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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 8.21.08




The Best We Can Do?

City missing an opportunity downtown

by Thomas Lincoln

In a recent rant, published in this paper as a letter (8/7), I took the Eugene City Council to task for their refusal to make open space a requirement in the RFPs for the half-block development across from the library, for their arrogance (after soliciting public suggestions) in refusing even to discuss my urban park proposal and for not giving the public a vote on the matter. It’s absurd that a decision of this magnitude affecting the entire community should be dictated by the uninformed opinions of a few people.

The council’s primary objection to a library park seems to be that it would attract undesirables. Excuse me, but the undesirables are already there, and not because of a park. As Cliff Lind, a senior associate at DHM Design in Denver states, “The concept that parks attract undesirable people lost traction across most of the country 10 or 15 years ago. This is when people realized that well maintained urban parks designed with open sight lines, plenty of light and engaging spaces for workers to eat lunch or take a break in don’t allow ‘undesirable people’ to move in.” 

Eugene can be great, but not if the council proceeds with plans to jam the half block across from the Library solid with buildings (which, incidentally, would impede the view of the library’s nice architecture). The councilors should explain why they have not bothered to talk to cities such as Colorado Springs, Olympia, Salem and Corvallis about the great social and long term economic successes of their urban parks. In short, Eugene needs something downtown that people can get excited about: a commons area that will stimulate community participation, not a comparatively dry, bean-counter’s monolith. WG Development has admitted that it really doesn’t want the public to access the rather ho-hum “quasi plaza” it envisions behind closed gates. Is this really the best we can do? Let WG develop the Sears pit, by all means. But, let’s rethink the rest of the half block.

In my rant I did the unthinkable: I ridiculed Eugene’s slogan. Here’s my point, better illustrated:

 

Rather than boasting that Eugene is “The World’s Greatest City for The Arts and Outdoors,” the city needs to take a more humble stance and look at Eugene objectively. Elected officials need to listen and somehow learn to discriminate between what is authentic and what is not. Sophomoric, over-the-top pronouncements are not the way. Eugene has some nice things going for it, most notably the fact that it is situated in an idyllic Northwest valley. But the city can’t take responsibility for that. Striving for greatness takes courage and vision. Settling for fear-driven options and short-term fixes does not. Yes, Eugene does have a lot going for it, but it can be even better, and that’s the passion behind my remarks. Eugene could be a greater city if only the bureaucrats would be willing to go for it. No individual and no city ever attained greatness by playing it safe, being unwilling to dare to be great. Too many Eugene officials posture as important movers and shakers while, in fact, surrendering to fear and defeatism.

One has to be naïve and full of hubris to assert that Eugene is “The World’s Greatest City for the Arts and the Outdoors.” What do you think Rome, Milan, Paris, New York City, San Francisco and Honolulu would say to that? Is The Hult Center greater than Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Milan Opera House? Is local jazz greater than that played at The Blue Note or Sweet Basil or The Blackhawk? Is the architecture in Eugene greater than the Chrysler Building, the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower? Is the smattering of sculpture in Eugene greater than David, the Laocoön or Venus de Milo? Are the murals on Eugene walls greater than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Is the art that hangs in the Mayor’s Art Show greater than the work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Prado, the Louvre? And to what outdoors does the motto refer? Certainly not the sorry core of the city. Eugene has the Willamette, which is a fine river, but you don’t have to go any further than the McKenzie or the North Umpqua or Rogue to find a greater one. These rivers are world famous. 

Eugene doesn’t have to compete with the great capitals of the world. After all, much of its charm has to do with its smaller scale. It just needs to be all that it can be. And in order to be self-respecting, let alone great, any city the size of Eugene needs to have a welcoming urban park that the community can point to with pride.

Thomas Lincoln of Springfield is a semi-retired graphic artist and designer. Most of his award-winning design career was spent in New York City working for major corporations and publishing houses.