people on their ways to work. The paint on parked cars blisters and runs, leaving the smell of over-done sympathy. At the retirees' table, phrases bubble up. "Then guns." "Sixty-four year old." "I thought automatic weapons were illegal." A woman walks past the window trying to beat out the flames consuming her umbrella.
Salem. In the park, the sound of rain falling on the grass and trees is the anthem of salamanders taking back the land. In the early morning light, they worship the gray skies of their ancestors with bowed heads and creekside tracks in the mud. Downtown, in the coffeehouse, customers stop to listen to the voice of a homeless man in damp clothes, who tells them that the day of the salamander is at hand.
Salem. The morning breeze is mood music commemorating the passing of an old woman's hazy memory, of warm waters and quiet afternoons, in a far-off place. In those days, she shed her name and wore brighter colors. She hid her moods behind dark glasses, and forgot about the people she'd left behind. Sometimes, she walked along a beach of no regrets, drank five-shot reggae cocktails, and her singing voice was the envy of everyone.
Salem. In a tree along High St., the smaller birds are getting up their nerve to mob a lone crow on a tree branch. They're all egging each other on, screeching tribal chants, while the crow curses them, hoping for friends to show up in a flurry of black wings.
Salem. A man made of vegetables and smoke hesitates outside the coffee house door. He looks down at the dog tethered to the parking meter and leaves him his last summer squash. He walks across to the counter, trailing the aroma of burnt copper and marzipan. "Aah, espresso," he says in a voice of dark mist. The barista stares at him and says, "Are you on TV or something?"
Salem. Under a pregnant sky, a gray-haired woman walks with her head down. Perhaps she's counting the sidewalk meridians, on the way to a far-off coast where the air smells of coffee and kelp. Around her, the trees sway softly in an unseen current. A man in full scuba gear swims past her, up toward the distant surface of memory. When he gets there, he'll wonder at the woman he saw, walking along the bottom.
Salem. A vertical line appears above the sidewalk outside the coffee house. It wavers, widens, gathers substance, and becomes a slight, Asian man with an expensive looking leather bag hanging from his shoulder. Glances both ways and steps out of the haze surrounding him, on shiny black loafers. He glances at the large green beetle on the shoulder of his black blazer and walks into the coffee house. "കോഫി," he says. "Oh, hey, where I can get one of those?" asks the barista nodding at the beetle.
Salem. The man made of rain sips his coffee in the espresso cafe's far corner. No one will look at him for very long. His clothes smell of damp vegetation, and his eyes are muddy gray. His vine-covered boots are impatient with the floor, and his dark hands are veined with small streams. When he sighs, the light grows dim and everyone in the place has the same vision of salamanders on a forest floor.
OK. I love the United States. I'm devoted to this country.
I also love...
My neighborhood, Spring Lake Estates
My city, Salem
My county, Marion
My state, Oregon.
My country, United States (as already mentioned)
My continent, North America
My planet, Earth
My galaxy, Milky Way
My universe, which let's call Universe
So I'm super-patriotic.
I love and am devoted to so much more than just my country. Celebrating Independence Day (today!) by focusing on the American flag, fireworks, nationalism, our military, the Founding Fathers (no mothers, apparently) strikes me as an excessive attention to a small slice of what every person in this country should be devoted to.
In short, everything in existence, because nothing stands alone.
There's no such thing as independence. The United States wasn't really independent in 1776, or any other date. Today, as every day, our country is embedded in a web of physical, cultural, economic, environmental, and other sorts of connections.
All too often, people view patriotism as elevating one's country among all those other levels of reality I listed above. There's many problems with this. I'll just mention a few.
First, as just noted, the plain fact is that the United States doesn't stand above (or below) the other entities I listed. The United States is a concept, an abstraction, a way of thinking about the territory, political institutions, and such that now encompasses 50 states.
Viewed from space, there is no evident United States or any other country. Countries aren't so much physical realities as they are conceptual realities.
So when viewed from a loftier systems perspective, we can see that without individual states there would be no United States. And without the United States, there would be no conceptual union that those states could belong to. Thus the United States can't exist without other entities, and those other entities can't exist without the United States.
This interrelatedness of everything makes it impossible for me to view patriotism as love of country. I'm also a neighborhood, city, county, state, continent, planet, galaxy, and universe patriot.
In different ways these aspects of reality all touch me. I love each of them. I'm devoted to each of them.
Naturally I spend most of my life at my neighborhood and city level. This is where my mind and body touch existence most directly. However, I recognize that without every other level of reality -- notably the level of my planet, Earth -- I couldn't enjoy the small slice of planetary goodness called Spring Lake Estates and Salem.
Second, then, "my ________ (choose a level) right or wrong" makes no sense. I heard this sentiment a lot in my college days when so-called patriots would say to us hippie Vietnam War demonstrators, love it or leave it. Meaning, the United States.
No. False choice.
I don't have to love my country or leave my country. I can disapprove of what my country is doing and work to change it while still loving the United States. Further, to give a current example, I can love the Earth and heartily disapprove of the Trump administration's disregard of the Paris Agreement and other efforts to combat the harmful effects of global climate change.
In this regard I'm an Earth patriot.
I understand that the United States has a responsibility to our planet that it isn't fulfilling. When my wife and I took part in the Salem March for Science event on Earth Day this year, I felt super-patriotic criticizing Trump's anti-science stance, because my love and devotion extended beyond the narrow confines of nationalism.
Like my sign said, "Science is Universal."
That's why I like super-patriotism. It doesn't have any boundaries. A super-patriot loves, and is devoted to, every aspect of reality -- from one's immediate neighborhood to the furthest reaches of the universe.
Which doesn't mean that I like everything in reality. There's a lot I want to change, to make better, to improve on the planetary levels of existence (there's no way I can alter anything on the galactic or universe scale; I can only admire this vastness from afar).
Third, and lastly, an ordinary patriot believes "The United States is the greatest country on Earth." A super-patriot realizes that this is a subjective opinion, not an objective fact, because their view is broader.
Consider: I'd never say that my neighborhood, city, or state is the greatest.
I love where I live, but I understand that most people love where they live. From this Oregonian's perspective, I find it astounding that some people adore North Dakota. Yet, they do. I have no doubt that lots of North Dakotans consider their state to be the greatest in our country.
As do lots of people in every other state.
Likewise, people in every country believe that theirs is the greatest nation on the planet. A 2016 YouGov poll asked respondents in 19 countries whether "they believe you live in the best country in the world." Here's the results as reported in a Business Insider story, "RANKED: How patriotic 19 world-leading economies are."
19. France - 5%
18. Germany - 5%
17. Vietnam - 6%
15. Sweden - 7%
15. Singapore - 7%
14. Hong Kong - 8%
13. Finland - 11%
12. Norway - 11%
11. Malaysia - 11%
10. Denmark - 13%
9. UK - 13%
8. Indonesia - 14%
7. Philippines - 15%
6. Thailand - 25%
5. Saudi Arabia - 25%
4. UAE - 27%
3. Australia - 34%
2. India - 36%
1. United States - 41%
So what does this mean, objectively speaking? Nothing.
Because there is no objective way to determine which country is the best in the world. So patriotism based on a feeling of "We're #1" is ludicrous. Many people in every country believe they are #1. The United States just happens to have the highest percentage.
(But India would way outvote us, since it has so many more people.)
This comment on the low German result of 5% was interesting: "Over six decades have passed since the Second World War, but Germans still have a 'pathological fear' of patriotism, according to German magazine Der Spiegel."
However, I believe everybody should have such a fear, given that nationalistic patriotism is limited, divisive, and works against a broad view of our interconnected reality.
I encourage super-patriotism: a love of country that doesn't elevate devotion to one's nation above love of neighborhood, city, county, state, continent, planet, galaxy, and universe.
Yesterday I met Evan Osborne fortuitously at a get-together in our neighborhood. I was walking our dog around the community lake. When I got to the picnic area Evan recognized me and we had a nice chat about the Capitol City Cycleshare he's working to get going.
His dog was with him, so ZuZu (our canine) and James got to meet each other and play a bit. James is prominently featured on the Capitol City Cycleshare web page, as you can see above.
Why a Bikeshare?
On one of our travels to Minneapolis, Minnesota several years ago, bike-share programs were discovered. Our experience in MN led to travel goals of riding bike-shares around the world.
The major cities of Paris, London, Amsterdam, New York, Chicago, and Miami are some of the bike-sharing opportunities we have enjoyed.
From that first experience in MN, the founding members of Osborne Adventures made a wish that such a program would come to the city of Salem. That wish is becoming a reality. Salem’s bike-share program will be launching this summer! Planning is underway with the city and bike program, and we are anticipating an August launch! Thanks for the visit and stay tuned for updates!
If you would like to learn more about the Bikeshare, feel free to contact us at:
Likely this non-profit is going to get $3,000 from the City of Salem at tonight's City Council meeting. That's better than nothing, obviously, but it strikes me as a pretty meager contribution of Urban Renewal funds -- a view echoed by the Breakfast on Bikes blog.
Back in December, Council approved a $749,000 Opportunity Grant for the Park Front Building, a project that was already in progress, had tenants lined up, and did not necessarily need the funding.
On Monday, Council will consider a $3,000 grant, about 0.5% of the Park Front subsidy, for six bike share stations in downtown.
Which can't be right -- the six bike share stations part -- because $8,500 is what each of the planned ten stations will cost (each station will house five bikes). So the City of Salem staff report must be wrong.
