Saturday, October 25, 2014

Silent Sentinels

Local photographer Dennis Galloway recently emailed me a batch of his latest images about a favorite subject of his: grain elevators. 
Dennis just returned from (as he described it to me) a “long quixotic trip to north central Washington” to search for some exposed timber grain elevators he’d discovered online that he “just had to photograph.” He checked in with the county museum in Waterville and could not get a single lead to anyone who knew anything about these buildings. He would have knocked on some doors to ask people about them but doors in that part of Washington are all twenty miles apart! 
Dennis did find several obliging subjects on his journey. Most of these shots are from the Waterville Plateau. The last two are at Pratum (latin for "meadow"), OR, east of Salem. 
I’ve previously blogged about Dennis’ affection for grain elevators. His use of black & white photography is perfectly suited to documenting these silent sentinels of broad horizons. This is because monochromatic imagery relies heavily upon shadows and chiaroscuro to define shapes, details, geometry, and volume. I’m certain his photographs would have nowhere near the same impact if they were rendered in full color. Color would introduce a distraction, taking attention away from the visual building blocks Dennis chooses to emphasize: texture, tonal contrast, shape, form, and lighting. 
Dennis utilizes digital image editing to enhance his work but he does so in a way that is entirely unobtrusive. Your attention is entirely drawn to the structure of his photographs and his mastery of light and shadow. 
His photographs poignantly document the unaffected authenticity of grain elevators. They remind me of Dorothea Lange’s iconic photos of Depression-era migrant farm workers, but in this instance the subjects are buildings and not people. Regardless, they evoke an emotional response, heightened by Dennis’ skill with light and composition. Grain elevators are plain, pure examples of form following function without any architectural pretensions; they're eccentric, and hauntingly beautiful. Dennis is dedicated to preserving this vanishing heritage in his pictures. 
For more of Dennis Galloway’s work, check out his Flickr photostream.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

2014 People’s Choice Awards

Guests socialize prior to the presentation of the 2014 People's Choice Awards, October 15 at the Oregon Contemporary Theatre in Eugene (my photo)
Each year, the American Institute of Architects, Southwestern Oregon Chapter (AIA-SWO) in collaboration with the Willamette Valley Section of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) sponsors the People’s Choice Awards for Architecture. These awards aim to educate and inspire our fellow citizens by showcasing architecture, interiors and landscape architecture projects created within the Southwestern Oregon Chapter area by AIA or ASLA members. The program demonstrates to the public the role of the architectural profession in enhancing the built environment. 
Unlike previous years where the People’s Choice Awards balloting occurred during the Eugene Celebration(1), AIA-SWO asked the public to vote for their favorite designs at the Lane County Home Improvement Show, which took place October 10-12 at the Lane Events Center. A total of 30 entrants organized in nine categories comprised the display. 
The show proved to be an excellent opportunity for AIA-SWO and ASLA members to showcase their best recent projects, as a record number paused to enjoy the People’s Choice exhibit. Ultimately, the organizing committee gathered 350 completed ballots, tallied the votes, and identified the following winning projects: 
First Place: Rose Cottage - Willard C. Dixon, Architect
Second Place: Coburg Hills House – Arbor South Architecture 
First Place: The Andy – 2fORM Architecture
Second Place: Eagle Landing Apartments – Bergsund Delaney Architecture & Planning PC 
First Place: Hop Valley Tasting Room – envelop design
Second Place: Wildcraft Cider Works – Willard C. Dixon, Architect 
Veterans Affairs Clinic, White City, OR – Rowell Brokaw Architects 
Arbor South Office – Arbor South Architecture 
First Place: WJ Skatepark + Urban Plaza – City of Eugene Public Works 
Second Place: Opal Whiteley Park - Architectural Associates and Andrea Mull
First Place: “Fire & Light” – Stangeland &Associates, Inc.
Second Place: “Star Farm” – Lovinger Robertson Landscape Architects 
First Place: Connors Garden House – Willard C. Dixon, Architect
Second Place: 33 East Broadway – Rowell Brokaw Architects 
First Place: Eugene Riverfront Arts Center – Daniel Rosenthal
Second Place: Whidbey Island Visitor Center – Eli Nafziger 
Hop Valley Tasting Room by envelōp design , winner of both a 2014 People's Choice Award and a 2014 Colleague's Choice Award
Ancillary to the People’s Choice Awards were two additional programs that have likewise become annual mainstays for AIA-SWO. 
The “Colleague’s Choice” vote is meant to be a fun way for our AIA-SWO and ASLA members to weigh in on the question of which of their peers’ projects are most worthy of recognition. 
For the fourth year in a row, Eugene mayor Kitty Piercy presented her “Mayor’s Choice” awards. An enthusiastic public advocate for design excellence, sustainability, and smart growth, Kitty is a great friend of the local design community. 
Here’s the listing of the recipients of the Colleague’s Choice and Mayor’s Choice awards: 

