Livabilty Issues

Citizen's State of the City

Eugene, Oregon

by Jan Roger Spencer and Citizens for Public Accountability

Opportunities abound in Eugene but we urgently need a vision to focus those opportunities as we move further into the 21st Century. Our community is blessed with a unique combination of human and natural resources and we would be well served to make the best use of them.

Last week's State of the City Address by the mayor had its perspectives rooted in a different era. In contrast, this Citizens' State of the City offers a vision that suggests a point of departure describing smart and exciting choices this community can make in response to a changing world. Public policy decisions and civic focus must be based on the long term viability of our economy and natural environment with particular attention to land use, economic development, the environment, young people and civic process.

Land Use

Broadway Place is a mixed-use development in downtown Eugene.
Sprawling land use patterns are expensive to build and maintain. They are a primary cause of tax increases and budget deficits. Furthermore, they create traffic congestion, damage the environment and destroy farmland.

Mixed use neighborhoods offer many advantages over sprawl. By creating a blend of housing, shops and employment, this approach allows people to shop, socialize and work closer to where they live. Both new development and existing urban spaces can benefit from mixed use design. It creates a sense of community, provides safer places for children, improves transportation choices and is perfect for family owned and mid sized businesses. Mixed use design costs less than sprawling development, because it requires less infrastructure and conserves natural resources. Chase Gardens on Centennial Boulevard, currently under design and construction is an example of this concept.

A revitalized downtown should be the premier mixed use area in Eugene. More people living downtown will stimulate small business and employment.
The new library plus an environment friendly design for the new Federal Courthouse by the river can help downtown achieve its potential. Also, central Eugene offers acres of under-used property. We should encourage smart design for in-fill and "up-fill" with effective community participation.

Economic Development

Economic vitality is central to a healthy community and we should depend more on local assets. Partnerships between Eugene and certain mulit-national corporations have been disappointing. For example, Hyundai-Hynix has received over $40 million dollars in tax breaks; yet they continue to ask for more subsidies, have refused to pay their fair share of the public education fund, and have created local economic uncertainty by laying off hundreds of workers. HMT employed 800 workers in 1998. Now they are closed.

Mayor Torrey urges Eugene to be "open for business" but attracting large corporations to Eugene. is an out-dated development model. It makes us dependent on distantly controlled companies whose priority is their own self interest and bottom line, not their employees or Eugene.

In contrast, encouraging a diversity of local small and mid sized businesses provides us with many advantages. Home town businesses tend to be more accountable to their employees, can better reflect community values, "recycle" money and can help insulate us from volatile business cycles such as electronics-technology. Small and mid sized local businesses are key parts to our vision for Eugene.

One program, soon to be managed by the Chamber of Commerce, is called the Lane Venture Forum. This innovative idea promotes local entrepreneurs, who work with a review committee to refine business plans specific to their needs. When completed, the plan is taken to local venture capitalists who may choose to finance the new business. The Forum is a fine example of encouraging local business with local investment.

Natural Environment

Many people are drawn to Eugene for its distinctive natural beauty. The protection and restoration of our waterways and wetlands, farmland and forest should be a primary community goal.

Eugene can boast of many organizations that deserve recognition for their work to conserve resources. Nearby Nature and The Eugene Stream Team volunteers work wonders with education and hands on projects in the field. EWEB offers a variety of programs and incentives to save energy and conserve resources.
LTD offers creative and improved transportation choices. BRING Recycling has an innovative program to reuse building materials. St Vincent de Paul's is famous for keeping materials out of the landfill. These groups and others like them deserve community support. They all fit perfectly into a healthy vision for Eugene.


Our youth deserve more attention because they have the largest stake in Eugene's future. Their energy and creativity will blossom through involvement in projects that benefit the community.

The Rachel Carson Program at
Churchill High School teaches young people valuable skills to help protect the environment. A new community garden, also at Churchill, depends heavily on youth energy. The Center for Appropriate Transport [CAT] provides a dynamic environment for young people to learn citizenship and technical skills. The North West Youth Corps helps control soil erosion and manages a community garden. WISTEC teaches about science and the environment. Churches, youth groups, the YMCA and schools are also sources of youth initiatives. These programs all deserve community support so they can grow.

Civic Participation

A transparent and accessible civic process is essential to any healthy community. People need to feel they have a stake in civic affairs and that their involvement makes a difference.

Rapidly escalating costs of city council campaigns discourages public participation A typical council campaign today costs four times what it did five years ago. Expensive campaigns for city council and other public issues require big money, and big money buys influence, not a healthy ingredient for democracy. Limiting big money makes space for diverse voices.

We urge the city to commit to strong neighborhoods, the base of the pyramid of civic process. The Neighborhood Matching Grant Program, through which the city funds cultural, recreational and environmental projects, is a stellar example of empowering citizens at the neighborhood level. Projects have included river clean ups, building playgrounds, public art, tree planting and much more.

2002 and Beyond

When we consider, land use, economic development, the environment, young people, and civic process, we can identify where goals in one area complement goals in other areas. Smart choices can reinforce each other. For example, mixed use development creates construction jobs. Mixed use brings work, shopping and home closer together, so we drive less. That means better air quality, cleaner water and more quality time for family and friends. Less sprawl saves on expensive infrastructure. That means more money is available for schools, parks and other neighborhood programs. Those programs can engage public participation. Mixed use areas are perfect for small and mid sized businesses. That means jobs. Such chains of benefits are lengthy and there are many others.

Our community is blessed with unique human and natural resources plus the models that will be their companions. In a rapidly changing world, our vision is to nurture those resources and invest in those models that will result in the long term viability of the environment and our economy. Eugene is dynamic and full of opportunity. We should maintain high expectations for what this community can become.

© Spencer Creek Press, West By Northwest 2000-2002 All Rights Reserved unless otherwise noted.

The opinions expressed by the authors are not necessarily the opinions of the publisher and/or sponsors.

West by Northwest
Spencer Creek Press
PO Box 51251
Eugene OR 97405

West By Northwest

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