Evan told me that Capitol City Cycleshare is trying to get ten station sponsors. I recall him saying that they currently have two, Salem Health and U.S. Bank. As shown above, it costs $8.500 to be a station sponsor. It sure seems like the City of Salem could come up with the extra $5,500 to sponsor a single five-bike station.
How about it, Mayor Bennett and city councilors?
I've donated a hundred bucks to Capitol City Cycleshare because I think this is just a cool idea. I'd also be happy to fork out $60 a year for an annual membership.
As I told Evan during our talk at the lake, I generally find myself downtown without one of my folding Bike Friday bikes, since I don't carry one with me wherever I go. It'd be great to simply carry a bike helmet in my car, then be able to hop on one of the Bikeshare bikes if I felt like cruising around the Minto Brown - Riverfront Park - Wallace Marine Park paths.
When Salem gets more dedicated multiuse paths, or protected bike paths (rather than just a painted white line on a busy street), Capitol City Cycleshare will become even more popular.
Here's a link to their Info Sheet. Take a look. Consider donating to the cause. Especially if you're a business. Note that sponsors get lots of credit and visibility.
Download Capitol City Cycleshare
Here's what my camera captured at last Sunday's Willamette Humane Society WillaMutt Strut event at Riverfront Park.
The family dog, ZuZu, and I completed the 5k walk, though not in anything approaching record time. But if I could subtract all the moments ZuZu spent sniffing dog pee (and who knows what else) instead of walking, our performance would look a heck of a lot better.
Check out the Adobe Spark page where I share photos and a video of today's Salem March for Science on the capitol mall -- plus some commentary on the event. My wife and I hugely enjoyed the inspiring speakers, signs, and wonderfully geeky chants.
Last Wednesday I managed to drag my retired body and mind to an astoundingly early 9 a.m. meeting of the Streetscape Committee at the Urban Development office in downtown Salem.
Carole Smith, an early and ongoing proponent of streetscaping downtown (see the web page I made about these initial efforts) is on the committee. After learning from her about the exciting plans being discussed by the group, I wanted to attend the committee's second meeting to see for myself what they were up to.
In short: great stuff.
Streetscaping the Historic District would be wonderfully transformative for downtown -- which has a lot of untapped potential. Here's how a draft statement of purpose handed out at the meeting starts out.
Download Downtown Streetscape Plan
The purpose of the Downtown Streetscape Plan is to create an environment through streetscape that is attractive, inviting, consistent, interesting, fun, colorful, low maintenance and representative of Salem's "unique" qualities. (Brands our downtown and makes you want to linger.)
Now, the Streetscape Committee isn't actually developing a plan. They're basically coming up with the scope of services that will be performed by the consulting firm chosen as the successful bidder after a RFP (request for proposals) is publicized by City officials.
Those consultants will facilitate public meetings, likely starting this fall, where citizens will be able to weigh in on how they want to see downtown streetscaped.
Normally I'd be worrying that this could be another case where a great plan for making Salem better in some fashion is developed, but then sits on a shelf and is never implemented. This seems much less likely with the Streetscape Committee's work, for these reasons.
(1) The committee is being led by Urban Development Director Kristin Retherford and CB Two architect Aaron Terpening. I was impressed with how they handled the meeting. After it was over I talked with Retherford at some length and came away feeling good about the prospects for this project.
(2) Retherford told the committee that about $30 million in Urban Renewal money is available soon. Top priorities are streetscape and downtown housing (plus maybe also "Toolbox" grants/loans; wasn't sure about this). These Urban Renewal funds need to be divvied up between various uses, but there seems enough to make a good start on streetscaping downtown.
(3) Unlike other contentious City of Salem projects -- such as the controversial Third Bridge/Salem River Crossing -- the diverse members of the Streetscape Committee seem to be pretty much in agreement. When Nick Williams of the Chamber of Commerce is agreeing with progressive activist Carole Smith, as happened at yesterday's meeting, that's a great sign.
Still, there was some spirited discussion on several topics.
One issue concerned who would be involved in selecting the consulting firm that would develop a Downtown Streetscape Plan. Several members urged Retherford to involve the committee in this. She was cautious about that prospect, citing standard procedures for evaluating RFPs.
Artistic competence was repeatedly mentioned as being an important criterion for choosing the consultants. It does seem like some citizens with artistic credentials should be able to review and comment on previous streetscape work by the firms responding to the RFP.
Another issue actually was discussed after the meeting ended.
Carole Smith and I talked with Retherford about a few subjects. I told her that I thought the Streetscape Committee was off to a good start, but was concerned about the lack of discussion of what streets would be eligible for streetscaping -- given how critical this obviously is to the success of the project.
Here's a map showing the streets that City staff currently consider to be potentially streetscapable (in green; yellow are streets with existing bike lane improvements).
Only east-west streets (Chekeketa, Court, State) are shown as "Potential Streetscape." Liberty and Commercial, major north-south streets, aren't shown as streetscapable.
I told Retherford that this needs to be reconsidered.
Liberty and Commercial are the streets that most downtown visitors use to reach the Historic District. They are the "front door," so to speak, for downtown. Their appearance provides an overall impression of what the Historic District is like, an ambience that should reflect the brand/vibe of a newly vitalized downtown.
Retherford responded with talk about the periodic review of City transportation and comprehensive plans, which won't happen for a while. Smith noted that changing the designation of Liberty and Commercial from "major arterial" to something more cyclist/pedestrian friendly would just require a City Council vote, so this could be done if the will existed.
The issue is whether Liberty and Commercial should be put on a Road Diet as part of the Downtown Streetscape Project.
A key feature of a Road Diet is that it allows reclaimed space to be allocated for other uses, such as turn lanes, bus lanes, pedestrian refuge islands, bike lanes, sidewalks, bus shelters, parking or landscaping.
...As more communities desire "complete streets" and more livable spaces, they look to agencies to find opportunities to better integrate pedestrian and bicycle facilities and transit options along their corridors. When a Road Diet is planned in conjunction with reconstruction or simple overlay projects, the safety and operational benefits are achieved essentially for the cost of restriping. A Road Diet is a low-cost solution that addresses safety concerns and benefits all road users — a win-win for quality of life.
I look forward to vigorous, open, passionate public discussion of this issue and all of the other streetscape design features.
It's encouraging that the Streetscape Committee is calling for quite a few charettes next fall where consultants and City staff will hear from Salem citizens about how they want to see streetscaping carried out in the Historic District.
Downtown Salem would be much more attractive to out-of-town visitors and locals alike if Commercial and Liberty streets lost some lanes.
(Other streets too, but my focus here is on Commercial and Liberty.)
Fortunately, there's a decent chance this could happen. Yesterday a City of Salem Streetscape Committee chaired by Urban Development Director Kristin Retherford had its first meeting. Carole Smith, a committee member, shared notes with me about what happened.
Smith and other Streetscape proponents came up with some initial concepts several years ago. You can check them out on a Downtown Salem Streetscape web page I made (which has gotten about 4,700 views, showing the interest in this subject).
Below is a sketch of how Liberty could look as it enters downtown.
Much more inviting, right?
This is a sketch of how Commercial (on the left) and Liberty (on the right) could be transformed. Keep in mind this was just an initial concept. Streetscaping downtown could happen in a multitude of different ways. But a key goal is to make Salem's Historic District much more people and cyclist friendly.
Which means, less autocentric.
I took the photo above from the corner of Court and Liberty as I wandering around downtown during the First Wednesday event yesterday. Notice the vast expanse of Liberty's four lanes (top left) with very few cars occupying the street.
I often drive into downtown from the south via Liberty, and less often, but frequently, into downtown from the north via Commercial. I can't remember ever seeing these freeway'ish streets running through the Historic District filled with cars once I got past Ferry or Union streets.
Yes, traffic on Liberty and Commercial gets congested at certain times as it nears downtown. But many, if not most, of these vehicles are trying to get around downtown, not into it. This is why Liberty and Commercial are comparatively empty once traffic turns off onto the Front Street Bypass or the Marion Street bridge.
Front Street was built to route traffic around downtown. The photo above was taken in 1978.
This screenshot of a page from the Front Street Bypass Environmental Impact Statement has criteria #1 for determining the design of the bypass: "The project must satisfy the objective of diverting traffic away from Liberty and Commercial Streets in the downtown."
Well, Front Street does a pretty good job of this. I use it whenever I'm heading west or north of downtown, because this is faster than going through the Historic District.
So I'm perplexed by Carole Smith's report that at the first meeting of the Streetscape Committee members were told by City officials that certain streets were off-limits for narrowing:
I can understand why Front, Trade, Ferry, Center, and Marion streets couldn't lose lanes. They are used by people trying to get around or out of downtown. But why can't Liberty and Commercial streets lose some lanes in the Historic District? This question needs some serious discussion at the Streetscape Committee's next meetings.
Economic activity in the downtown area (or anywhere else) doesn't occur when people are moving around in their cars or trucks. It happens when people stop to buy something. Which is preceded by people walking around.
The current First Wednesday organizers were smart to close off part of Chemeketa Street.
Food trucks and other purveyors drew people to a block that otherwise would have been devoted to moving traffic. Streets should serve the needs of people, not vehicles. This should be freaking obvious, but too often city planners either ignore or forget that basic truth.
Parking spaces -- indeed, the entire street -- can be used temporarily as a people place rather than as a vehicle place. Streetscaping downtown would follow a similar philosophy: make the Historic District a people magnet rather than a place drivers pass through to get somewhere else.
Walking around on the initial First Wednesday event of 2017, I was struck by the pleasing amount of vitality in some of the alleys. City planners and Streetscape Committee, pay attention to this.
No, or very few, moving vehicles in the alleys. No public parking in the alleys. Yet people were having a good time and supporting downtown businesses.
