Saturday, October 22, 2016

Coordinated Downtown Development

AIA-SWO mini-charrette during the October 19, 2016 chapter meeting (my photo)
AIA-Southwestern Oregon members gathered last Wednesday at the FertiLab Thinkubator to learn more about efforts by the City of Eugene and Lane County to coordinate future downtown development of public facilities they own and operate. Currently under consideration are the fate of the new City Hall, a new and larger Lane County Courthouse, and a year-round farmers’ market. The two agencies recently formed a joint task force to evaluate options for siting these major downtown facilities and public spaces. 

The task force composed a charter statement to guide its efforts: 

“The City of Eugene and Lane County share a common value to provide the best possible service to our communities in ways that make efficient use of public resources. We have before us the opportunity to collaborate on the creation of a truly great civic center that serves Eugene and Lane County for decades to come.” 

The City and County jointly selected Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture and Planning as the consultant for the coordinated downtown development study. Cameron McCarthy’s mandate is to identify and evaluate options to help the City and County determine which strategy will best address their separate and mutual needs while working toward their shared goal of creating a “truly great civic center.” 

Larry Gilbert, ASLA, principal at Cameron McCarthy, leads the consultant team, which also includes Jim Robertson, FAIA, FCSI of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects (the firm I work for). Larry began his presentation at the AIA-SWO meeting by providing background information about the study. The new Eugene City Hall saga is well-known by most. That project’s spiraling costs no doubt prompted City Council’s willingness to work with the County to look at possibly more cost-effective alternatives. The existing, aging Lane County Courthouse suffers from numerous deficiencies relative to present-day standards, notably with respect to space, security, and efficiency, and requires either substantial modernization or replacement. The future of the farmer’s market is in play because its current location, the county-owned “butterfly” parking lot is one of the parcels involved in the study. 

Larry described the program areas for each of the study components; they are as follows: 

Eugene City Hall – Phase 1: 35,000 GSF
  • Council Chambers
  • Council Work Session Room
  • Mayor and Council Offices
  • City Manager’s Office 
Parking, Secure: 7,000 GSF (20 Spaces) 

Eugene City Hall – Phase 2: 115,000 GSF 
  • Public Works 
  • Planning & Development 
  • Information Services 
  • Human Resources & Risk Services 
  • Finance & Central Services 
Parking, Secure: None 

Eugene Municipal /Community Court:  20,000 GSF 
  • Municipal Court 
Parking, Secure:  8,400 GSF (24 Spaces) 

Lane County Courthouse: 240,034 GSF 
  • Courts 
  • Courts Administration 
  • Sherriff Transport & Holding 
  • Sheriff Main Offices 
  • Parole & Probation 
  • District Attorney Offices 
  • State Offices 
Parking, Secure:  24,500 GSF (70 Spaces) 

Lane County Farmers Market (covered area):  9,000 GSF 
  • Vending Spaces: 30 
  • Restrooms 
  • Storage 
Lane County Farmers Market (outdoor space):  39,000 GSF 
  • Vending Spaces: 90 
  • Bike Parking 
  • Landscaping 
Based on the programmatic needs, Larry’s team initially developed twelve different options or models. It subsequently distilled the number of siting options for City Hall, the County Courthouse, and the Farmers’ Market down to six possible configurations, which the public (including AIA-SWO) have been asked to comment upon. The Register-Guard provided a detailed summary of the configurations, which I’ve simply repeated here: 

Option A1:
Remodel the existing courthouse for use by the district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices and build a new courthouse on the county-owned “butterfly” parking lot across Oak Street. A skybridge would connect the two buildings. On the vacant City Hall block at Eighth Avenue and Pearl Street, the Phase 2 City Hall would take up its northern half, the Phase 1 City Hall would be built on the empty lot’s southwest corner, and the farmer’s market would be constructed on the southeast corner. 

Option A2:
Consolidate the courthouse, district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices in one new nine-story building—it would be the tallest in downtown—on the butterfly lot. The existing courthouse would be preserved for county government operations. On the vacant City Hall block, the Phase 2 City Hall would be two buildings constructed on the northern half of the lot, and the Phase 1 City Hall and farmers’ market would swap places on the lot’s southern half.