The lobby of the Oregon Contemporary Theatre provided a marvelous venue this past Wednesday for the presentation of the various awards. Essex General Construction hosted and sponsored the gala event. Essex president Jon Texter and marketing director Jodi Sommers presented a special extra prize to each of the People’s Choice, Colleague’s Choice, and Mayor’s Choice Awards recipients in the form of a wonderful afternoon of wine tasting and socializing. They can all look forward to savoring a well-deserved afternoon away from the office in the comfort and safety of a party bus provided by Essex while enjoying the company of friends and colleagues. What an unexpected treat! Thank you Essex General Construction! 

Thanks too to the members of the People’s Choice Awards committee, who contributed so much toward the success of the 25th annual edition of the event, and also to all of the AIA-SWO and ASLA members who volunteered their time to staff the display during the Home Improvement Show.
(1)  The Eugene Celebration did not take place this year.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Happy 100th Birthday A&AA!

I guess I haven’t been paying attention because the University of Oregon’s announcement of its planned celebrations marking the School of Architecture and Allied Arts 100th anniversary came as a surprise to me. That’s right—my alma mater is a century old. Amazing! 

A&AA has organized a yearlong set of special events, lectures, symposia, and exhibitions to mark the milestone. Fittingly, the school scheduled the kickoff on Homecoming, which is next weekend, October 17-18. It all begins on Friday, October 17 at 1:00 with a 100th Birthday party, complete with a birthday cake, an open house to visit galleries and studios, and an all-school photo shoot. The school wants everyone who’s been a part of A&AA’s history to attend and enjoy the festivities. It’s urging all alumni and friends, current and emeritus faculty members, staff, and students to join in the festivities. I’m certainly planning to be at Lawrence Hall for the commemoration. 

The history of A&AA is richly fascinating. The website My School of Architecture features an excellent accounting of the school’s early beginnings, particularly the Department of Architecture: 

The University of Oregon School of Architecture and Design was founded in 1914 by Ellis Lawrence. From the beginning, the school was unique among its contemporaries for its non-competitive, individual approach to learning and for its affiliation with the allied arts (painting, crafts, sculpture, etc.), rather than with engineering. 

When W. R. B. Willcox became the architecture curriculum head in 1922, he developed a program that became a prototype and eventually led a reformation in American architectural training. Willcox believed that architecture, along with other arts, is an expression of the values, aspirations and character of the society that produces it. Therefore it is incumbent upon the architect to have a broad understanding of culture and society, and, beyond this, to be an influence in forging those values, aspirations and character. 

Oregon’s long tradition of non-competitive, individualized education places great emphasis on student self-direction and motivation. Willcox stated these goals in writing an article for the AIA Journal in 1923: “In education, the aim, it would seem, should be the development of one’s own endowments, and not to surpass another, merely, who strives for the same goal. What higher motive than the first can there be, and why should a lower one be accepted as a necessary stimulus? With such an aim, the goal is open to all at the same time; it is not an arbitrary fixed standard of excellence, but a relative one. Its attainment can be measured only with respect to growth, not with respect to another’s attainments.” 