Salem needs to lose some downtown lanes so it can gain more downtown vibrancy.
Painted lines on an unnecessarily wide and mostly empty street provide zero economic benefit to the Historic District. Streetscaping downtown would be a city-changer, especially if Liberty and Commercial streets become more people-friendly and attractive.
Thanks mucho to Los Angeles-area comedian Grant Lyon who got me off my lethargic ass and into a Salem gem that I've been meaning to check out, but hadn't until last Saturday night, the Capitol City Theatre (tagline: serious about comedy).
A good one too. I really appreciate Grant emailing me his free ticket offer. Grant said that he likes to offer them to local bloggers in towns that he visits. Which, after Salem, was a 7-hour drive to Sacramento.
Yeah, stand-up comedy is a tough gig. Yet Grant and the woman who opened for him, Carmen Morales, both looked fresh and energetic. (Of course, they're a heck of a lot younger than I am.)
The Capitol City Theatre vibe felt exactly right for a comedy club. Dark yet welcoming. Small round tables with chairs close to the stage. Beer, hard cider, popcorn, and other goodies for sale from a friendly staffer.
I'm not a big laugh-out-loud person. I smile, both inwardly and outwardly. This doesn't make me the best sort of audience for stand-up comedy in a small club, but fortunately I was surrounded by more voluble people.
Grant and Carmen (I now feel like I know them, so like using their first names) clearly enjoyed feeding off of audience reactions. That's part of what made this LIVE stand-up comedy experience more enjoyable than watching comedians on TV, which I do a lot.
For real -- and I'm not saying this because of the free tickets -- Grant and Carmen were top-notch entertainers. Right here in semi-sleepy Salem. I'll share some You Tube videos of their acts below so you can get a feel for their styles.
(Carmen said she had time before the show to look for witches, but didn't see any; um... you need to head to Salem, Massachusetts, girl.)
Being philosophically minded, I've been pondering a bit what makes stand-up comedy so appealing. Don't want to overthink this -- funny is what feels funny -- but here's a few thoughts spurred by Grant and Carmen.
I think experiencing stand-up comedy is like looking at the famous duck-rabbit image.
There's one reality here. A drawing. But the mind can see it in two different ways: as a duck or a rabbit.
What a good comedian does, and for sure both Grant and Carmen fill this bill, is shift our perception of a truth so we see it in a fresh way.
To me, the important word in what I just said is truth.
Comedy needs to be based on how the world really is, or it isn't funny. For example, Grant had a pleasing bit about global warming and those who deny it. It would have been irritating, not entertaining, if he'd made fun of people who accept the scientific consensus about global warming.
(Maybe this would have gone over at a Trump rally, but that's a sad commentary on today's reality-denying right-wing politics.)
I can't think of one instance where Grant or Carmen joked about something that wasn't true. Even when they talked about personal things that can't be verified -- like Carmen's father going on embarrassingly about how much he wants to make love to her mother later, during a dinner when Carmen's friends were over -- had a decided ring of truth.
So, yeah, good comedy makes us look at life through laugh-filtered glasses. We still see the same reality. It just looks different. Not less real, but more real in certain ways.
Carmen had an enjoyable bit about twerking. She nailed the animalistic nature of it, riffing about how the first female twerker could have been out picking berries in prehistoric times when she spots a hunky caveman who looks like he'd be good at providing raw meat of several different varieties -- dietary and sexual.
So she turns her ass to him and wiggles it around in a wordless Come take a closer look at this hot stuff, dude message.
Grant, to offer another example of reality-enhancing comedy, talked about how in the course of science getting us to live longer, he didn't want to be a 130 year old guy who gets all crotchety about cultural trends that are passing him by.
Sure, when Grant was younger he was chill with same sex marriage, but being able to marry a clone of yourself -- NO WAY! says old man Grant.
After the show I complimented Grant on coming up with this creative idea: of how we can't foresee all the social changes that are going to keep arriving, many of which we aren't going to feel comfortable accepting, yet we feel ever so proud of our with-it attitudes toward current changes like legal weed, gay marriage, and using whatever damn bathroom your gender identity demands.
If you get a chance, go see Grant Lyons and Carmen Morales. And if you live in Salem, Oregon, check out the Capitol City Theatre comedy club. "Headliners" on Friday and Saturday nights; open mic night on Thursday. (I'm tempted... ).
Here's the videos of Grant and Carmen.
Over on my Salem Political Snark blog I've posted an in-depth critique of how City officials handled a large grant to T.J. Sullivan (an ex-city councilor and current Chamber of Commerce vice-president): "Disturbing facts revealed about $749,000 Park Front urban renewal grant."
Here's how the post starts out. You can read my entire Investigative Blogging Masterpiece by clicking on the image below.
After making a public records request to the City of Salem for documents related to approval of the $749,000 Park Front LLC grant, and reviewing what I got, I'm even more disturbed by how this grant request was handled -- which relates to how Downtown Urban Renewal funds are being handled in general.
The easiest way to read this post is via an Adobe Spark web page I've fashioned. The images are larger on that web page, and copies of the documents are a bit easier to download and view. Just click below. Alternatively, scroll down and continue reading the post on this blog.
This is a lengthy post, so here's key "headlines" about the Park Front grant:
Park Front developer T.J. Sullivan wrongly asserted in his grant application to the City of Salem that 80 permanent new jobs would be created by the project. This should be grounds for the City Council revoking, or at least revisiting, approval of the $749,000 urban renewal grant, since the actual number of permanent new jobs likely is zero, or very few.
It is clear that the Park Front building was going to be built with or without urban renewal funds, so the City of Salem's claim that public funds leveraged private investment with public money is false.
The Park Front developers said they plan to use the $749,000 to "add back" features of the building that they were going to leave out after construction costs escalated and Pioneer Trust Bank failed to loan them as much money as they asked for. So I continue to call this crony capitalism, since these are normal problems encountered by developers.
Approval of the grant by the City Council acting as the Urban Renewal Agency Board was rushed through by City staff before the end of 2016 so it wouldn't be considered by the 2017 City Council that would include three newly-elected progressive councilors.
We're one week into four years of a Trump presidency.
If the trend line of Crazy continues, it will be so far off the charts I'm worried our United States will disintegrate into a tangled mass of splintered humanity, with most people saddened, angered, and frustrated, and a minority cheering the arrival of whatever disastrous future Trump's barely-there mind envisions for our country.
When I wake up in the middle of the night and start worrying about what kind of hellscape awaits our nation, the only thought that calms my frazzled psyche is this:
Here in Salem, we can be a refuge of love in a wilderness of hate; an island of sanity in an ocean of craziness; a town that comes together in a country that is splitting apart.
Look, I realize this may sound unduly idealistic given that 38% of Salem voters cast a ballot for Trump and 49% for Clinton.
There's no consensus among our citizenry on anything, including how to deal with homelessness, whether a Third Bridge is needed, what to do about a Plan B for a new police facility, how to revitalize downtown, and what improvements, if any, need to be made to our schools, mass transit system, roads, bike paths, and other communal aspects of Salem.
This doesn't really matter, though.
Heck, it is rare that my wife and I start off with a consensus about anything. For example, until recently I didn't even know that we needed a new living room couch. Our current one seemed absolutely fine to me. But Laurel gently and persuasively explained why she doesn't like the couch. Yesterday we ordered a new one. She was happy. I was happy. And I'm sure when the new couch arrives, our dog also will be happy with it.
What we did was simple:
Talk to each other; listen to each other; understand how the other person feels; give reasons for why we feel the way we do; compromise; engage in give and take; come to a mutually satisfying agreement; realize that we don't have to see something in exactly the same way, just similarly enough to be able to converse about it.
Hopefully Salem's elected officials, public employees, business leaders, civic activists, advocates for this-and-that, and citizens of all sorts will be able to come together in these Trumpian times, demonstrating that while Washington D.C. may be a place of rancor and people talking past each other, our town can be different.
Which means, of course, that we have to talk to each other. And not just through social media, as President Obama said so eloquently in his farewell speech:
Understand democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued, they quarreled, and eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity. The idea that, for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together, that we rise or fall as one.
...For too many of us it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. In the rise of naked partisanship and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste, all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.
And increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.
And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy. Look, politics is a battle of ideas. That’s how our democracy was designed. In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we’re going to keep talking past each other.
...So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.
Salem needs more opportunities for diverse people to come together and talk openly, honestly, and, yes, sometimes heatedly, about what we have to do to make our town better.
Face to face. Eye to eye.
Sure, we always are going to feel more comfortable in our own "tribe." I'm a progressive atheist vegetarian. I readily admit that hanging out with conservative religious carnivores can stretch my ability to empathize, understand, relate, grok. But I need this stretching, a form of psychological yoga. It helps keep me limber.
We here in Salem can get through the next four years, and the four years after that, whatever the future may bring, if we keep in mind a saying that is as true as it is a cliche: what unites us is stronger than what divides us.
We come to understand this most intensely when we break out of our cultural and political shells, daring to peck our way out of hardened beliefs that often bear little resemblance to reality, or to how other people truly look upon our shared world.
Like I said, I had no idea that a new couch was what our living room needed until my wife ushered me into this fresh understanding. All things are possible when approached with open minds.
Let's give it a try, Salem. I really need our town to come together, given the clear and present danger that our nation is going to split apart.
Following up on a recent post, "Big bold exciting idea: Streetscape downtown Salem!", I've made a web page with Adobe Spark that showcases the streetscape plan developed by Carole Smith, Eric Kittleson, Susan Kay Huston, and Alan Costic about five years ago.