Option B1:
Build the county courthouse and Phase 1 City Hall on the vacant City Hall block. The district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices take up the entire existing courthouse, and a very long skybridge would connect it to the new courthouse. Phase 2 City Hall would be constructed south of Eighth Avenue along Pearl Street. On the butterfly lot, the farmer’s market would operate on its southern half, and a new mixed-use building would be built on its northern half. 

Option B2:
The county courthouse with sheriff and district attorney functions would be built on the vacant City Hall block, wrapping around Phase 1 City Hall. The Phase 2 City Hall would be divided between two buildings by renovating the existing courthouse and constructing a second building across Oak from it on the northern half of the butterfly lot. The farmers’ market would occupy the lot’s second half. 

Option C1:
The new county courthouse and all associated functions would take up the entire vacant City Hall block. Phase 1 City Hall would be built on the butterfly lot’s northern half with the farmers’ market occupying the southern half. (The city and county are seeking an expedited court ruling on whether city founder Eugene Skinner’s 1855 deed to the county prevents a City Hall from being constructed on the butterfly lot.) Phase 2 City Hall would be divided between a renovated existing courthouse and the Wells Fargo building, where the city currently leases office space, so city services would be spread out in a campus environment with the Park Blocks at its center. 

Option C2:
The new county courthouse and all associated functions would take up the entire vacant City Hall block. The farmers’ market would be built on the southern half of the butterfly lot. In another variation of a city campus concept, Phase 1 City Hall would be built on the butterfly lot’s northern half with another floor—the fifth—added for Phase 2 offices. A new Phase 2 city office building would be constructed on the location of the existing courthouse. 

Each of these scenarios is still preliminary in nature, which is why input from groups like AIA-SWO remains important. Larry facilitated a mini-charrette during Wednesday’s meeting to ensure that ideas, or problems with ideas, are not overlooked before presenting a final slate of options to the elected officials and the public. The charrette was energetic and enjoyable, and did generate some inspired concepts for the consultant team to consider. 

The joint task force directed the consultant team to ultimately settle upon three concepts, so the six versions Larry presented will further be narrowed by half. He did say the final coordinated downtown development study will not single out a preferred option. Instead, the point of the study is to provide the joint task force with the information it needs to identify the concept it prefers to see implemented. Toward this end, the study will ultimately address questions about cost, context, transportation impact, and additional work required. 

Which option do I prefer? I have a preference but I’ll defer saying anything until after the report is finalized. 

Of course, notably absent from the scope of the study is the renewed possibility of EWEB offering its current administrative headquarters building on the Willamette riverfront to the City of Eugene for adaptation as a new City Hall. The City is not ignoring that possibility but is simply also exploring the potential of a collaboration and possible land swap with Lane County. 

Notably, some city council members have expressed reluctance with the prospect of delaying construction of the new, ceremonial City Hall as most recently planned. They would rather proceed with that design as soon as possible despite the opportunities inherent in a collaboration with the county or a purchase from EWEB of its building. I personally believe not considering all options on the table (especially when they’ve presented themselves so serendipitously) would be shortsighted, so I wholeheartedly support taking this step back. 

There will be one more opportunity for the public to comment upon the six coordinated development options before Larry’s team reduces that number to the three the joint task force will deliberate upon. The City and County are hosting a community open house on Wednesday, November 2 from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM at Harris Hall, 125 East Eighth Avenue. For more meeting information, or if you don’t think you’ll be able to attend the open house, provide your comments online at

Big thanks to Larry for providing such an informative presentation. Thanks too to the elected representatives and members of the joint task force who recognize the opportunities inherent in developing an equitably beneficial and collaborative vision. This is a momentous time for downtown Eugene. The decisions that will be made now are critical. They require considerable thoughtfulness and imagination. There is simply too much at stake that will impact the future of Eugene for too many years to come.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Advancing Market Acceptance of CLT