The department still sees its educational mission as rooted in Willcox’s visionary realm of ‘freedom and responsibility.’ The curriculum is design-centered. Comprehensiveness is available through introductory coursework in the subject areas and substantial breadth and depth in the advanced courses. The integration of subjects is aided by the design process skills’ courses and practiced in studio. The faculty has substantial freedom with respect to curricular innovation and research. Faculty are expected to maintain their area of expertise and share in the collective responsibility toward maintaining an integrative and comprehensive design program. This duality, perhaps only a contemporary version of the Willcox legacy, is often cited as the department’s greatest strength and key to excellence. 

The Department of Architecture faculty embodies the pluralistic intent of the School’s founders. No single background or philosophy dominates. Faculty are encouraged to maintain a professional practice and/or make regular scholarly or research contributions to knowledge in the field. Of the regular faculty members, most are registered architects or engineers; many are members of AIA and are NCARB certified. The interior architecture faculty are, likewise, members of ASID, IIDA and/or IDEC. 

As part of its centennial commemoration, A&AA collected 100 Alumni Stories about alumni from all the decades of the school’s history and posted them online. Each story is unique and demonstrates the important contributions of alumni who worked or currently work with the built and natural environments, the arts and culture, and in public leadership and service. The inspiring stories showcase the accomplishments of individual graduates and convey the values rooted in Ellis Lawrence’s unique approach to design education. 

Be part of the historic moment and join the party. Visit to see special events, news, and the 100 Alumni Stories---all part of the yearlong anniversary activities. 

What:      A&AA's 100th Birthday Party
When:     Friday, October 17, 1:00 p.m.
Where:    South entrance, Lawrence Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene


Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Future of Power Transmission


The future of power transmission is here. More and more people, institutions, government agencies, and others are looking to microgrids to satisfy their energy needs. Microgrids are small-scale power production and delivery systems co-located with the loads they serve. They’re rapidly gaining acceptance as the nation’s power grid becomes progressively more dated, expensive, and susceptible to a variety of threats (such as earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, and manmade catastrophes like sabotage and cyber attacks). 

Microgrids generate, distribute, and control the flow of energy to consumers. They encompass multiple types of energy generation resources, storage systems, and efficiency programs, allowing for optimal utilization of renewable energy resources and facilitating advanced energy management, demand response, and load reduction solutions. Developers and owners of microgrids can sell excess power generated by their systems to utility companies. They can also design their microgrids to operate as power “islands,” offering power resilience when the utility grid is not available. 

The relatively small scale of microgrids facilitates more localized sources of power generation. Their introduction lowers demands on existing transmission infrastructures. Smart microgrids are an ideal way to integrate renewable resources on the community level and allow for customer participation in the electricity enterprise. They offer improved efficiency, predictable energy costs, and reliability. They’re good for the environment because they widely use renewable sources of energy, such a solar and wind power. They exemplify the ethos of thinking globally and acting locally. 

Eugene-based Green Energy Corp is one of an increasing number of businesses around the world providing microgrid power production and distribution solutions. The company is certain to be a major player in the rapidly growing field of regenerative and resilient technologies. 

Green Energy Corp’s Senior Vice President for Business Development, David Yuen Tam, sat down with me last week and introduced me to his company and the vast market it is set to capitalize upon.

David described how Green Energy Corp has established an “enterprise platform” to package complete solutions for sustainable management of power, water, and agriculture. In addition to building and operating microgrids for its customers, the company offers toolsets that help third party developers create premier microgrid solutions. Its flagship product, GreenBus®, enables microgrids to operate at their peak efficiency levels and connect to or disconnect from a larger grid. Green Energy Corp is targeting developers and the country’s growing number of eco-districts for its services. 

