Yesterday the Statesman Journal published a "Your Turn" piece by Emily Skelding that began as a post on her This Is Just to Say blog, and ended being titled either "Salem a fabulous place to raise family" (print edition) or "Salem transplant proud of her new hometown; wants community to stop apologizing" (online edition).
I liked Skelding's praise of Salem. I also can't resist commenting on it.
First off, notwithstanding the online title the Statesman Journal gave to her piece, Skelding's blog post says that she grew up in Salem, then lived in other places before returning here.
I must add a caveat to this tirade: I had the unlikely and strange experience of a happy childhood. And that childhood was in Salem. And so, maybe I like Salem more than other folks I grew up with here. I understand needing to get away and see the world or needing to escape the painful ruts of childhood. Place and experience weave together.
This could indeed influence how she currently looks at Salem. Most of us have fond memories of where we grew up. I sure do. Anyway, here's my decidedly personal reaction, in red, to what Skelding had to say about Salem in her Statesman Journal essay.
Salem, please stop apologizing. Calm your insecurities. You are a fabulous place to live.
No disagreement from me on this.
Your landscape surprises me every day, a natural beauty who needs no make-up.
Well, parts of Salem are beautiful while some are ugly. Lancaster Drive and South Commercial are soul-crushing streets, filled with tacky strip malls and garish signs, monuments to our culture's primacy of the automobile over people.
While the tourists are directed to our wineries and historic sites, it is the air that catches my attention: crisp and fresh, earthy and leafy.
OK. I've never thought of Salem air this way, but Skelding could have a more sensitive nose than mine. The global-warming exacerbated forest fires last summer made Salem's air smoky and unhealthy, but mostly she's right about our air quality.
Your big open spaces dot the city: parks and farms and hills too steep to build on. You beg me to climb out of my minivan and slip on my rubber boots to tromp around, discovering the trees while my dogs run freely and I help my girls add thistles, pine cones, and chestnuts to their collection.
Um, we have a dog. The City of Salem says that only Minto-Brown, Orchard Heights Park, and Cascades Gateway Park have off-leash areas. Salem could use more. Compared to Portland, we suck at dog-friendliness.
You have trees, all sorts, lining your streets and covering your hills. And what about the ingenious play structures around every turn? They remind me of Paris. My husband takes long bike rides. He marvels how quickly he can get to your outskirts, and be on the country roads, pedaling by sheep and goats and Christmas tree farms and fields cleared for the winter.
Salem does have lots of beautiful trees. City government also has had a nasty habit of treating trees badly. Hopefully this is mostly in the past. I'm not aware of ingenious play structures, but I don't have children of playground age. Maybe they do indeed exist. Regarding cycling, Salem doesn't have enough safe, family-friendly bike paths. Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates is trying to change this. As Skelding implies, Salem is fine if a cyclist is of the "fearless" variety, unafraid to ride on roads that give most people qualms. But the majority of people much prefer dedicated bike paths to riding on the street.
It reminds him of his time in Oxford, England, a city of about the same size. The ease of living in Salem cannot be understated.
Salem indeed is less stressful than larger cities. Our rush-hour traffic would bring a smile to those who live in the Los Angeles area.
You are practical, affordable and manageable, but not a suburb on the end of a freeway originating in the center of a metropolis.
Yes, our home values are much more reasonable than Portland's. And we do have a wonderful downtown that is steadily improving as a place to live, work, and play. However, City of Salem resources are still unduly devoted to promoting growth in the suburbs of far West Salem and far South Salem. We have too much sprawl and too little central-area improvements.
You are a community that stands on your own. Don’t be like Oakland and Baltimore, cowering in the shadow of your nearby, cool sibling cities. Envy does not become you. This isn’t a race to be the best, just settle into being you.
I sort of agree and sort of disagree. We need to look upon the best of what "nearby, cool" Portland has to offer, while avoiding the worst of Portland. I've come up with the saying that Salem should be Portland without the problems.
My father has always explained to me that Salem has a larger-than-average middle class - state workers and teachers and regular folk.
This appears to be true. We also have a lower per capita income than Portland, Eugene, Bend, Medford, and Corvallis. And there are marked income disparities by both geography and ethnicity. North and East Salem are considerably poorer than West and South Salem; Whites and Asians have considerably more income than Blacks, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians.
You aren’t a rich, bratty snob looking for the best avocado toast in town. One of my daughter’s surprises when she moved here? The number of fundraisers the student organizations at South Salem High School host.
I'd never heard of avocado toast. Now I want some! Fundraisers do teach students some things. However, I'd rather see students doing less fundraising and more regular learning. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but back in my high school days we had very few fundraisers (perhaps because we didn't have many student organizations).
They work for their privilege to participate. All of the places I’ve lived other than Salem are becoming less diverse, both racially and socio-economically because of policies encouraging gentrification.
Gentrification certainly has both pluses and minuses. It could be argued that the above-mentioned income disparities in Salem are due in part to this town being viewed as a less desirable place to locate a business with well-paying jobs, compared to Portland, Eugene, and other large cities in Oregon. But this does leave Salem more affordable, though housing costs are pricing many out of both the rental and purchase markets. So I worry about Salem not enjoying the benefits of gentrification (such as revitalization of our close-in neighborhoods) while still becoming less and less affordable for middle and lower class families.
Not you, Salem. You are becoming more diverse every year. This trend is likely to continue. Let’s make sure to make city policies that continue to support your diversity.
Well, several years ago Salem was slightly more ethnically, racially, and linguistically diverse than Portland. An updated 2017 report showed that Portland was slightly more diverse than Salem. So it's unclear if Salem is becoming more diverse. Having moved to Salem in 1977, my view is that this town is decidedly more accepting of diversity than it used to be, which perhaps is more important than small changes in how diverse Salem is.
Finally, Salem, embrace your grime and call it grit. Appreciate your home-grown habits and call it culture.
Interesting idea. I just wonder if this is stretching the definitions of "grit" and "culture" too far. Maybe. Maybe not. I do like Skelding's provocative writing style. She makes me think.
A woman I saw at Costco who still does her bangs with a curling iron and mousse followed by Aquanet? She’s your emblem, not an embarrassment.
Nicely said. I just can't quite picture what the bangs look like from my clueless male perspective.
Stop by Happy Curry and get a dozen samosas. Thrift at your safe and steady Value Village or Goodwill by the pound on Portland Road NE or the higher-end Assistance League Shop and know you’re getting a deal and recycling.
I like samosas. Shopping at thrift stores, not so much. But I know people who really enjoy finding good deals at them.
Instead of looking away as you drive by Magoos, stop by and raise a glass to yourself.
Not sure what to make of the Magoos mention. I find it appealingly bar-like, and yes, gritty. (From the outside; I don't think I've ever been inside.) Skelding's blog post put it this way: Be impressed that Magoos is still open, instead of looking away as you drive by.
Salem, I pick you. You surprise me and I love you for it.
Ditto. I love this photo that was shared by Travel Salem.