A CLT panel, freshly laid up and glued, being readied for insertion into the hydraulic press in the D.R. Johnson manufacturing facility (all photos by me unless noted otherwise).
The construction industry, particularly here in the U.S., is often slow to adopt new and promising technologies. That said, recent decades have witnessed the growing urgency of implementing earth-friendly, sustainable strategies in buildings. Much of this impetus is attributable to an increasing awareness about how huge the carbon footprint of the built environment is (by some estimates accounting for as much as half of the world’s CO2 emissions and likewise half of its energy consumption). Regardless, owners, architects, engineers, builders, and lenders in this country continue to prioritize financial return and risk-aversion above experimentation. This is why we should applaud businesses who are willing to step up, pioneer new ways of doing things, and who champion the cause of carbon neutral efforts. 
D.R. Johnson Lumber Co. is one such company. D.R. Johnson is fully committed to the acceptance of advanced wood products in the construction industry, most notably cross-laminated timber (CLT). It is also dedicated to making the most of our state’s greatest natural resource and providing new jobs for rural communities. The key to D.R. Johnson’s strategy is promoting CLT as both a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative for buildings customarily constructed primarily of steel and concrete. 
Cross-laminated timber is conceptually very simple. Like glue-laminated beams, CLT is a “mass timber” product comprised of layers of wood planks glued together to form strong and fire-resistant structural panels for use in walls, roofs, and floors. I find it surprising CLT hasn’t previously been extensively utilized. Governments in Canada and Europe have subsidized CLT research, manufacturing, and construction of buildings for years; consequently, the majority of CLT projects to date are located abroad rather than here in the United States. If D.R. Johnson is on the right track, that’s about to change very soon. 
I joined dozens of my AIA-Southwestern Oregon colleagues as well as students and faculty from the University of Oregon’s Department of Architecture last Wednesday for a visit to D.R. Johnson’s plant in Riddle, OR. The facility is only one of two in the country (the other belonging to SmartLam in Whitefish, MT) producing CLT panels for use in structural applications. We not only enjoyed the opportunity to witness D.R. Johnson’s manufacturing processes but also learn a great deal about mass timber construction in general via a series of presentations both en route and at our destination. 
Judith Sheine, head of the UO Department of Architecture, and Mark Donofrio, AIA, assistant professor of architecture (and also current member of the AIA-SWO board of directors), described the work of their joint studio in which students explored the properties and potential of CLT construction in the design of a parking structure for the Glenwood district between Eugene and Springfield. Notably, the studio was part of a collaborative effort involving both the University of Oregon and Oregon State University’s College of Forestry. Judith and Mark explained how, with support from the State of Oregon, the collaboration is leveraging academic resources to create and test new applications for CLT in the construction of modular and tall buildings. A byproduct of UO/OSU alliance is the newly formed National Center for Advanced Wood Products Manufacturing, which will help accelerate use of CLT in this country. The Center’s goals are to assist Oregon’s timber industry by growing the market for mass timber products, expand the design profession’s stellar reputation for sustainable design, and establishing Oregon as North America’s hub for expertise in innovative wood building design.
Glenwood Mass Timber Parking Structure: UO studio project by Tom Adamson, Ryan Kiesler, and Tom Moss (Judith Sheine & Mark Donofrio, professors)

Valerie Johnson, president of D.R. Johnson, presented the sustainability case for CLT, which is premised upon its smaller environmental impact when compared to other common building materials. She pointed to how life cycle assessment studies show that wood products outperform steel and concrete in terms of embodied energy, as well as air and water pollution produced. Wood also has better thermal performance properties than common alternatives, making it more energy efficient. And wood is the only common building material derived from a renewable resource. 
Valerie Johnson
Valerie argued wood products have a significantly smaller carbon footprint, because they sequester carbon from the environment. As trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing the carbon in wood fiber and releasing oxygen. The stored carbon remains in the wood after the trees are converted to wood products, and the cycle starts over when new trees are planted to replace those that were harvested. 
She described how D.R. Johnson is working with the National Center for Advanced Wood Products Manufacturing and the American Plywood Association (APA) to manufacture and test CLT panels to obtain third-party certification and assist with the development of consensus-based product and design standards. 
Valerie clearly relishes the opportunity the advent of CLT presents her company. For her, it’s a once-in-a-career opportunity to be on the cutting edge of something new and beneficial for our planet. 