Green Energy Corp. holds the only system-wide microgrid patent in the U.S. It has designed thirty microgrids, built four, and owns three of them. Its products are based on open source software, cloud computing, and extreme scalability—allowing Green Energy Corp to rapidly deploy microgrids and complete eco-districts. The company currently has a $3 billion pipeline of vetted projects in various states of readiness. 

It’s noteworthy that Green Energy Corp relocated its headquarters earlier this year from Raleigh, NC, to here in Eugene. David explained it made the move in part to more effectively exploit the Asian and Pacific Rim markets. North America may currently be the leader when it comes to microgrid projects under development or in the proposal process, but the potential of locales in countries like India and China is huge.

David’s background makes him eminently suited to his role as Green Energy Corp’s head of business development. He has specialized in foreign and direct investment management, joint venture and foreign strategic partnerships, technology licensing, sustainable business development, real estate consulting, and investing, with many years of experience helping U.S. and international firms grow and expand. As the founder of Tam Global Consultants, he has helped global companies by providing relevant and up-to-date information pertaining to the various aspects of business development and market information. 

David also happens to be one of the partners of Glenwood H&CC Development, the partnership of local business people who are proposing to build a 95,000 squarefoot riverfront hotel and a 46,000 square foot conference center behind the Ramsey Waite equipment dealership on Franklin Boulevard. He envisions the project as a possible showcase for Green Energy Corp’s microgrid solutions; if it moves forward the development may ultimately encompass a state-of-the-art eco-district. David and his development partners certainly have the necessary vision, patience, and appreciation for Glenwood’s prime riverfront to also implement a freestanding microgrid power system. 

I like the fact that Eugene is now home to a company that is a leader in one of the hottest markets today. The widespread advent of microgrids bodes well for Green Energy Corp and, by association, Eugene. Microgrids will be a big part of the future of power transmission, both domestically and abroad, and everyone in Eugene stands to gain if Green Energy Corp realizes its considerable promise.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Finish Strong: Octagon Update

Interior of the Octagon.
Will Dixon, AIA provided another update last week about progress on renovation of the Octagon, Eugene’s own “center for architecture.” AIA-SWO’s Thursdays at Three weekly newsletter first published this update but I’m reposting it here for the benefit of my blog’s readership. 

As I’ve mentioned before, Will is the project’s chief advocate and driving force. Thanks to his efforts and that of the many who have contributed their time and materials, we’re seeing the Octagon transformed into a versatile and attractive headquarters for both AIA-SWO and Architects Building Community

Here’s Will’s latest update: 

September 25th Octagon Build-Out Update
by Will Dixon, AIA

First of all, happy Autumnal Equinox to everyone, and welcome to Fall 2014! 

Most of you should have received a “Finish Strong” postcard in the mail by now asking for your financial support to help us complete the build-out of the Octagon, our new Center for Architecture.  Please give generously today!  It’s nearly ready, but we need your help to reach the finish line this year.  Your donation is tax-deductible, and will benefit our local AIA chapter for many years to come. 

Note: despite being in the middle of a construction zone as of late, the Octagon has already proved itself as a great place for SWO Board and committee meetings, 24/7 display, community events, and “Luncheon-Learns” which are a great source of funding for our chapter.  The Octagon is essentially an extension of each and every one of our offices, and gives our chapter a real presence right in the heart of downtown.  It’s our new home!  To learn more about the story behind the Octagon: 

To make a donation online: 

To mail in your donation, please send to:

The Octagon
92. East Broadway
Eugene, OR 97401 

The last 9wood ceiling panel has been put in place and we had our final building inspection on Tuesday of this week, so all is complete and finaled as far as permits go.  Some minor cosmetic touch-up still needs to be done on the panels, but boy does it look good, especially as a great backdrop to the very cool looking Big Ass Fan (10 foot diameter!). 

Neal and Justin’s (Neon Latitudes) cold cathode, artistic lighting installation is finished and looks absolutely stunning!  And, it’s complete with two, separately switched zones for both inside and outside.  How these two crawled around up there is still a wonder to me.  (Thanks guys!) 