That plan, which was enthusiastically received by Salem citizens, was shelved -- as so many good ideas often are after first being introduced. Thankfully, efforts to make downtown more attractive, economically vibrant, and pedestrian/cyclist friendly through streetscaping have been revived.
I used images and words provided by Smith and Huston as a foundation for this overview of the original Downtown Salem Streetscape proposal. I'm super-enthused about it. Take a look, by clicking on the image below, and I bet you will be also.
Imagine, dream, envision... how much more vibrant Salem's Historic District would be if the downtown area was a People Magnet.
Drawn in by wide sidewalks, two lane streets, water features, abundant greenery, safe bike lanes, outdoor dining, and an overall focus on encouraging pedestrians to stay, rather than speeding traffic to somewhere else, both Salem visitors and residents would say "This is a way-cool downtown; I'm coming back soon."
It can happen: a general vision for Streetscaping downtown was developed several years ago. Now this is being shared by Salem Community Vision in several recent posts. (See here and here.) Some excerpts:
The downtown streetscape project is designed to enhance the pedestrian and biking experience in the core area and eliminate blighted conditions. The project would remove one lane of automobile traffic and dedicate the space to protected bike lanes. It also would widen the existing sidewalks to provide more space to build a lineal park connecting Riverfront Park to the State Capitol Mall and Willamette University.
Streetscaping would include underground electricity, drip systems for plants, solar panels, and possibly underground cisterns to collect and reuse rain water. The general design of the project would follow the design principles of nationally renowned Salem landscape architects Lord & Schryver.
...The Conference Center bond will be paid off soon. The Urban Renewal District could sell a $30 million bond to finance this project. Urban Renewal funds do not have to be approved by voters, only by the City Council.
...This project will capture national attention in magazines and newspapers. It will make Salem a botanical, cultural, and culinary tourism destination. Plus, Salem residents will find that downtown is a much more enjoyable place after the streetscaping is completed.
Here's some images produced by the original Streetscape planners: AC + Co Architecture | Community, Carole Smith, and Susan Huston.
This is a rendering of what it would be like to look down a streetscaped Liberty Street, with State Street in the foreground. A tree-filled median would replace a lane (or maybe two?). No big deal, because there's no way any downtown street needs more lanes than I-5.
The image above shows how Court Street would lose a lane and be converted to a two-way traffic flow. Much more favorable for businesses and visitors alike. Two lane streets with wide sidewalks encourage browsing, walking around, eating/ drinking/ hanging out. More trees provide shade, beauty, an Oregon'ish feel.
Salem's Historic District has lots of untapped potential. Every time I'm downtown, which is frequently, I think, "Man, this place is poised for greatness. It just needs to lose the 'freeway vibe' because of Liberty and Commercial, along with other one-way streets, and gain a 'this is a people place' vibe."
There's a lot more that could be said about how wonderful a Downtown Streetscape Project would be.
Here's some of the saying that was in an under-read December 2015 report by John Southgate Consulting and Public Affairs Counsel that I blogged about in Semi-mysterious "Salem 2025" report looks at future of downtown. These excerpts from the Salem 2025 report point to the benefits a streetscape project would bring to the Historic District.
I've boldfaced some passages for emphasis.
Downtown Salem, Oregon, is a City that has not fulfilled its potential. It boasts a number of key assets – location immediately adjacent to a beautiful waterfront; a great stock of historic buildings; a healthy economy; and financial capacity in the near term that would be the envy of many larger cities.
And yet it has not deployed these assets as effectively as it should, and it also faces some challenges that have prevented Salem from reaching its potential.
Some challenges are physical (difficult access to the waterfront; too many properties that are under-performing; and streets that dominate the urbanscape rather than accommodating pedestrian activity). Other challenges include difficult development economics; a bureaucracy that too often gets in the way of good development; and a tendency over the years to make ad hoc decisions, rather than strategically.
This situation is far from hopeless, if the City leadership (including elected officials, key staff, as well as major players in the private sector) will work together to craft a strategy to guide future investments, a strategy that targets public/urban renewal investments intelligently and in a manner that will catalyze major private investment.
To do this, it will be important for the key private sector players to contribute towards an effort to (1) develop a coherent strategy for downtown focused on how to deploy approximately $30M in urban renewal funds when the Convention Center bonds are paid off in 2018; a strategy incorporating bold moves that dramatically change development dynamics in Salem.
...In light of the ad hoc nature of decision making, there is a serious risk that when the Convention Center bonds are paid off (2018), the City will fritter away its resources rather than being strategic in how it uses this debt capacity.
...Streets are wide and all about getting traffic through DT Salem, rather than to businesses in DT Salem. Bikes are generally not accommodated on downtown streets. Narrower streets (two lanes) would open up the possibility of more bike lanes.
...What Salem does need to do is be thoughtful and strategic about how to capitalize on its assets – in particular its urban renewal bonding authority. Perhaps the biggest challenge that Salem faces is a mindset. Cities that do great things, that change the economic dynamic of their downtowns, require bold and even courageous visionary leadership.
...We believe that Salem needs to start by articulating a vision/strategy for its downtown.
...In anticipation of such an effort, we surmise that there will be strong support for the following investments which will have the capacity to re-energize downtown Salem:
• Promotion of high density mixed use development – this means dollars for public/private deals, for land acquisition of strategic properties, and for predevelopment work
• Rehabilitation of Salem’s fine stock of historic buildings, including development of housing or high tech office uses on upper floors
• Access to waterfront
• Streets to serve all modes, not solely the auto. Fewer lanes, attractive lighting and pedestrian furnishings, curb extensions, bike lanes, and ample sidewalks.
• Tools to incentivize the sorts of places that energize a district – brewpubs, wine bars, etc.
I'm really looking forward to this free talk by Strong Towns founder Chuck Marohn. Put it on your Must Attend list for October 5.
I'm pleased that Salem Community Vision is supporting this event (I'm a member of the SCV steering committee). It took us about zero seconds to decide to do this. Chuck Marohn is an energetic, creative, thoughtful advocate for the sorts of positive changes that need to happen in Salem.
Salem Weekly has a good story about the Strong Towns talk in its current issue. Check out "Reimagining Salem as a Strong Town." This is how the piece starts out:
When they were first conceived of, streets like Lancaster Boulevard [actually, Drive] in Northeast Salem were projected to be a source of commerce and community wealth for all. Subdivisions in south Salem were designed to provide housing that would bring ongoing good to the city as healthy places to live and thrive.
But because of the way they were designed, says Chuck Marohn, founder and President of Strong Towns, a non-profit organization working to support a better model of development, Salem’s decisions about downtown, its roads and neighborhoods, actually created long term debt for citizens and for the community as a whole.
Well, also long term ugliness.
Lancaster Drive is a street that I do my best to avoid. It's a great example of urban planning gone wrong, a Stroad through and through. Here's a Strong Towns video about Stroads, a horrendous combination of a street and a road that combines the worst qualities of each.
Salem has a lot of them. South Commercial is another example.
They are dead zones for pedestrians, cyclists, and anyone else not driving a car. Living as I do in south Salem, I drive along South Commercial almost every day. It isn't quite as ugly as Lancaster Drive, but that's about the only good thing that can be said about it.
Since City of Salem planners, managers, and elected officials have gotten Salem into its current Weak Town state, we can't rely on them to get us into Strong Town mode. I liked the end of the Salem Weekly story by Helen Caswell.
Marohn believes that solutions can be found right in a community like Salem. He says local leaders who can lead the way don’t have to have degrees in civil engineering to address these issues.
“And, they’re not necessarily the mayor or city council, either. Often they are people who care about their block, who volunteer in the community, who are invested in their church or school. These are the people who know what needs do be done and will actually do something about it.”
The cities Marohn sees as being most successful in creating long-term wealth, jobs and healthy communities are those who recognize how critical it is that decisions arent simply left in the hands of planners accustomed to the status quo. “People like city leaders and department heads of local governments,” in contrast, “often have a hard time really understanding what things need to change.”
With western Oregon in the midst of a several-day record-breaking heat wave -- temperatures over 100 degrees here in the Willamette Valley -- it's a great time for me to reprise my May 2008 blog post, "'Ooh, it's hot!' Oregonians are heat wussies."
Days like today, I feel so superior to most of my fellow Oregonians. I grew up in central California, where for much of the year a temperature under 100 degrees is considered a cool day.
So here I am on May 16 in Salem, Oregon – enjoying a record breaking heat wave for this date. The thermometer in my car read "100" when I was downtown this afternoon.
Ooh! Wow! One single freaking day with a three digit temperature and the local news is filled with tips about how to survive.
Hydration. Sunscreen. Wear a hat. Don't exert yourself.
Oregonians are such wussies. Of course, I've lived here myself for 37 years. But those 15 years in California, from age seven to twenty-two, trained me to be a macho man when it comes to a bit of heat.
A few days ago, when the temperature was still in the high 70s, I walked into a Starbucks and ordered my usual nonfat vanilla latte. I never get asked this question, but that day the barista said "Do you want it iced?"
"Good god, no," I told her. "I could be crossing the Sahara Desert and I'd still have my latte hot. It's just wrong to drink it cold."
Probably she'd been making iced drinks all day long for Oregonians who worried about suffering heat exhaustion as they walked a few steps from their air conditioned office or car into the air conditioned Starbucks.
I've been speaking similarly about Oregonians the past few days, but now I prefer the term "heat weenies." Understand: I realize that many people don't have air conditioning, and it can be dangerous for humans or animals to get overheated.
Still... come on.
