Yesterday I wrote a blog post about Salem City Council goings-on that had "sad" and "pathetic" in its title. I don't enjoy doing this. I'd much rather be writing about the marvelous things City officials are doing that make almost everybody in town joyful.
But I can't do this, because such isn't happening.
Under Mayor Anna Peterson's less than inspiring reign, she and her Chamber of Commerce-backed city council majority have chosen to focus on what pleases the already rich and powerful in Salem -- not on the needs and wants of ordinary people.
So, to offer up one significant example, we've gotten planning for an unneeded Third Bridge that will destroy dozens of homes and small businesses while doing next to nothing for rush hour congestion, at a cost that would approach a billion dollars if this boondoggle were to ever become a reality, which almost certainly it won't.
Here's some great quotes from Councilor Tom Andersen about the Third Bridge debacle:
Andersen said building the bridge to thin congestion was like "trying to solve obesity by buying bigger pants."
He also noted city money is still being spent on the project.
"For all the good that this money will eventually do us, we may as well just take the money down to the river and throw it in," he said.
This is no way to run a city government.
Just about everything that's come out of City Hall in recent years has been marked by controversy, resistance, protests, outrage. Tons of citizen energy are being used to stop bad ideas which should, and could, be directed at improving Salem.
So my Civic Activism Wish for the New Year is to have JOY be much more of a prevailing mood at City Council meetings. I'd love to see people universally praising proposals to make Salem more livable, vibrant, cutting-edge, cool, equitable, diverse, and prosperous.
There are lots of terrific ideas floating around.
Everybody has their favorites. These are a couple of mine. I like these proposals because they are examples of projects that would make large joyful differences for small amounts of money -- compared to crazily expensive notions like the Billion Dollar Bridge.
Salemtowne to downtown multiuse path. I loved how Mark Wigg, an energetic proponent of this idea, speaks about "creating beauty and spreading joy." That's the sort of practical poetic sensibility we need more of.
Problem is, so far Wigg is getting nowhere with his multiuse path (bicycling, walking, etc.) proposal, because Mayor-elect Chuck Bennett, Public Works Director Peter Fernandez, and other City officials are so enamored of their Third Bridge fantasy, they view a low-cost, people-friendly alternative to using a vehicle to travel between West Salem and downtown as harmful.
Well, via the video below take a look at Wigg's testimony at a February 2016 City Council meeting.
And read my blog posts about this subject: "Why people will LOVE to use a multi-use path in West Salem" and "Why the unbuilt Third Bridge boondoggle is hurting Salem."
Streetscaping downtown. This is an idea that has been talked about for a long time. What needs to happen now is a just do it mentality. Downtown Salem has a lot of untapped potential. The main obstacle is the auto-dominated feel of the Historic District.
People should be privileged in downtown, as elsewhere in Salem, not vehicles. No car or truck has ever shopped at a business, eaten at a restaurant, or had a drink at a nightspot.
Carole Smith, Eric Kittleson, Susan Huston, and others came up with a Streetscape plan for downtown Salem back in 2012. Their work was described in a Salem Weekly story with a marvelous title: "Destination: Salem! -- Can downtown Salem be a draw for tourists and a delight for residents? A dynamic new group says it can (and it won't cost the City's general fund a dime!)"
The “Streetscape Project” has high ambitions. It adds parking spaces, trees, benches, inviting sidewalks and other pedestrian amenities to downtown. It cuts back traffic on streets that are under-capacity and creates instead a beautiful, economy-enhancing garden running from Riverfront Park to the Capitol.
Linking parks to employment areas is a goal in the City (of Salem’s) Strategic Action Plan and Streetscape, a project of the Design Committee of the Salem Downtown Partnership chaired by Jonathan Fahey, agrees. Streetscape proposes that it can both reignite downtown businesses and make Salem a destination spot.
...“We want to get people out of their cars,” Kittleson says. “We want to slow traffic downtown so we can get people onto our sidewalks eating and drinking.” Traffic calming, he says, by reducing car lanes in favor of pedestrians and bikes, will make downtown safer, more engaging and hospitable.
...Susan Kay Huston designed a Lord & Schryver-inspired plan running East-West for State, High and Court Streets. In these plans, one auto lane is omitted and an ingenious, usable garden established on the widened sidewalk. The result would link Riverfront Park all the way to Wilson Park at the Capitol, (and the parklike setting of Willamette University’s campus) with green.
...Other cities put on “road diets” have seen a 20% increase in adjacent property value. “This plan makes good economic sense, not just to downtown but to taxing districts, school districts and all government. It reduces the financial burden on local citizens,” Smith says.
In recent months Costic, Bural, Huston and Smith have hosted a series of “incredibly positive” focus groups to gather input from business and property owners. “Every person who adds a suggestion gets their thoughts heard,” Huston says. “That’s what makes it so energetic.”
A Salemtowne to downtown multiuse path. Streetscaping our urban core. Projects like these appeal to just about everybody in Salem. They create JOY. They bring people together rather than driving them apart.
I'm optimistic that with three newly-elected members joining the City Council in 2017, a fresh attitude will blossom in City Hall.
Let's all work together on efforts to make Salem a better place to live for everybody, not just a few. Let's stop the top-down approach to planning and goal-setting, replacing it with a bottom-up trust in the wisdom of ordinary citizens -- who, really, aren't ordinary, but extraordinary.
There's so much energy, talent, and expertise waiting to be unleashed in this town. All that needs to be done by the folks at City Hall is welcome the passionate creativity that exists in abundance among Salem's citizenry, rather than pushing it away.