Carl Oslund (Oslund Design Inc.) and I are continuing to work on signage and branding. 

Fine woodworker Tom Clark (of Divine Light Altars) is putting the final touches on the remaining cabinetry with countertop to be installed near the front entry, as well as our new conference table which is going to be 7’ diameter and made out of thick apple plywood.  And, Tom is aiming to have these pieces finished and installed by end ofMonday next week!  If you’d like to see some of Tom’s phenomenal woodwork, click here:

I was able to attain the last remaining lighting track pieces that we needed through HL Stearns in Portland, and they were shipped all the way from New York City.  After Stan Honn coordinated with Bob from Gary Pierce Painting to get them painted, Kyla and Wayne (of Lynn’s Electric) graciously came back to the Octagon to have them installed. 

We’ve also prepped the space for future installation of an Overhead Projector, drop-down Screen, and Speakers.  This A/V equipment will be used for future Luncheon-Learns, seminars and other professional presentations, movie nights, and more! 

Note: your donations will help us to secure these and other necessary items, including a gallery Display System, Donor Recognition Display, Gallery Lighting, Shades, Signage, and Furniture.  All of the work and material thus far has come from donations and sponsorships, volunteer work, and much out of-pocket expense. 

As always, we greatly appreciate all of the 30+ donors thus far who have given their expertise, material, patience, and positive attitude towards our new Center for Architecture!  This wouldn’t have been possible without their support! 

Thank you! 

SWO Past Poobah ‘14

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Adjudicating Architectural Significance

Eugene City Hall awaits its fate (my photo)
Earlier this year, Otto Poticha, FAIA, challenged his colleagues in the local architectural community to advocate on behalf of saving the now soon-to-be-razed Eugene City Hall building. Many rallied to his side; ultimately, though, their efforts failed to sway a majority of city council members to vote this past week in favor of forestalling demolition any longer.

In the wake of the council's decision, Otto sent me a new letter for publication here on my blog. His reasons for his latest dispatch include voicing his frustration with what he perceives as a failure by his peers to share his appreciation for architecturally significant projects (regardless of whether there is unanimity of fondness for a project in question). He also wished to express his disappointment with the council’s edict as well as its motion to consider the token and politically expedient gesture of somehow preserving only the existing council chamber.

As I’ve written previously, I do believe the design of the existing city hall is fatally flawed, particularly its indifference to the sidewalks that bound it. It’s not pedestrian-friendly. The building hasn’t ever engaged passersby because its architecture purposefully lacks the scale, vocabulary, and elements necessary to do so. It is the product of a much different time and world than we find ourselves in now. As for possibly repurposing the building for another use, I cannot imagine doing so without fundamentally erasing the very essence of the original design that its supporters so vociferously defend.

I wasn’t pleased to also conclude that we should allow an existing building of architectural significance to be demolished simply because it fails to meet fashionable standards for beauty or measure up to state-of-the-art performance yardsticks. Fashion is relative and transitory, and we can ameliorate many functional shortcomings. As a society, we’re too quick to forget our past transgressions, repeating history by destroying it. Casting aside the old for the allure of the shiny and new is unnecessarily wasteful and unsustainable; that being said, I believe correcting the failings of the existing city hall building is simply too great a challenge to overcome.

Here’s Otto’s latest letter:

September 26, 2014


The City Hall matter appears to be at rest; we will see.

It is important to say that in a community with very little interest or knowledge about architecture other than the published awards we give or get for each other, we, the architectural community, are the only caretaker of what we create or have created. The lack of interest in the city hall as a significant building is very embarrassing to me as a member and Fellow in our profession, and as an active member of both our architectural community and social-civic community. 

