Yesterday I came away more enthused than I expected about Salem's future, because there seemed to be widespread citizen agreement about how our city should grow in a fashion that improves quality of life.
Last night I attended a City of Salem workshop at Pringle Hall that marks another phase of the Our Salem project aimed at updating our city's Comprehensive Plan.
OK, that sounds geekily boring.
And as I sat at a table at the beginning of the workshop, listening to someone describe what sounded like an overly complex plan for how the two-hour meeting was supposed to go, I had some misgivings about the wisdom of what was about to transpire.
Every table featured a really large map of Salem.
We were supposed to affix colored stickers to the map showing where we wanted various features: Urban Center, Mixed Use, Urban Neighborhood, Neighborhood Hub, Residential Neighborhood, Commercial, Office, Industrial, Community Services, Open Space.
There was more complexity to the exercise than this, including the ability to trade stickers in certain ways, but I'm going to focus on the simple positive results of the workshop.
Namely, some really interesting discussions about what could be improved in Salem -- a vast subject, certainly. I've had a Salem address since 1977, thirteen years inside the city limits, the rest of the time nearby in rural south Salem.
I've complained constantly about what bugs me about Salem. Yet along with my wife, I've continued to live here because there's so much to like about our town.
Early on, Eunice Kim, the Our Salem project manager, stopped by our table and asked how things were going.
I was still in my dubious frame of mind, so I told her that I wasn't sure if this exercise was going to get at what people really want to have changed in Salem, since ordinary citizens don't think the way a city planner does. They just know what they like and don't like about a town.
Pleasingly, Kim pointed out something that probably was stated in the opening remarks, but I failed to take adequate notice of -- a big white space on the map where Big Ideas could be jotted down.
Ooh, Big Ideas! I like! Kim wrote down some of what I and my table mates said. Here's how that section looked by the end of the workshop.
I brought up the bike infrastructure, where "separate" indicates my desire for a large network of dedicated bike paths that are physically distinct from the roads vehicles travel on. If that requires doing away with a traffic lane on busy streets like Commercial, Liberty, and such, so be it.
Build it and the bicyclists will come.
Here's a photo of people at my table working away on our sticker-affixing job. It was surprisingly interesting and enjoyable. It took about 15 minutes of the hour devoted to Map Activity for us to talk enough about what we valued to get into the swing of plunking stickers down here and there.
We were so into Mixed Use, we had to do some trading of other stickers a few times.
My special sticker interest was Neighborhood Hub, defined as "Mostly single-family homes with neighborhood scale businesses." It'd be great if every residential neighborhood had a restaurant, tavern, small grocery store, or such within easy walking distance.
That's how Salem used to be in the old days. Let's bring those days back.
The last half hour of the workshop was dedicated to each table talking about their map, which was held up at the front of the room. It was great to see that everyone had pretty much the same vision for Salem, which would be a much improved city.
Here's some key themes and specific ideas that I jotted down from what the table reporters said.
-- Mass transit should be easily accessible in every neighborhood. Let's add a trolley system to our bus system.
-- Mixed use needs to be much more common, a mix of residential and employment in walkable areas.
-- Walking and bicycling paths/trails need to be well connected all over town.
-- The aforementioned Neighborhood Hubs will be gathering places for people.
-- Put mixed use next to the Willamette, a river that should be a focus for Salem, not an afterthought.
-- Reclaim the mall for the public good (not sure which mall was being referred to).
-- Have a year-round public market.
This is the map my table came up with.
Along with other tables, we had blue lines (dedicated bike paths) along many streets, including all of downtown. The many purple stickers are Mixed Use. West Salem and East Salem got quite a bit of attention from us. More businesses and employment opportunities are needed in West Salem, while the Lancaster Drive area needs a heavy dose of redevelopment focused on Mixed Use.
I'll end by observing that what people at last night's workshop wanted Salem to become bore a striking resemblance to the Salem Futures project that was killed by cluesless conservatives in the early 2000s.
Given the current progressive-majority makeup of the City Council, hopefully that won't happen with the upcoming Comprehensive Plan update.