Completed CLT panel. CLT is generally manufactured in slabs that are 3, 5 or 7 layers thick, and that are 10 feet wide and up to 60 feet long.
Tom Williamson, PE, of Timber Engineering LLC, further enumerated the advantages of CLT. These include its lower material weight at comparable strength—up to six times lighter than concrete. The lighter weight is advantageous in the case of earthquakes and also for transportation and onsite assembly. CLT panels act as plates with dimensional stability and static strength in all directions. CLT projects can be erected very quickly, reducing onsite construction time. They produce minimal jobsite waste, require smaller footings, and are versatile and easily integrated with other building materials. CLT also allows the use of shorter pieces of wood that can’t be used in traditional glulam beams, as well as lumber from smaller trees harvested from managed and sustainable forests. 
Tom touched upon the development of various CLT design standards and the integration of provisions within the model building codes specific to the use of CLT. These include code pathways and considerations for the use of CLT in tall buildings (greater than six stories in height). He cited the recently published CLT Design Handbook, which includes useful information for architects and engineers on topics ranging from detailing connections between panels to fire performance of CLT assemblies. 
 The U.S.CLT Design Handbook is available for free download at
Tom didn’t shy away from identifying the drawbacks of using CLT, which are primarily associated with our current unfamiliarity with the product and its associated design standards and codes, its lack of performance history in North America, the fact its use under wet conditions has not yet been extensively studied, and its cost relative to competing systems. 
The cost issue figured heavily during a presentation by John Rowell, AIA about his firm’s decision to use CLT in the design of the 33 East Broadway project in downtown Eugene. John along with his partner Greg Brokaw, and businessman Kaz Oveissi, are the developers of the proposed office building. Rowell Brokaw Architects will occupy one whole floor of the four-story design, furthering the company’s commitment to working downtown. John sees 33 East Broadway as appealing to like-minded companies, who will be attracted to its urban setting, innovative use of exposed CLT, and the natural, creative vibe of the design. 
John said RBA used cost models to compare the benefits and shortcomings of various structural material and system options. In the end, the draw of using CLT—its innovativeness, aesthetic potential, and sustainability as a building material—outweighed RBA’s unfamiliarity with the technology and concerns about its expense. The arrival of D.R. Johnson on the CLT scene during RBA’s design of the project proved serendipitous. With D.R. Johnson as a local manufacturer for the panels, the cost for sourcing them would be reduced significantly. Opportune too was the State of Oregon’s eagerness to support CLT projects and the ongoing research by the Center for Advanced Wood Products Manufacturing. 
John elaborated upon several aspects of CLT building design that are unique to the technology. These include how to detail and protect the connections from exposure to fire, and also how to accommodate distribution of MEP systems and address acoustical concerns. John hopes to see the project break ground very soon. 
 33 East Broadway (rendering by Rowell Brokaw Architects)
Mariapaolo Riggio is an assistant professor in the Wood Science and Engineering (WSE) department in Oregon State University’s College of Forestry. She is a key member of the Center for Advanced Wood Products Manufacturing, conducting research on mass timber technologies, including CLT. Mariapaolo brings an interdisciplinary perspective to her research, with a particular emphasis upon the long-term performance of mass timber buildings using integrated monitoring methodologies. She described how her investigations and those of her associates will contribute significantly toward the increasing acceptance of CLT as a building material here in the U.S. The proliferation of CLT will benefit not only companies like D.R. Johnson but also create jobs in Oregon and move the construction industry toward a more carbon-neutral future.  

D.R. Johnson’s newly installed Hundegger PBA “gantry” style saw. The saw efficiently cuts the CLT panels, using up to 9 different cutting and milling tools for roof profiles, wall details, and openings.

