If you care about how livable Salem is, check out a recently-released draft report from the City of Salem, Our Salem Vision. There's a lot to like in that vision, but also a lot not to like. So let city officials know what you think of the report.
Even though the document says that the next step in the Comprehensive Planning process is public comment on the draft, I didn't see any indication in the report about how comments are to be submitted. A City of Salem Facebook post about Our Salem Vision also lacks any mention of how citizen feedback is to be provided.
It's a nice-looking report. Good graphics and a readable format. Of course, the important thing is what the report says, not its appearance. And here there are grounds for criticism.
The Salem Breakfast on Bikes blogger has an excellent critique of Our Salem Vision. Here's an excerpt from his post, "Our Salem Vison and Draft Plan Relies Too Much on Arterial Conversion to Mixed-Use."
In order to "protect" existing single detached housing and "neighborhood character," the vision offered by Our Salem in the new draft plan concentrates too much on already busy arterial streets and does not do enough to leverage our system of smaller, minor arterials and collector streets.
The main place this is visible, seemingly the project's "one big idea," is in the way the project team took a "mixed use paint brush" to the major corridors of Commercial Street and Lancaster Drive and changed the color on the existing zoning outlines. This is not by itself a bad move, but because it is an isolated move, it looks like warehousing new projects on streets that are already busy, unpleasant, and polluted.
An important missing ingredient, then, is a boulevard conversion for Commercial and Lancaster. The proposed change from commercial to mixed-use zoning needs to be accompanied by a stroad-to-boulevard conversion in the streets. Otherwise they will still be oversized for autoist primacy and still very zoomy. Boulevard conversions also add medians for street trees and improve tree canopy. They prioritize local travel on the margins at calm speed and give through-travel the center.
I heartily agree. South Commercial and Lancaster Drive are unappealing monuments to an era in Salem's development when the car was king and global warming wasn't an issue.
Just as Confederate monuments are being removed because they no longer fit with the tenor of our times, so should Commercial and Liberty, perhaps along with some other major streets in Salem, be markedly renovated -- fewer lanes, dedicated bike paths, trees planted, additional pedestrian crossings, and other changes.
In short, made into boulevards.
Why would residential mixed use areas on these streets be attractive to people when Commercial and Liberty are so unfriendly to anyone not driving a vehicle? As the Breakfast on Bikes blogger said, simply slapping a new zoning designation on the streets doesn't change their character.
My own critique of Our Salem Vision is more over-arching.
Yet it fits in with the above criticism that the draft report doesn't go far enough in calling for changes in Salem's urban landscape that promise to bring major improvements to our city, not simply tinkering around the edges of what already exists.
Currently Our Salem Vision tries to be all things to all people. There's a lengthy list of goals in a number of areas. Economy and jobs. Natural resources. Parks. Transportation. Housing. And such.
The report contains a lot of laudable objectives. Each section sounds good. It'd be nice if everything called for in the report came to pass. But here's the thing: life involves choices between alternatives. Life demands that this be given a higher priority than that. Everybody with a to-do list, which includes just about every person, knows this.
What is most important? What needs to be done first? What is most central? Unless those questions are answered, either a home chore to-do list or a city planning document is going to suffer from a lack of attention to urgent priorities.
Here's an example of what I mean.
My wife and I live outside the Salem city limits. We know that at some point likely we'll have to move into town when our 10 non-easy-care acres get to be too much for us. So we have a realtor who sends us listings of houses that might match up with what we're looking for. We've visited some of these houses.
Invariably, there will be one thing, or sometimes several things. that make us say "no way" even though the house fits with what we want in other regards. We have a hierarchy of needs/wants for a house. If a house is good in every regard but our top priorities, we tell the realtor that we'll keep looking.
Now, obviously setting priorities between various goals is a lot tougher when Our Salem Vision has to reflect what several hundred thousand people want. Maybe that's why there was no attempt to do this in the planning process for Our Salem.
But it needs to be done now, or Our Salem Vision won't be the effective document that it sets out to be. When you try to be all things to all people, you end up not being genuinely yourself. My view is that the top priorities flow naturally from this graphic shown early on in the draft document.
The reddish areas where Salem isn't meeting targets, is falling behind other similar cities in our area, and is moving in the wrong direction, relate to greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution from travel, tree canopy, bicycle and pedestrian use, and walk and transit friendliness.
So the top priority seems clear.
The Salem City Council has to make a marked reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the highest goal. Since transportation is the main driver of increased carbon pollution, a major change in how our city looks upon streets, mass transit, bike lanes, and such needs to happen.
Other goals need to fit in with that top-priority vision.
For example, Neighborhood Hubs are properly emphasized in Our Salem Vision. And we shouldn't have just eleven of them, as the report calls for. Many more. Every neighborhood should have restaurants, taverns, shops, and other local businesses within easy walking and cycling distance.
That will reduce the need to drive cars. That will enhance connections between people. That will expand the economy. Many good things will flow from making a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the over-arching goal for Salem.
Global warming has markedly increased the wildfire danger in Oregon, as elsewhere. Likely it is responsible for the drought plaguing our state. And global warming poses an existential threat to humanity in general.
How can reducing greenhouse gas emissions not be the top priority for Salem? This needs to be stated explicitly by the City Council.
Otherwise, those who favor increased vehicular travel and building new roads will be able to point to other goals in the Our Salem document and say, "These things are mentioned along with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, so they deserve to be treated as equally important."