Sunday, May 23, 2010

May AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Further extending AIA-SWO President Michael Fifield’s design excellence theme for this year’s monthly chapter meetings, our May 2010 program featured the City of Eugene’s efforts to marry urban form and design excellence.

Pursuant to the “call to arms” raised by the speakers at the Oregon Design Conference, the City’s current initiatives provide AIA-SWO architects with ample opportunities to assume a leadership role by helping to shape the future of Eugene. As COE Metro & Community Planner (and AIA-SWO board member) Patricia (Trish) Thomas pointed out, AIA members can influence the City’s urban planning and design strategies, not only as individuals but also as a collective voice. With the advent of Envision Eugene, as well as the ongoing Infill Compatibility/Opportunity Siting process and Mixed-Use Center planning, this is a propitious time for our design community.

In addition to Trish, the May program featured a series of brief presentations about the City’s in-progress metro planning efforts:
  • The City of Eugene’s Lydia McKinney and AIA-SWO’s John Lawless described the Walnut Station Mixed-Use Plan and the City’s crafting of its accompanying form-based code. John drafted a dedicated group of AIA-SWO and ASLA members to test the form-based code. The group pushed limits of the code in an attempt to gauge its effectiveness. Ultimately, the City hopes Walnut Station will be an exemplar of nodal development and a validation of such urban form strategies as multi-way boulevards, growing up and not out, and the implementation of a district-centric design review panel.
  • Trish provided an update on Opportunity Siting and its focus on “hot spots” (where market demand, feasibility, and compatibility are optimal) within the boundaries of the City of Eugene. She sees potential for collaboration with AIA-SWO and is intent on moving a conversation forward about that potential.
  • Envision Eugene’s principal planner, Carolyn Weiss provided an overview of the City’s effort to develop a plan for how Eugene will grow and develop over the next twenty years. Every community in Oregon has an urban growth boundary (UGB) – a limit to how far the city can physically grow out, which protects farms and forests from unplanned development. The UGB must contain enough land for our projected population needs over the next 20 years. State law requires all cities to update their 20 year population projections, and their UGB to accommodate the new population. In addition to identifying if we have enough land to accommodate 20 years of growth, Eugene will also develop its own UGB as Eugene currently shares a UGB with Springfield.
  • Senior Urban Design Planner Robin Hostick, ASLA, focused his section of the program on the importance of impressing upon our community the value of design excellence as a means toward achieving desirable urban density. In his mind, not all density is created equal. The key to buy-in by Eugeneans will be an enhancement of their appreciation for the benefits of good urban form and compact growth.
Following the presentations by our speakers, AIA-SWO board member Mark Gillem, AIA facilitated a discussion that addressed two questions: 1) How can AIA-SWO and the City of Eugene work together toward design excellence?; and 2) What can AIA-SWO do to ensure design excellence is part of the Envision Eugene discussion?

The results of this discussion further emphasized the obligation we have to influence the community dialogue about how Eugene will look and feel tomorrow. Some of the audience comments included the following:
  • Design professionals must emphasize the underlying principles that foster good urban design; it isn’t enough to simply paint a pretty picture of what could be. Design principles are the building blocks for guidelines and standards.
  • Good design cannot be legislated; the community must want it.
  • The urban growth boundary isn’t a panacea for bad urban form.
  • The surest path toward positive change is for design professionals to directly influence the “market makers.”
  • Architects, landscape architects, and urban designers cannot blame the shortcoming of the Eugene City Code for our failures to demonstrate design leadership. We cannot abrogate our responsibility to protect the public interest if it is clear that it is in jeopardy.
Trish trusts that the place where urban planning and design excellence meet is not at an edge; instead, it is her hope that the overlap is substantial and growing. As architects, we understand that planning alone – conducted in the absence of an understanding of its physical manifestations – is insufficient to foster a beautiful, sustainable, and livable city. Conversely, design professionals cannot fail to appreciate the legal, political, and demographic forces that are impacting Eugene’s future.

Among the opportunities to fulfill a leadership role is the next Envision Eugene open house and workshop. Taking place this Wednesday, May 26 in the Churchill High School cafeteria (1850 Bailey Hill Road; 6 pm open house, 7-9 pm workshop), the goal of the event is to collect further community feedback on approaches to growth. Participants will have the opportunity to learn more about Eugene's expected population growth for the next twenty years and the land and housing needs that may come with that growth. City staff will present research and technical analysis, including seven approaches to growing inside our current urban growth boundary. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about and discuss each approach, and work in small groups to identify potential benefits and concerns related to quality of life.

For more information, check out the Envision Eugene website at

Thank you, Trish, for organizing the May chapter program.

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Our May program sponsor was Opus VII, the new social and artistic platform that will showcase an exceptional array of talents and resources in the areas of art, architecture, and design. Located in the same retail space across Seventh Avenue from the Hult Center previously occupied by Opus 6ix, Opus VII is a realization of owner Kaz Oveissi’s vision of a combined art gallery, architecture and design center, membership organization, and cultural hangout.

Kaz’s hope is to build a powerful network of members to recognize, support, and validate the work of Opus. He wants a community of cultural leaders who are not bystanders. It’s his intent that Opus VII will be an immersive, multi-sensory exploration of projects and ideas, inspiring conversations that benefit the community. Join me in welcoming to downtown Eugene this unprecedented model for a new kind of cultural center!

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