Something that surprised me during our tour of the D.R. Johnson facility was how low-tech the production of CLT panels actually is. As described above, it really does just consist of gluing up lumber in (perpendicular) layers, pressing them together, and then cutting them to the desired size and shape. At the moment, much of the assembly process still requires manual labor (a notable exception being the Hundegger PBA computer numerical controlled (CNC) saw). If CLT really takes off, I can imagine D.R. Johnson further investing heavily in robotic technology to increase efficiencies. It wouldn’t surprise me if heavily capitalized lumber industry giants (such as Weyerhaeuser or Georgia Pacific, or perhaps one of the established European or Canadian manufacturers) jump in once the commercial viability of CLT in the U.S. market is established. As America’s CLT pioneer, I hope D.R. Johnson is rewarded for its efforts and corners its fair share. 
The Vine & Wine Center at Abacela Winery 

A definite treat along our journey back to Eugene was a stop at the Abacela Winery, just outside of Roseburg. Sited astride the Klamath/Coastal Range fault, the winery’s sloping, scenic site boasts soil and climate conditions most conducive to the production of the Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Malbec, Tannat, and Albrino grape varietals. In keeping with the sustainability theme of the road trip, Abacela uses a geothermal system for heating and cooling its Vine & Wine Center, practices sustainable viticulture, and has set aside 300 acres of its property as an oak savannah nature preserve. 

Following our visit to Riddle, I’m much better informed about cross-laminated timber, how it is manufactured, its benefits, and the potential for its applications. D.R. Johnson’s CLT venture is highly promising. In my opinion, the increased use of mass timber products like CLT is good for Oregon and good for our natural world.  I know I speak for everyone who participated in the tour when I say kudos to each of our speakers, the tour organizers, and our hosts at D.R. Johnson for a well-conceived, enjoyable, and highly informative road trip.  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Influences: Bing Thom