Walking around in 100 degree weather is well within the capability of us furless Homo sapiens. Many people live in places where the temperature is that hot much of the year. They survive just fine, as I did when I lived in the foothills of central California.
Here's the rest of my 2008 post.
When I was a boy (ah, how I look forward to my one year old granddaughter getting a bit older, so I can use these words much more frequently), all summer long I'd ride my bike to see my friends in Three Rivers, California.
They weren't down the block. There weren't any blocks in this rural hamlet nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I had to pedal miles to get to my best friend's house. Mostly in over 100 degree weather. Up and down those foothills. On a three speed.
No problem. So now I say to heat, "Bring it on. Show me your best stuff."
Today I stood in the sun for a while, waiting for my car to be washed at Car'l B Klean, while inferior Oregonians cowered in the shade under an umbrella. I leaned on a railing, skin blazing, feeling like Leonardo deCaprio in "Titanic."
I'm the (non-wuss) king of the world! On hot days in Oregon, at least.
Until recently, I thought I had to accept the pain-in-the-butt necessity of having my 2011 Mini Cooper S serviced in Portland at the one and only Mini dealership in Oregon.
But now that I've discovered Prestige Auto Repair right here in Salem, specialists in Mini, Mercedes, and BMW cars, I'm overjoyed to know that a drive to Portland isn't necessary to have my Mini serviced or repaired.
This is the review I left several places online:
Chris and the other Prestige Auto guys were wonderfully competent and pleasant. I've been having my 2011 Mini Cooper S serviced at the Mini dealership in Portland, but no longer. Now that I've discovered how much better Prestige Auto Repair is (also, so much closer), this is where my Mini is coming for both routine service and repairs.
They figured out that my air conditioning wasn't working because of a slow freon leak. After adding dye, Chris said I should come back in two weeks for a visual inspection to see if the leak is still there. I found the whole Prestige Auto Repair experience to be way more satisfying than going to a dealer, because with Prestige you are talking with the person who is actually working on the car, not a service advisor.
Plus, dealerships don't have a friendly dog to pat like Prestige does -- another benefit. (This is an option; if you don't like dogs, they can put the dog in a back room.) Plus, plus, the cost of repairing the air conditioning and checking a balky hood latch was decidedly reasonable. I give them 5 stars!
Buying local isn't always possible, car-wise or otherwise. If you want to buy a Tesla, for example, you're going to have to go outside Salem.
Still, outside of these exceptions, this experience helped me realize more strongly the truths Melody Warnick talks about in the "Buy Local" chapter of her wonderful book, This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live.
If you spent $25 at a local Salt Lake City retailer, $14 of it stayed in Salt Lake. At a big chain, only $3.50 did. Economists call this the "local multiplier effect," and the most obvious reason for it is that the people making money from an independent business aren't out-of-state megacorporations but entrepreneurs who live (and spend and pay taxes) in the same communities where they work.
If you own a local store, you usually employ more people locally than a comparable chain would, because everyone works in town, not at headquarters -- so a neighbor who's a CPA does the books, not the accounting department in Omaha.
...One study by a team of Penn State University researchers found that a high density of locally owned small businesses correlates with a higher regional GDP. Importantly for place attachment, it's also more social.
...Milchen told me..."if you're patronizing neighborhood businesses, a lot of those people are likely to live near you. You're likely to become familiar with them by face if not by name, and that's part of what builds a feeling of connection in a community, a feeling of trust and cohesiveness. those casual conversations you have with folks that may not be your best friends are a key part of what creates community fabric."
...Live Local campaigns slowly move the needle on a town's culture by inculcating the idea that our shopping habits are largely responsible for creating the place we live. "It begins with getting people to recognize that every time they spend a dollar, they're in some form casting a vote for the kind of community they want to see, says Jeff Milchen.
Another local business gem, among many, is Saffron Supply Company in downtown Salem. This hardware store has been in business since 1910. It is to Lowe's as an artisanal cafe is to McDonalds.
Back in 2004 I wrote a grateful blog post about Saffron Supply, "I'm the king of the world!" That's how I felt about a Saffron guy who took plumbing-challenged moi in hand, leaving me a happy customer when I left with everything I needed to fix a non-draining drain.
Here's how the post starts off:
King of the world, that’s who I am all right, in my own mind at least (where it counts). For I have replaced a rusted-out leaking drain on our laundry room sink, notwithstanding my normally plumbing-challenged handyman skills. There was something tremendously fulfilling about successfully dismantling the decrepit parts and installing the fresh new parts, adding the dollop of plumber’s putty, tightening the, um, whatever-you-call-its that needed to be tightened, turning on the water, and hearing the water run down the drain with nary a drip.
The list of those I’d like to thank for enabling me to achieve this marvelous accomplishment is short: the great guys at Saffron Supply in downtown Salem, that’s the beginning and end of it. This is the sort of place that can’t be allowed to disappear in the shadow of all the Lowes, Home Depots, and the like. I shamefully admit that I have a fondness for the bright lights, neatly stocked shelves, and cheerful employees at the Lowe’s store here in Salem.
But when you don’t know much about plumbing, and are carrying a plastic bag filled with a bunch of dirty, broken plumbing parts that no longer are plumbing for you, a place like Saffron Supply is where you want to be. It looks like it hasn’t changed much in decades. Wooden bins are filled with mysterious plumbing and electrical parts. When you pay, a pad is pulled out and you get a handwritten paper receipt. No women were in evidence, either staff or customers. I was careful not to wear a batik shirt last Wednesday, knowing that I would be entering the plain denim world of Saffron Supply.
Bottom line: shop at local businesses whenever you can. It'll be more enjoyable, and you'll be contributing much more to Salem's economy.
(Got to add: in case you're wondering why it took me five freaking years to realize that I could have my Mini Cooper serviced here in Salem, a three year/36,000 mile maintenance program was included with the new car purchase in 2011. I assumed that I had to have the servicing done at a Mini dealer. After three years, out of habit I continued to go to Mini of Portland, until I discovered Prestige Auto Service. When I talked about this with the Prestige folks, they told me that car dealerships try to give people the impression that warranty work and routine maintenance has to be performed by dealers, but actually this isn't true.)
So, since I was born in 1948, I must have seen it close to half a dozen times before I went off to college in 1966. What pushed me over the Oz edge, though, was raising a daughter born in 1972. I remember watching the same movie many times with her. More accurately, too many times.
Delight in Dorothy's far-out adventures in Oz wore thin with those repeated viewings. My young daughter got thrills from the annual showings of The Wizard of Oz. Increasingly, I got irritated thoughts of "Oh, no, it isn't already time to see this damn movie again, is it?!"
Thus sitting in my second-row seat last night in the beautifully revamped Grand Theatre in downtown Salem was a healing moment for me. I'd never seen a theatrical production of The Wizard of Oz. As soon as actors appeared on stage, L. Frank Baum's story seemed fresh to me.
For one thing, there's nothing like live theatre. It's unpredictable, never repeated, as vibrantly three-dimensional as life itself (unsurprisingly).
When Toto, caninely played by Mickey Tate, ran across the stage at some climactic moment, I realized there was a non-zero chance that he'd run in an unintended direction. At least, that's what our dog often does in response to commands of mine, which Zu Zu views as requests to be considered, but not necessarily obeyed.
I found myself much more emotionally involved when Toto was in danger during the stage production, than in the movie. From my seat I could see this so-cute dog close up and personal. I cared about him. I was confident that he'd turn out OK, but with live theatre, like I said, there was a possibility of the unforeseen happening.
(Our dog, though equally cute in her own way, would be quickly cut from the show as soon as she failed to run across the stage, but rather raced to smell, and wishfully be given a bite of, what a person in the audience was eating.)
Dorothy, played by soon-to-be West Salem junior Phoebe Jacobs, was so talented as an actress, singer, and dancer, I now have vowed to never, ever bring up the fact of me having a lead role in the Woodlake Union High School junior class play -- except in the context of "Young people these days are so much more talented than me and my classmates were back in the '60s."
Everybody else in the cast of The Wizard of Oz, without exception, also was hugely enjoyable to watch.
The dancers were a favorite of mine every time they came on stage. Plus, close-up even the rhythmic zig-zag dance movements of Dorothy and her Scarecrow/ Tin Man/ Lion companions to "We're Off to See the Wizard" music looked more impressive to me than it did on a television screen. And I loved the sinuous sensuality of the female Apple Tree Dancers. The music is also live, by the way.
Bottom line: if somehow you've never seen The Wizard of Oz, go see this Enlightened Theatrics production. You've got until August 28. But if you have seen another version of The Wizard of Oz, the same advice applies, because with live theatre every show is different and unique.
Further, this production uses an updated script:
Employing the R.S.C. 1987 adaptation of the musical production, Enlightened Theatrics offers a more technically complex performance featuring as much of the aura of the classic 1939 film as possible on stage.
I didn't completely follow the plot point involving the Wicked Witch's plan to wear out Dorothy and her companions by getting them to dance a lot of jitterbug with the witch's minions, but I sure don't remember anything like this in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz.
This new scene to me was marvelously performed. So again, even if you think you're familiar with The Wizard of Oz, think again. The Enlightened Theatrics production is appealingly unique.
Bicyclists, walkers, skateboarders, and other fans of non-motorized getting-around here in overly autocentric Salem, I've got some bad news and good news for you.
Bad news. There won't be a Salem Sunday Streets event in 2016. One happened in 2013, 2014, and 2015, but it has been cancelled this year.
Salem Sunday Streets is part of the burgeoning "open streets" movement.
Open streets initiatives temporarily close streets to automobile traffic, so that people may use them for walking, bicycling, dancing, playing, and socializing.