I am very sad and worried that the profession looked at the building as something that they liked or hated rather than our art form. There is no piece of art or architecture that we all love or hate and I think that is good. This piece, over the years, has been certified by us, our peers, and others as significant and should not be destroyed. As a city hall or not, it is our art form, in my opinion a better piece of our art than some of what we are currently replacing it with: an architecture that hides behind quantitative matters such as energy efficiency and sustainability, with little attention paid to qualitative matters such as concept or design—a tight box with good makeup.

How can we attempt to educate our community about architecture when we cannot understand our own role or what is significant?

During this recent debate, I learned that we, the architectural community, must be marketing the idea that all of our built environment should be removed and replaced since it is out of style, not energy efficient, seismically correct, sustainable, green, friendly, or connected to the street. That opens, for us, an enormous market for our trade (not craft) and the destruction of our built architectural history and we need to understand that WE are responsible for that.

I cannot fault the architecturally inexperienced layperson, city manager, council member, mayor, or facilities manager for not relating to mid-century modernism but I can’t excuse the architectural community; how embarrassing.

The community looked to the AIA for their input but it came as a neutral statement: “maybe good or maybe bad."

If you are interested, the council will consider retaining only the council chamber in or for the new symbolic city hall. I personally find that offensive, as a political compromise or token and I hope you intend to campaign against it. The existing chamber is the focus of the existing complex and the basis of the existing building’s concept. Saved, it is simply a remnant to be placed in the new lobby or front yard of the new building as a dinosaur that was just excavated and roped off as an exhibit piece. 

Otto Poticha, FAIA

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Center of Gravity

The Lane County Farmers' Market bustles on a sunny Saturday afternoon in downtown Eugene (my photo)
If we’re fortunate, we may look back years from now at the current burst of development activity in Eugene and realize how propitious it was. This is a defining moment in our city’s history, one which we must capitalize upon. At stake is nothing less than downtown Eugene’s future identity, vitality, and livability. The decisions we make at this juncture will seal the district’s fate for years to come and impact its standing as the acknowledged heart of the city. It’s important we ensure our downtown withstands the pull of the ambitious plans outside of its orbit and remain Eugene’s center of gravity.

These farsighted plans include the EWEB Riverfront Master Plan. I find the vision shared by EWEB and the City of Eugene of a sustainable, urban “people place” along the banks of the Willamette River very promising. The strong framework developed by the team led by Rowell Brokaw Architects clearly articulates future riverfront development consistent with the community’s vision for the site. Everyone agrees with the notion of connecting the river to the city and the city to the river.

The vision presumes repurposing of the former EWEB operations center site as “Eugene’s Downtown Riverfront.”  My concern is if this is truly the goal, we must be careful to accomplish it without detracting from recent downtown achievements.

Eugene Riverfront Master Plan image by Rowell Brokaw Architects
The ongoing revival of downtown Eugene has been remarkable. Thanks to public leadership and private initiative, our downtown is more vibrant today than it has been in many years. The intersection of Broadway and Willamette Street is thriving once again and increasingly resembles the commercial and cultural crossroads it was long ago. The notorious “pits” have been filled. An assortment of unique retailers, restaurateurs, and artists is reopening long vacant storefronts. An increasingly diverse downtown population is helping to activate the sidewalks. Those of us who work or live downtown are thrilled by its renaissance. 

In view of this success, is pursuing the goal of connecting downtown with the EWEB riverfront development the right thing to do? Is there a risk we might spread downtown too thin? Would a vibrant and shiny new riverfront district remove the luster from the revival of Eugene’s historic downtown?

I believe Eugene’s downtown is already spread across too large an area. I recall Paul Farmer—who once served as the City of Eugene’s planning and development director (1998-2001) and recently stepped down as CEO of the American Planning Association (APA)—drawing a noteworthy comparison between Eugene’s downtown and that of a city with a metro population many times greater than our own. He said the area most Eugeneans regard as our downtown is equal in size to that of Pittsburgh, PA (where Paul also once worked). Granted, Pittsburgh’s “Golden Triangle” is largely constrained by the Allegheny River, Monongahela River, and Ohio River, so there’s basically no way for it to grow other than by building up. Eugene’s downtown is not so severely limited by geography. With the exception of Skinner Butte to the north, its edges are much fuzzier: our perception of its limits is shaped by legislated boundaries (i.e. the borders defined by the Downtown Urban Renewal District or the Eugene Downtown Plan) as much as it is by experiential cues.