Bing Thom (1940-2016)
An earlier blog entry of mine, “Genealogy of Influence,” promised a series of posts about the architects and theorists who influenced my architectural world view. This is the latest post in the series. 
Canadian architect Bing Thom, CM, LLD (Hon.), AIBC, FRAIC, AIA passed away last Tuesday at the age of 75. Although his name may not be a familiar one to many here in Oregon, he enjoyed a growing global reputation not only as a talented architect but also as a dedicated city-builder. It isn’t hyperbole to say he was perhaps Canada’s preeminent architect at the time of his death, his impact upon the nation’s architectural heritage rivaling that of his former teacher and employer, Arthur Erickson
Like Erickson, Bing fundamentally believed in the transformative power of great architecture to uplift not only the physical but also the economic and social conditions of a community. His belief in this power became the grounding philosophy of his career, resulting in memorable architecture that consistently tapped into something beyond aesthetics. 
Perhaps even more significant than the individual buildings he designed was his shaping of opinions regarding urban design, particularly when it came to his home city of Vancouver, British Columbia. He never shied away from speaking his mind. He called things as he saw them, including sounding alarm bells early on regarding the city’s troubling shift toward being a playground for the wealthy, one lacking a broad and sustainable economic foundation. 
It was his sage acumen and undeniable talent that attracted commissions from around the globe. His work spanned continents, and so would his firm (now with offices in Vancouver, Hong Kong, and Washington, DC). Notable projects worldwide include Vancouver’s Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, Guilford Aquatic Centre, and Surrey Centre in British Columbia; the Arena Stage in Washington; Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, TX; and the Xiqu Center in Hong Kong (now under construction). 
Surrey City Centre Library (my photo; all other photos and renderings by Bing Thom Architects)
Xiqu Centre, Hong Kong
Arena Stage, Washington D.C.
Guilford Aquatic Centre, Surrey, B.C.
Canadian Canoe Museum, Peterborough, ON
Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, Vancouver, B.C.
The impact of his work has been undeniable. In recognition of his contributions to an appreciative nation, the Governor General of Canada, on behalf of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, years ago bestowed the Order of Canada upon Bing. Bing also was the recipient of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Gold Medal, the highest honor given to a Canadian architect. 
His untimely death was immediately noted by a number of news outlets, including the New York Times, Architect Magazine, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Washington Post, CityLab, The Globe & Mail, and The Huffington Post
On a personal note, I was terribly saddened when I learned of Bing’s passing. In my mind, he was still vital and evolving, still young and forceful. It never occurred to me he could possibly leave us so soon. It was my honor to work for Bing during the early years of Bing Thom Architects (BTA) back in the 1980s.(1)  He was a true mentor and influence, helping set me on my way as an architect. 
False Creek Yacht Club, Vancouver, BC
Northwest Territories Pavilion, Expo 86, Vancouver, BC
In retrospect, what I most admire about Bing was his belief in all possibilities when most others would opt to take the easy path toward facile solutions. As many others have already said since the news of his death broke, he was a true visionary. He was a big thinker of the highest order. I know he’s left an admirable legacy for his firm, one which his colleagues will sustain for many years to come. 
I am grateful I had the relatively recent opportunity to chat and catch up with Bing during the joint AIA/Architectural Institute of British Columbia regional conference held in Vancouver in 2013. He was the same old Bing, always smiling, always a teacher, one whose words commanded everyone’s attention. He was obviously very comfortable in his own shoes then, a confident and sought-after elder statesman who trusted his imagination and a wealth of inspiration endowed by a lifetime of experiences. 
Bing had a tremendous impact upon many, many people during his life. He will be missed dearly by all who count themselves among his extended family. 
The following is Bing Thom Architect’s official news release acknowledging the passing of the firm’s founder and leader: 
October 4, 2016
It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of our Founding Principal, Bing Thom. Bing suffered a brain aneurism while on a recent trip in Hong Kong and passed away in that city on the afternoon of October 4th. His wife, Bonnie Thom, who shared his life for over 50 years, was by his side. 
Bing Thom was one of Canada’s most admired and accomplished architects, a dedicated and artful city-builder whose global reputation was closely tied to metro Vancouver, a region he cared for deeply and did much to protect and to improve. Bing’s commitment to using architecture to improve the urban environment was recognized by a range of honors including the Order of Canada, the Golden Jubilee Medal, honorary degrees from Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, the Margolese Prize, an honorary professorship from Tongji University in Shanghai, and the RAIC Gold Medal, the highest honour given to a Canadian architect. 
Born in Hong Kong and immigrating to Canada as a child, Bing received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of British Columbia and his Master of Architecture degree from the University of California at Berkeley. A student of the 60’s, Bing helped pioneer one of the first academic programs in Ethnic Studies in North America during his time in Berkeley. His career began in the offices of Fumihiko Maki and Arthur Erickson before he started his own firm, Bing Thom Architects (BTA), in 1982. 
His firm’s commissions cover the globe, from the Expo’ 92 Canada Pavilion in Seville, Spain, to Arena Stage Theater in Washington DC, Tarrant County College Trinity River East Campus in Fort Worth, Texas, to the current Xiqu Centre Opera House at the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong, the University of Chicago Center in Hong Kong, the Binhai Cultural District of Tianjin, the Shijiazhuang Performing Arts Center, and Shenyang Kerry Centre in central Shenyang. 
BTA’s local portfolio of projects include the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia, Central City Surrey, Sunset Community Centre, Surrey City Centre Library, the Guildford Aquatic Centre, and currently Simon Fraser University’s Sustainable Energy and Environmental Engineering Building and First Baptist Church Redevelopment. 
Bing Thom was a mentor to so many architects young and old, sharing his values and passion for creating beautiful spaces and places that better communities. He was never afraid to speak his mind. He saw himself first as a public servant and held a fundamental belief in the transformative power of great architecture to uplift not only the physical, but also the economic and social conditions of a community. 
He demanded the best from everyone and inspired each of us to achieve it. His positive impact will continue to be felt both in the communities in which our projects are built and in the profound influence he had on his many colleagues and so many others.  