With more than 100 documented initiatives in North America, open streets are increasingly common in cities seeking innovative ways to achieve environmental, social, economic, and public health goals.
Good news. Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates -- a great group -- is urging people to email the Mayor, city councilors, and other officials at the City of Salem and tell them that you want Salem to be actively involved in next month's International Open Streets Summit in Portland.
Email City officials at [email protected] Tell them representatives of the City of Salem need to participate in the International Open Streets Summit so they can learn how to bring back Salem Sunday Streets bigger and better.
I don't know why the City of Salem's support for Salem Sunday Streets has slipped so much.
Being a citizen activist on various local issues, I'm concerned that the folks currently running City Hall are letting their lust for a billion dollar Third Bridge across the Willamette take precedence over much-needed improvements to Salem's cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
The more people experience the joy of getting around town without a car, the less need there will be for an already unnecessary Third Bridge and other costly expansions of Salem's roads. Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces, is quoted in a book I'm reading, "This Is Where You Belong."
If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.
If you aren't familiar with Salem Sunday Streets and Portland's highly successful and much larger version, Sunday Parkways, check out the blog posts I've written about them. I've been to all three Salem Sunday Streets events and two Sunday Parkways.
A video of me doing my longboard land-paddling thing at the 2013 Salem Sunday Streets follows the links. I loved how great it felt to ride down the middle of State Street, going the "wrong" way. The street had a whole different feel without vehicles. However, in 2014 and 2015 the street closures that are the hallmark of open streets events were much reduced in Salem to just a few blocks.
In Portland, you can ride a bicycle for seven to nine miles on streets completely closed to traffic during the five Sunday Parkways events held each year. Now, in 2016, Salem has no Salem Sunday Street event of any length. That's why it's important to tell City officials, "bring back Salem Sunday Streets, bigger and better."
Again: email them at [email protected]
Here's the blog post links.
Video: senior citizen skateboarder rolls at Salem Sunday Streets
Living in Salem, I have Portland envy
2014 Salem Sunday Streets: different, yet probably better
What Salem Sunday Streets can learn from Portland Sunday Parkways
What I like most about cycling at a Portland Sunday Parkways event
Cycling in Salem got some good news, but we're a long ways from being pedal-friendly
Photos of 2015 Salem Sunday Streets event
How much are you attached to the place where you live? A book I've just started reading, Melody Warnick's "This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live," lets you find out by answering 24 simple questions -- which I've shared below.
I answered 21 of the 24 questions "true." So I'm attached to Salem, Oregon (my wife and I have a Salem address, though we live in a rural neighborhood about six miles from the city limits).
The more times you answer "true," the more likely you are to be attached to your town. Marking nineteen or more "true" answers, which puts you in the top quartile, indicates that you probably feel strongly connected to where you live. Six or fewer, on the other hand, suggests that you live somewhere unfamiliar or in a town you're not particularly over the moon about.
And if you're not very place attached you may be saying to yourself, Clearly place attachment feels nice. But why should I care? Will it actually make my life better?
According to place attachment research, the answer is a resounding yes. Studies show that when you pit Stayers -- long-term residents of a place -- against chronic Movers, the Stayers are generally far more social. They're more likely to volunteer or, say, help the environment by buying a habitat preservation license plate.
...Researchers who measure place attachment don't try to examine the objective magnificence of one's city -- the soaring beauty of its skyscrapers and statues, the leafy beauty of its parks. This would be like measuring a couple's love for each other by posting their photos on Hot or Not.
Instead, scientists study residents' emotions by asking whether or not their town feels like home. When it comes to place attachment, our towns are what we think they are. That means your city doesn't need to be the Platonic ideal of a city, in the same way you (thankfully) don't have to be particularly gorgeous, clever, or wealthy to love and be loved.
Here are the 24 questions. Answer each "true" or "false." Then count up the "true's." Remember: 20 or more shows that you are attached to where you live.
I moved to Salem in 1977. So it was easy for me to answer "true" to I've lived here a long time. Most of the other questions were equally easy to answer. These were the three that I gave a "false" to:
I grew up here. No, I didn't. I came to Salem when I was 28 years old.
If I could live anywhere in the world, I would live here. Not sure about this hypothetical, so couldn't answer "true."
I hope that my kids live here even after I'm gone. My only child is happily living in southern California, though she grew up in Salem. I hope she'll continue to live where she wants to live.
Anyway, the basic idea behind Warnick's "This is Where You Belong" book is that we can be happier with where we are if we actively engage ourselves in attaching ourselves to this place. Which is called placemaking. She writes:
Ethan Kent, a senior vice president with the nonprofit Projects for Public Spaces, told me that Americans are emerging from an era of thinking of towns and cities as products for residents to consume.
"Now," he says, "the energy is more around the idea that the cities that succeed are the ones that allow people to help create them. That's how they become better places, but also how people are going to become more attached to them. When people help create their place, they see themselves reflected in it. It reflects their values and personalities and becomes more an extension of themselves."
I like the Salem Police Department. I don't like the City of Salem's proposed $82 million "supersized" plan for a new police facility. Likewise, I can support our armed forces and still oppose wasteful military spending.
I've made an Adobe Spark web page that lays out five good reasons to vote NO on the $82 million bond measure that will be on the November ballot. Plus, a bonus reason. Scroll down and click to see it.
Tonight I'm planning to testify during the public comment period at a City Council meeting where, almost certainly, approval of the bond measure referral will occur.
Here's what I told City officials recently in an email where I gave them advance notice that I'd be opposing the police facility bond measure:
I want to let City officials know that I (along with others) will be actively opposing the $82 million police facility bond measure that, almost certainly, will be approved by the City Council at the upcoming June 27 meeting.
This is unfortunate, because a lyric from an Adele song comes to mind: “You could have had it all.” After the ill-fated plan to build a new police facility on the Civic Center campus was dropped due to strong community opposition, Salem was close to a consensus on how to proceed:
Build a 75,000 to 106,000 square foot police facility away from the Civic Center, with surface parking, and make vital seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library.
But the size and cost of the police facility doubled, and the seismic upgrades got squeezed out by the new supersized “full meal deal” plan. So now some of the people who have closely followed this project feel duty-bound to oppose the $82 million bond measure.
As a first step, I’ve put together a Salem Can Do Better web page — which presents five reasons to vote “No” on the bond:
Since community discussion on important issues is always good, Salem will benefit by having a vigorous debate between now and the November election about the merits of the $82 million police facility proposal. As you know, polling showed just about an even split between those who initially favored and opposed a bond for this purpose.
So I look forward to being a voice on the “No” side of the debate, recognizing that others will speak up for “Yes.” Then voters will decide the question, hopefully based on a full and accurate understanding of what it would mean for the bond measure to pass or fail.
Yesterday my wife and I saw what sort of new house $1,147,000 will buy in Salem. Also, what $600,000, and $875,000 will buy you.
There were quite a few less expensive houses in the 2016 Salem Tour of Homes, but we zeroed in on several of the spendier ones in the south part of town -- where we live.
Our first stop was Torrey Pines Drive S, near Illahee, where we reverentially entered the million dollar home. I'd never been in this particular part of town. It's filled with new'ish nice houses in what the Tour brochure said is "one of Salem's most exclusive neighborhoods."
I was especially attracted by the large covered deck with an array of outdoor cooking equipment, gas fireplace, and overhead heaters. These kids touring the deck at the same moment as we did seemed equally taken by the deck.
The view from the deck was nice, but Laurel noted that the steep terraced back "yard" had zero grass. Not dog-friendly. So that eliminated the house from her caninecentric consideration. (As did the price, of course.)
After looking at a much less expensive Tour of Homes house in the Illahee area, we headed to an $875,000 home on Rio Vista Way in South Salem's Fairmount Hill neighborhood. Given how settled the neighborhood is, I asked the architect (who was sitting at a table in the garage) if this was a "teardown."
She told me that it was. The people who built the house considered remodeling the 1950's home that was on the lot, but that turned out to be impractical. So they build a new house that fits nicely with the Fairmount Hill vibe.
It was unduly white for our tastes. But we live in a house with lots of wood (walls and ceiling), so that probably explains our reaction. The view to the west from the master bedroom was nice.
The large trees in the neighborhood add a lot to the view of Rio Vista from an east-facing window. This is one reason why we'd be attracted to Salem's older neighborhoods if (or when) us increasingly old folks want to move from our non-easy-care house in rural south Salem.
Next, we took a look at the first completed home (I think it is) in the Fairview Addition development on the old Fairview Training Center property in south Salem. I know Eric Olsen, the developer. He was in the kitchen of the $600,000 house. I heartily congratulated him on the progress he's made with Fairview Addition.
Since Fairview Addition is billed as a "front porch community," naturally I had to take a photo of the front porch. Eric Olsen's homes are constructed with garages in the back that are accessed by an alleyway.
This makes a huge positive difference in the look and feel of a neighborhood. It's a lot more welcoming to approach a house with steps leading up to a front porch, than a house with a mass of asphalt leading to the doors of a three car garage.
What struck me about our Friday evening Tour of Homes excursion was how diverse neighborhoods in Salem are. And we were just in south Salem. East and North Salem have their own very different vibes and characteristics.
People often speak of "Salem" as if it were one unitary city.
But actually there are many Salem's. In one sense, as many as there are individual people in this town, because everybody looks upon Salem from their own unique perspective.
"If you designed a new downtown, what would it look like?" This week's Rapid Responder feature in the Statesman Journal asked a good question.
The answers from people who live in Salem and some nearby towns were equally good.