Despite its recent success, the bottom line is downtown Eugene still lacks the critical mass necessary to assure its future.  It’s too diffuse because it’s too large. Too many still fail to find reasons to visit downtown. Without a sufficiently dense concentration of people, it cannot consistently generate the exuberant diversity on its sidewalks urbanites crave.
"Downtown Eugene with cars lined up at a stop, circa 1955" by OSU Special Collections & Archives: Uploaded by russavia. Via Wikimedia Commons

What downtown Eugene should stake claim to is being the region’s historic center for business, governmental, and cultural activities. Presently, more office space does exist there than in any other single section of town. Many of the community’s art galleries and principal performing arts venues—including the Hult Center, WOW Hall, McDonald Theater, and the Shedd—are also found downtown. The Lane County Farmers’ Market has always been located in the city center. Ditto for the Saturday Market, the First Friday Art Walk, and the Eugene Celebration. Lane Community College’s new campus across from the Eugene Public Library is evidence of that institution’s commitment to the city core. Downtown is also an important transportation center, home to Lane Transit District’s primary hub, the Amtrak rail station, and the Greyhound bus terminus.

Downtown’s center of gravity should stay where it is now. I think its general outline and “bones” should also remain generally as they are. Its boundaries shouldn’t expand. Its geographic center should not shift toward the river. We need to retain and reinforce downtown Eugene’s historical legacy and the distinct features that impart its genius loci (spirit of place). These features include the Park Blocks, the concentration of government buildings, the Willamette Street axis between Skinner Butte and Spencer Butte, and Skinner Butte itself.

In his seminal book, The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch stressed the importance of structure and identity, the vividness of elements, and a sense of the whole to how we perceive our urban environments. He spoke of the “contrast and specialization of individual character.” Achieving contrast and specialization entails the generation of well-defined edges, paths, nodes, landmarks, and districts. Ideally, we recognize a district by its singular qualities, which may include contrasting and unique features that “vivify the scene.”

Accordingly, one means to help secure downtown Eugene’s future is to avoid hitching its wagon to the proposed riverfront development. What many regard as a significant challenge for whomever EWEB and the City select to develop the riverfront property— that is the site’s relative inaccessibility—may ironically prove to be a blessing. This is because its isolation may bolster the contrast necessary to preserve downtown Eugene’s present structure and identity. Downtown’s greatest asset is being a unique place with its own underlying organizational structure. 

"Old Mill District Bend" by  Jenny Furniss. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons

Many may point to the Pearl district in Portland as a relevant precedent insofar as it is a significant and flourishing reclamation of a once moribund area immediately adjacent to a CBD. Perhaps a closer analog to what we’ll see happen in Eugene is the Old Mill District in Bend. Like the Eugene Riverfront project will be, the Old Mill District was assembled under the control of a single developer. Also like the Eugene Riverfront plan, it features mixed uses at relatively high densities arrayed in a pedestrian-friendly and scenic environment. Notably, the new development does not border Bend’s downtown. I happen to think both the Old Mill District and downtown Bend are thriving because they are separated from one another.

Older downtowns tend to be resilient in a way an altogether new development district may not be. They’ve grown over a span of time, more organically than if they sprouted overnight. Their incremental patterns of development are inherently forgiving and permit course corrections over time; however, further expanding downtown's reach may excessively tax that resiliency.  

Downtown Eugene is just finding its stride again and reestablishing its identity. We do need to be careful as we move forward with such ambitious and welcome projects as the development of the EWEB riverfront site. This is a time to take stock of these plans and to carefully consider how we can ensure they complement our still emergent accomplishments downtown.