(1)  I joined BTA in 1983, immediately following my graduation from the University of Oregon and just after the firm opened its doors the year before in the midst of a deep economic recession. I spent two enormously formative years there, assisting Bing on several notable projects including the Northwest Territories pavilion at Expo 86 and the Point Grey Road Condominiums, and culminating in my achieving professional licensure in 1985. I left that year to pursue a graduate degree at UCLA, ultimately returning to BTA in 1987 for a second satisfying stint during which I worked on the False Creek Yacht Club, among other projects. I left BTA in 1988 to relocate to Eugene, marry my wife Lynne, and embark on my career with Robertson/Sherwood/Architects.   

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Moving Forward

AIA-Southwestern Oregon’s Committee on Local Affairs (CoLA), of which I’m a member, penned the following letter to the mayor, city council, and city manager regarding the future of the South Willamette Area in advance of next Monday's council work session on the topic. Our stance is that the process by which planning moves forward must be as inclusive as possible and retain a big-picture, city-wide perspective. We hope our suggestions will be heeded. Read on: 

October 5, 2016

Eugene Mayor, City Council, and City Manager
℅ City Manager’s Office
125 East 8th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97401 
Re:  South Willamette Area Planning
Dear Mayor, City Councilors and City Manager: 

The 2016 election cycle serves as a parable for much of what passes for public discourse today. Perhaps more so than any other time in recent history, our society has gravitated toward divisiveness and a polarization of its views. We see this not only in the political arena, but also in the discussion around any controversial topic. There are clearly lessons to be learned and gulfs to be bridged. 
Here locally, few recent issues have been as contentious as the City of Eugene’s effort to implement the South Willamette Special Area Zone (SW-SAZ). It’s easy for people to characterize the SW-SAZ controversy as a chasm between opposing viewpoints: those of the urbanists who favor well-intentioned (but often resented) “top-down” planning on the one hand, and the grassroots (albeit self-interested) neighborhood preservationists on the other. Not unlike those at each end of the political spectrum, the players on both sides of the SW-SAZ debate hold steadfastly to their beliefs. Each side cloaks their statements about moving forward in mostly agreeable rhetoric, but ultimately they remain suspicious of the other group’s motivations. 
The Walkable Eugene Citizens Advisory Network (WE CAN) stands firmly within the “urbanists” camp. WE CAN is promoting a plan entitled Collaborative Community Objective Setting. The group characterizes its plan as complementary to possible neighbor-driven planning efforts, but if it is, how would the results of its goal-setting process be reconciled in a non-contentious manner with a refinement plan authored by those neighbors? Working separately and in parallel with other efforts does not sound like a recipe for success. 
The well-organized South Willamette Neighbors occupy the “preservationists” side. The organization strongly favors putting residents and property owners in charge of developing a neighborhood refinement plan. This approach is supported by city councilors George Brown and Mike Clark, who together have drafted a neighbors-supported South Willamette Street Initiative
A shortcoming of the Brown/Clark proposal is its recommendation to remove from consideration the possibility of reevaluating the current R-1 zoning of existing single-family residential areas. This would effectively preclude the creative and compatible infill development necessary in single-family neighborhoods to help achieve citywide goals for compact growth. 
The fact is the current proportion of single-family residential zoning is unsustainable. Valuable urban land is in short supply, so single-family homes on large lots are ever more expensive. Our better nature recognizes the need to expand and diversify our housing stock by developing a variety of options—apartments, duplexes, accessory dwelling units, townhouses, and other types—but our resistance and fear of change perpetuates exclusionary zoning and de facto segregation.(1)  Doing nothing will progressively exacerbate economic disparities between the haves and have nots, and increasingly work at odds against efforts to ensure Eugene is an equitable and affordable city. Doing something is what compelled the City of Eugene to embark upon creating the SW-SAZ in the first place. 
The suspicion, lack of trust, and polarization of the discussion inevitably led to the failure of the SW-SAZ process.(2)  To everyone's credit, you've acknowledged this failure and hit the reset button. Nevertheless, there still appears to be an absence of clear consensus on how to proceed. A neighborhood refinement plan process led by area residents and business owners may indeed be the best means to engender the support of the people who most actively opposed the initial SW-SAZ plan. Then again, the affected neighbors’ understandable resistance to the uncertainties of change may bar the possibility they’ll embrace the compact infill development and densification necessary to address the growing need to house everyone who wishes to live, work, and raise a family in our city. 