Below I've excerpted cogent parts of the responses (leaving out the names of the people), arranging them in categories. Some responses could have gone in several categories, so I picked the one that seemed the best fit.
I'll comment on the Numero Uno Most Frequently Mentioned category -- Bike and pedestrian friendly, streetscaped, fewer lanes -- after the responses.
Diverse vibrant energy
Diversity... venue for bands... lots of cool murals... large group workouts at Riverfront Park... actual food truck pod like the ones in Portland... put event posters or art in vacant windows... multi-age, multi-income... one or two restaurants/bars, offering some sort of evening entertainment, open on each block... vibrant energy which transitions from work to fun from 6 p.m. to at least midnight... remove the 3-hour parking restriction at 7 p.m.
Clean, bright, decorated
Cleaned up downtown... replace or wash the awnings... wash or paint the buildings... return buildings to their original facades.... add some color!... fix business and city council relationships so Christmas decorations and holiday decorations return... cleanliness, attractive decorations, adequate lighting... extensive plantings, and floral baskets
Bike and pedestrian friendly, streetscaped, fewer lanes
Remove some lanes of traffic on Liberty Street and divert cars around the core... close off the center to traffic, encourage parking outside the core and lots of green plazas for relaxing... Salem should have diverted the cross through traffic away from the main arteries for ease to walk around and to close down streets for events... pedestrian and bicycle protection... pedestrian friendly streets... widened sidewalks... comprehensive streetscape... replacement of the central streets with pedestrian malls having trees and benches... streetscapes like the concepts drawings that have been published in the past
Like the old days
Salem’s downtown should look like it did 100 years ago... compact, walkable... people got around easily without cars and the transit system was robust... Salem in the 1950s. The stores you liked were all there.
Safe... do not tolerate or enable disrespect, lawbreaking or vagrancy
Regulate housing costs, so people can afford to live here in Salem... starts with much living space, with affordable places for young and working people... more people living there
Leave a view of the riverfront... Salem should have put downtown on the river
Ample parking... parking continues to be appalling... restrict truck deliveries from shopping hours... parking; I hate the parking problems... only problem is parking, so the council hasn’t fixed that problem
Council needs to do more, and the mayor, to encourage downtown growth... hire a talented city planner/urban designer... a Central Salem Plan 2025
Quality architecture, with careful signing... preserved historic buildings... plazas for outdoor dining and displays
More bus service, especially weekends and late nights... add robust public transportation
Excellent ideas. Especially, in my view, the calls to make downtown Salem more cyclist and pedestrian friendly, with attractive streetscaping, and fewer street lanes.
I've just started reading a book authored by the former New York City transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, and Seth Solomonow called "Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution." Here's an excerpt from the Introduction that echoes what many of the Rapid Responders here in Salem said.
During an intense, six-year period under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City proved to itself, the nation, and the world that almost everything that was assumed about how urban streets operate was wrong.
Real-world experience showed that reducing the number of lanes on carefully selected streets or closing them entirely not only provided pedestrian space and breathed new life into neighborhoods, but actually improved traffic.
Simply painting part of a street to make it into a plaza, bike, or bus lane not only made the street safer, it also improved traffic and increased bike and pedestrian foot traffic and helped local businesses to prosper.
The revival of the city's transportation network was accomplished without bulldozing a single neighborhood or razing a single building.
It was cheap -- absurdly cheap -- compared with the billions of dollars American cities have spent annually building new streetcar and light rail lines and rehabilitating or replacing aging roads and bridges.
And it was fast, installed in days and weeks using almost do-it-yourself tactics: paint, planters, lights, signs, signals, and surplus stone. Overnight, centuries-old roads turned into pedestrian oases atop space that had been there all along, hidden in plain sight.
Streetfight has numerous photos of how cities around the world have transformed their streets. The book's web site has some of them. Here are screenshots of "before" and "after" photos of how San Francisco altered the area where Seventeenth and Castro streets meet Market Street.
Salem has lots of streets that resemble the "before" image: oceans of ugly asphalt that are hugely uninviting for people.
As Sadik-Khan says, it costs much less to make a street bike and pedestrian friendly than to build the multi-laned monstrosities that do little or nothing to ease traffic congestion, while discouraging the cyclists and walkers who are key to making a neighborhood economically vibrant and attractive.
It's important to keep in mind that aside from drive-throughs, nobody spends money at a shop or business while sitting in their car. Vehicles in motion don't contribute anything to retail sales. Smart cities recognize this.
Yesterday I tossed my folding Bike Friday Silk into the back of my two-door Mini Cooper (try that with a regular bike) and headed off to Englewood Park in north Salem for a Salem Bike Boulevards Advocates Slow Roll ride to Riverfront Park.
Living as I do in a rural area outside the Salem city limits, I don't ride my bike much on city streets. So I was eager to take part in a ride with people who knew a lot about urban cycling. I liked how the ride was described:
The group will go at a slow, comfortable pace for everyone. All ages and abilities are welcome and encouraged to come. This will be a fun ride for anyone, including those who want to bike more, but are concerned about riding with traffic. Bring your bicycle and any questions you might have about bicycling in Salem.
We met up under the fir trees in Englewood Park. Before we headed off, the ride leader clued us in to bike hand signals and how we'd communicate the presence of cars ("car back, "car front") and hazards like potholes or glass in the street (point at it).
The leaders were very careful with the group, which numbered close to thirty people on the ride to Riverfront Park. (Some folks rode back on their own.)
This being Salem, not exactly the most bike-friendly town in Oregon, early on a driver "treated" us to a swear word and some other insults when he had to wait -- oh, the horror! -- for a few extra seconds at an intersection as a bunch of happy cyclists used the public streets that, apparently, the driver wrongly thought were only for vehicles.
Salem doesn't have many dedicated multi-use paths outside of city parks. But we enjoyed the short path along 12th Street.
A child was towed in the bike trailer and a dog ran alongside his owner on a leash. It was great to be part of such a diverse cycling group, age-wise. I must have been the oldest. Unless the dog was ten, and I multiply the canine age by seven.
Here we are, crossing Front Street into Riverfront Park. A large group of cyclists is common in Portland, Eugene, and other cities where more people bike. One of the goals of this ride was to show people in Salem that, yes, a lot of people in this town also ride bikes.
And many more would, for sure, if Salem had better bike infrastructure: slow speed bicycle boulevards, protected bike paths, and such. Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates is doing a great job pushing for this. With three new bike-friendly City Councilors recently elected, hopefully this will speed up the process of improving Salem's bikeability.
Here's the Obery family outside the Carousel: Gary, Angela, and their two children. Angela and Gary took the lead in getting Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates off the ground. Give the group a Facebook "like" if you want Salem to be a bike-friendly town. I'd also give Angela's cool bike helmet a like if it had its own Facebook page.
Here we are on Chemeketa Street, starting the ride back to Englewood Park. I asked several experienced cyclists about the "sharrow" (shared lane marking) symbol, which is visible in the lane on the left side of this photo. They echoed what Wikipedia says: "This marking is placed in the travel lane to indicate where people should preferably cycle."
So a cyclist can ride in the middle of the lane, though a card I was given about Oregon Bicycle Laws clarified that "You may occupy an entire lane and ride up to two abreast so long as you don't impede the 'normal movement of traffic.'" In that case, I gather another rule applies: "If you ride at less than the normal speed of traffic then you must ride as far to the right as practicable."
It felt good to be part of a cyclist group.
I've ridden down Chemeketa Street a few times on my own and didn't feel as comfortable as I did yesterday. Strength in numbers, I guess. The more people ride bikes on Salem streets, the more aware drivers will be that they need to watch out for cyclists and give them the respect they deserve.
Well, I can chalk up another soul crushing moment: a third consecutive rejection of my TEDx Salem speaker application -- which I described in "Free will isn't. Existence is" My hoped-for TEDx Salem talk.
The rejection letter reminded me of those I got from publishers back in the days when I was shopping around book manuscripts, before I discovered the Joy of Self Publishing. A polite way of saying, Get lost, loser.
We appreciate your proposal for presenting a talk at TEDxSalem.
We received a record amount of applications this year making our decision incredibly difficult.
We regret to inform you that your proposal was not selected for this event.
Please know that this decision was a difficult one. Our all-volunteer selection committee spent many weeks reviewing, discussing and debating the submissions to select the proposals which best suited our event.
We wish you every personal and professional success, and hope you to see you in January.
The TEDxSalem Speaker Committee
But, hey, it's tough for me to feel that I was screwed over when the topic of my talk was how free will is an illusion. And I've always got the back-up plan that I talked about in my previous post.
If nothing else, another TEDxSalem rejection will add to my Tortured Artist (or Misunderstood Genius) resume.
In my old age, well, more accurately, my even older age, I can picture myself sitting at the end of a bar, or better, an Oregon cannabis smoking lounge (once they're legal), drowning my tortured artist/misunderstood genius woes with mind-altering substances, telling whoever will listen about my brilliant ideas that have been rejected by an uncaring world not yet ready for The Truth As Known By Me.
I readily admit, however, that I've been having a battle between my Inner Trump and Inner Buddha. Each has been speaking to me inside my head.
Inner Trump: "Brian, TEDx Salem are a bunch of nothings. Little Pitiful TEDx Salem, not even a real TED talk place, just some wanna-be's in So-Lame, Oregon. Your idea for a talk was BIG, so big, so totally fucking big they couldn't grasp it in their minuscule minds. So let it go, man. You're the winner. They're the losers. Screw them.
Inner Buddha: "Brian, you must feel boundless compassion toward the good-hearted TEDx Salem folks. They are sentient beings trying to bring more love, peace, and understanding into the world. Lacking selfhood, just as you do, just as we all do, the Speaker Committee is working in accord with the dharma and karma of this everchanging world.