A significant problem with the processes used to date is that they have excluded some important stakeholders. Among those most in need of representation at the various public meetings and forums are many who, due to personal circumstances, simply do not have the time or resources to become engaged in a substantive way. These are individuals who by necessity may have multiple jobs, lack convenient transportation, are not fluent English-speakers, or cannot afford to pay for child care—factors discouraging or precluding their participation. We wish it wasn’t so but “all-comers” forums seldom truly are. 
The stakes involved are too high to not develop an effective South Willamette Area Plan, one that can serve as a model for planning along other key transit corridors in Eugene. The challenge now is to bridge between Envision Eugene’s broad goals and the specific strategies needed to realize those goals, while also ensuring the planning is truly inclusive of those who are too often disenfranchised by circumstances or lack of social standing. Entrusting the plan exclusively to a socioeconomically homogenous group of homeowners would lead to a predictable outcome. Eugene is comprised of unique neighborhoods, but each neighborhood has an obligation to work in the best interests of the entire community. 
Ideally, the eventual plan and others that follow would be realized in as incremental a manner as possible, in small chunks, so that development is easier to absorb, richer, and more likely to be the result of local investment, design, and ownership. Incremental development would allow adjustments on the fly, encourage greater diversity, and result in a finer-grained, more human scale. 
We’ve met with individuals representing the opposing factions. We’ve attended the public forums and neighborhood association meetings during which SW-SAZ occupied the agenda. We want to be part of the solution and have a seat at the table. We’re neighbors and stakeholders in the community too and we bear a responsibility to be active participants in its future, particularly when it comes to the physical character of the urban environment. We also understand a process involving too many voices will be cumbersome and most likely ineffective. 
Accordingly, we support a variation of the South Willamette Street Initiative, one which involves a small and nimble planning team as advocated by the Brown/Clark proposal but also includes a minimum of two “at-large” members entrusted with upholding citywide goals first and foremost. Ideally, these individuals would represent a diversity of interests and be highly conversant about the myriad issues at hand. 
Additionally, we’re advocates for compatible infill development on and adjacent to properties presently designated as R-1, so long as it preserves the stability, quality, character, and livability of the encompassed residential areas. A new South Willamette Area Plan will need to provide a variety of options for households of diverse incomes and compositions as one strategy toward accommodating Eugene’s population growth. 
In the wake of this political season, we see the SW-SAZ issue as a referendum as much about the kind of people we want to be as it is about what Eugene should become. As architects, we pledge to work assiduously toward finding common ground to build upon. We know our fellow citizens want the best for our community. We want the same. Let’s move forward together to develop consensus about a future that is full of inclusive and affordable housing options, all while retaining the livability and qualities we have come to love about Eugene. 
Austin Bailey, Scott Clarke, Eric Gunderson, Randy Nishimura, and Travis Sheridan
Members, American Institute of Architects – Southwestern Oregon Chapter Committee on Local Affairs. (The opinions expressed above are solely those of the members of CoLA, though we do believe our perspective is shared by a preponderance of AIA-SWO members).

(1)   The current single-family residential zoning and restrictive covenants of certain neighborhoods have their roots in racially motivated and class-centric exclusion. Times have changed, in most ways for the better; however, the restrictive zoning remains a pervasive barrier, limiting the production of new affordable housing and pricing many prospective homeowners out of the market.
(2)   City planners did not help their cause by leaping opaquely from a widely supported set of goals (Envision Eugene) to a wholesale plan for up-zoning a large tract of south Eugene. Conversely, the vitriol circulated by the plan’s opponents served its purpose by stopping SW-SAZ, but it also sullied the prospect of achieving respectful agreement with the plan's champions.