I'm somewhere in-between Trump and Buddha, I guess. Assuming there's an "I" inside me somewhere. Guess I should re-read part of my TEDx Salem speaker application.
While many people will initially feel chilled when the comforting blanket of illusory free will is taken away by modern science, the warmth of a philosophically unarguable proposition remains: Existence is.
Almost certainly there is no independent conscious will guiding things on either the cosmic or individual level. "Stuff just happens" is a pithy three word encapsulization of the best 21st century understanding of both the world outside and inside of our heads.
But with this realization comes peace of mind, love, interconnectedness, awe at the endless workings of the laws of nature via cause and effect. Once our mind is blown by the fact, "Free will doesn't exist," we are open (not free!) to explore the many positive implications of this revolutionary worldview.
Like I noted a few months ago in "Is Statesman Journal Best of Mid-Valley contest really about 'best'," the only guaranteed winner in this annual event is... the Statesman Journal.
The biggest winner in the Best of the Mid-Valley contest has to be the Statesman Journal itself. The newspaper sells ads that appear with the category being voted on. Here's a few 2016 screenshots.
...A bit of Googling revealed that "Best of..." contests are a lucrative moneymaker for newspapers. Second Street, which the Statesman Journal is using for its Best of the Mid-Valley contest, talks about this in "How Record Journal Drove $40K in Ballot Promotion."
...I just want to point out that the Best of the Mid-Valley contest is first and foremost a profit center for the Statesman Journal. There's nothing wrong with this. We just need to remember that the winners aren't necessarily the "best" businesses and organizations; they're the ones who were able to generate the most votes.
So I don't take the results of the 2016 Best of the Mid-Valley Statesman Journal Media promotion as a guide to the highest quality restaurants, barber shops, facials, funeral homes, and such.
Rather, I thumbed through the thick insert in today's Sunday paper -- filled with lots of "Thank You for Voting Us!" ads -- looking for the quirky side of the voting results. Which are made more quirky by the fact that the Statesman Journal rules allow repeated daily votes by the same person:
Readers are permitted to vote in each category once per day. Businesses, institutions and schools may promote the contest in order to gain nominations and/or votes. Competitive advertising, special offers, campaigns are permitted; however, the Statesman Journal, at its sole discretion, reserves the right to exclude from the competition any businesses or individuals that engage in activities intended to "rig" or "fix" the voting process.
This leads to some intriguing results. For example:
Olive Garden getting bronze in Italian Food. As noted in my previous post, I recall Olive Garden winning Gold some years back. Now, I haven't been to Olive Garden for a long time. For a while I regularly ate there. Assuming nothing has changed, and probably nothing has, the fact that Olive Garden supposedly is Salem's third best Italian restaurant fills me with a mixture of culinary sadness and relief that the ratings don't mean much.
South Block Apartments claiming second is a win. Reminding me of some Republican presidential primary spin by certain candidates, a full page South Block Apartments ad on the second page of the newspaper insert has a Silver Winner medallion next to "Thank You for Voting Us Best Apartment Complex." Um, good try, but McNary Heights Apartments beat you. Kudos for clever advertising though, because the "... Best Apartment Complex" part of the ad is more noticeable than the "Silver Winner."
Capital Pawn winning gold in Outdoors Gear Store. OK, maybe I should check out this pawn shop on south Commercial next time I need some hiking shoes, a backpack, or whatever. I'm just surprised that Capital Pawn beat out REI (Bronze winner) and Salem Summit Company (didn't place). In 2015 Salem Summit Company got Gold, Capital Pawn got Silver, and REI got another Bronze. So what changed? Pretty clearly, not the stores, but how many people were drawn to vote for the nominees.
Keizer Station being proclaimed Best Shopping Center. Perhaps I should speak carefully here. But I don't feel like it! I view Keizer Station as the Devil's Spawn of shopping centers. It has to be the ugliest and worst-designed shopping monstrosity on the West Coast. Maybe the Universe. It is impossible to walk from store to store, leaving aside the fact that it is equally impossible to find the store you're looking for. If I need something that only Lowe's has, and the Keizer Station store is the only Lowe's that has it in stock, I will venture into Keizer Station for the briefest visit possible. Otherwise, I stay away.
Best Place to Treat Yourself is Bend's Pronghorn Resort. This is a 2016 Best of the Mid-Valley Staff Pick. Perplexing, since the last time I checked, Bend wasn't in the Mid-Valley. But I suspect advertising money is able to flow from the Pronghorn Resort checking account into the Statesman Journal Media account. Or maybe I'm being too cynical, and Statesman Journal Media staff just sincerely felt that the best place people in Salem should go to treat themselves is in central Oregon.
Burgerville is the Best Reason to Visit Monmouth/Independence. Um, but I'm a vegetarian. Is Burgerville really the best reason to visit these towns?
None of the Best Place to Take Out of Town Guests winners are in Salem. Gold: Silver Falls State Park in Sublimity. Silver: Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner. Bronze: Brooks Winery in Amity. Well, it is often said (especially by me) that Salem is at the center of good places to visit to the north, south, east, and west. It just would be nice to have more of these places right in Salem.
Lastly, but not leastly... where the heck is the Best Pot Shop category? I searched online and came up with "no result." Geez, this is a horrible oversight. Next year, Statesman Journal Media, next year. It's a marijuana must.
Yesterday Dylan Chavez, president of the Salem Chapter of the AIA (American Institute of Architects), gave a fascinating Salem City Club talk about Influence in Design, "the nature and significance of architecture in our community."
His slide presentation included interesting observations about what's good and bad in Salem's built environment.
To semi-quote Madonna, we are material beings living in a material world -- not ethereal entities who can float through life blissfully unaffected by the physical stuff that surrounds us.
Likewise, Chavez said that architecture is the background in which we live. Why does it matter? Because the background influences our behavior, both actions and feelings.
He noted that even though we are the same person, we're going to be affected differently by going into a church rather than a biker bar. Or being in Salem rather than in Las Vegas. In a similar fashion, architecture is shaped by society while also shaping it.
This is an overhead view of Lancaster Mall (the mass of connected buildings in the upper left of the photo I took with my iPhone). I'm pretty sure Chavez said that the scale of the image is the same as the view below of downtown Salem.
The large dark areas surrounding Lancaster Mall are parking lots, surrounded by roads. Downtown Salem also has parking, but it is mostly onstreet or in parking garages.
Chavez used a laser pointer to indicate a walk of similar length between your parked car and a destination at either downtown Salem or Lancaster Mall (top two images in his slide, as above).
How is that walk going to feel to you? How enjoyable will it be? This is the power of the built environment, of architectural/design decisions.
Downtown, Chavez said, you're going to be walking through an area with lots of interesting things to see. Like people sitting at sidewalk tables -- image at bottom left.
But at Lancaster Mall (and, I have to add, dreadful Keizer Station, a horribly-designed shopping center), you're going to be staring at a vast expanse of bare boring pavement. Or a mixture of boring pavement and boring cars. See image at bottom right.
During the Q & A period, Chavez was asked about making trees an integral part of parking lots so they're more attractive. His answer opened up my mind to a different way of looking at this, since I've always thought, along with the questioner, that more trees in parking lots would be a good thing.
Maybe so. Assuming that a big parking lot already exists, and the trees replaced some parking spaces.
However, Chavez pointed out a fact that he was pretty sure of: the City of Salem requires a parking space for every 250 square feet of a building's space. Given that a parking space is about 200 square feet (20 X 10), this means that parking is going to take up almost as much square footage as a building itself.
"Do we need that much parking space?" Chavez asked. Should a parking lot be planned around rare events, like Black Friday shopping sprees? He said that adding trees to a parking lot increases the size of the lot, given the above-mentioned City of Salem requirement.
So Chavez got his audience thinking about the bigger picture -- whether we need giant parking lots at all -- in addition to the smaller question of whether trees make giant parking lots more palatable.
Lastly, here's a slide that shows per capita income over time (1990-2011) for Salem, Oregon, and the Portland/Beaverton/Vancouver metro area. Salem is the bottom line; Oregon is the middle line; Portland metro area is the top line.
In 2011, Salem's per capita income of a bit less than $35,000 was about $8,000 less than the Portland metro area per capita income of about $43,000. Chavez noted, "This leads some people to say, Salem can't afford nice things." He then said that we also need to look at the cost of housing, though.
I jotted down that Chavez said the overall average price of a house in Portland is around $500,000. But I was taking notes hurriedly, and could be wrong about this. Whatever the amount is, the price is Salem is much lower.
The Willamette River is on the left. Mission Street angles downward across the lower right of the map. Most of Salem is the same color as far-southeast Portland, with some fairly large swatches of dark green (lowest priced homes) that are missing in Portland.
Chavez said that the overall average price of a home in Salem is about $300,000. Or maybe $200,000, though I ended up scratching out whatever I first jotted down and ended up with $300,000. Again, whatever the price is, it's around half of what people are paying in Portland.
So even though us Salemians/Salemites (I'm a big fan of the first term for us; see my Strange Up Salem column) have quite a bit less money than Portlanders, we also pay much less for housing.
I guess the implication is that we can afford nice things, so long as they don't cost as much as the nice things in Portland.
For a long time I've written about local Salem, Oregon political issues on this blog. Recently I started a new blog, Salem Political Snark. That's where new posts about Salem politics can be found. If you're a Facebook user, give the Salem Political Snark Facebook page a "like." Then you'll get new posts in your Facebook feed. Scroll down for new HinesSight posts.