Saturday, March 26, 2016

Celebration of Life: Tom Nice

Tom Nice (2.14.1946 – 2.04.2016)
I sadly reported early last month on the passing of Tom Nice, taken all too soon from this world by cancer. Tom’s greatest gift to those he left behind was his acute appreciation for how much fulfillment we can find by simply enjoying the good things life has to offer. I don’t know if I ever saw Tom when he wasn’t happy, relaxed, and savoring the moment. He was an enlightened being. 
Tom’s family invites those who knew him to join them in celebrating Tom’s life at an informal gathering on Saturday, April 9. The event will take place at 1:00 PM on that day at Shelter #2 in Eugene’s Alton Baker Park. It will be an opportunity for everyone to share a favorite memory or story about Tom. I’m looking forward to hearing all of them— Tom was funny, quirky, compassionate, and intellectual —so I’m certain many of the stories will surprise and amuse me. 
Bring a hearty appetizer (finger food) to share with everybody, as well as your favorite beverage (alcohol permitted). 
Tom supported several causes and organizations. If you’d like to make a donation in Tom’s memory, please consider giving to one of the following:

Celebrations of life are always moments in which to stop and smell the roses, and discover happiness in being connected, generous, and kind. Tom would want us to do nothing less in his memory.

What: Celebration of Life for Tom Nice

When: Saturday, April 9 – 1:00 PM

Where: Alton Baker Park – Shelter #2 (Note: Contrary to my previous post, the event will not take place at the Nice residence)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

WE CAN Get Together

13th Avenue, West University neighborhood, Eugene (Photo by Visitor 7 via Wikipedia; file licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

The members of WE CAN invite everyone to join them at 16 Tons Café (2864 Willamette Street, next to Market of Choice) on Thursday, March 24 between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm for the first WE CAN walkability get-together! 
I’m not familiar yet with WE CAN and all the folks behind the group. I do know WE CAN (the Walkable Eugene Citizens Advisory Network) is a group of citizens who wish to create a path toward successful, diverse, and community-supported, walkable 20-minute neighborhood districts in Eugene
Kevin Shanley of WE CAN brought the upcoming get together to the attention of CoLA (AIA-Southwestern Oregon’s Committee on Local Affairs, of which I am a member). A noted landscape architect and newcomer to Eugene, Kevin initially approached AIA-SWO seeking help identifying good local examples of higher density development (both residential and commercial/mixed-use) WE CAN could use to help make the case that, done right, such developments can be neighborly and desirable. 
WE CAN supports:
  • Citizen involvement in planning processes that includes the full diversity of interests and opinions about how our community should evolve, and strives to find a balance between different points of view.
  • The creation and expansion of walkable, 20-minute neighborhoods in Eugene, to allow Eugene residents more ability to choose healthy, sustainable transportation methods.
  • Increased diversity in housing styles, including support for housing types such as accessory dwellings, townhouses, cottage clusters, and multi-family housing types, in order to provide Eugeneans with more options to live in a home that matches their lifestyle and budget.
  • Planning for growth along key transit corridors and downtown, to help Eugene accommodate our future neighbors while preserving what is great about our city.
  • Codes and standards that ensure that new development is of a high quality and enriches our city.
  • Proposals that allow for future development in Eugene to increase citizens' choices in housing and transportation.
I’ve got two reasons to go: 1) I want to learn more about WE CAN and its mission and 2) I’ve yet to visit 16 Tons Café even though I only live a stone’s throw away. So, I know where I’ll be this coming Thursday evening: I’ll be enjoying a tasty beverage with others interested in more options for housing and transportation, and discussing actions we can take to help improve walkability in Eugene. Be there too and learn more about WE CAN with me.
What: WE CAN Get Together 
When: Thursday, March 24 – 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM 
Where: 16 Tons Café, 2864 Willamette Street (next to Market of Choice) 
Cost: FREE

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Architecture is Awesome #11: Sense of Place

Pont Neuf (1872, Pierre-Auguste Renoir)
This is another in my series of posts inspired by 1000 Awesome Things, the Webby Award winning blog written by Neil Pasricha. The series is my meditation on the awesome reasons why I was and continue to be attracted to the art of architecture.

One of the “aha! moments” of my academic life was coming to realize architecture has the power to add to the physical, cultural, and social identity of places. I learned how important it is for architects to thoroughly understand how an authentic place is not anywhere but rather somewhere people have purposely invested meaning in over time. I came to understand why caring for a sense of place should be an imperative in my work.

The best places possess a strong identity and character. They help us know where we are in the world and why they are unique. They are far from placeless (that feeling “there is no there, there") because they impart a physical, emotional, and sometimes spiritual connectedness to a specific geographic area. Architects who keenly understand this will do everything they can to ensure what makes a well-loved place so is enhanced, rather than diminished, by what they add to it.

Architects are adept at analyzing and responding to the problems of a site, which include its physical attributes, context, and opportunities. Additionally though, the most thoughtful among us do consider much more in an effort to distinguish a site’s most important characteristics. These architects reveal and strengthen the spirit of the place, rather than allowing it to remain weak and undifferentiated.

The locations we all consider memorable, unique, and enjoyable are often redolent of placeness. Their protective genius loci is strong, yet contingent upon how people have used and built upon it over time. Think of the banks of the Seine in Paris, the views from which have inspired countless artists, among them Renoir and Van Gogh. Or the Piazza Navona in Rome, once an ancient stadium, later transformed as a public space and market, its history vividly layered for all to see. Closer to home, it’s hard to imagine Timberline Lodge anywhere but nestled high up the snowy south flank of Mt. Hood. 

Piazza Navona, Rome

Sometimes, a singular piece of architecture not only contributes to the sense of place but is necessary to bring it to light. The Sydney Opera House is inseparable from its harbor setting but now even more so from Sydney’s consciousness. Jorn Utzon’s optimistic masterpiece transcended its infamous travails to become an unforgettable landmark and symbol for an entire nation. 

We do have to be careful: Attempting to create a sense of place from whole cloth is folly; instead, we must discern and tease out the already present, most beneficial emergent properties of each site we work with. No two projects should ever be exactly alike because the countless factors influencing every one of our projects are as complex and varied as life itself. Therefore, our goal should be to build upon the distinguishing structure of each place, taking care to preserve its unique essence—its soul—when we design. 

The irony of our hyper-connected digital existence today is that many of us are starved of deep engagement with others and the real world we inhabit. The automobile-centric development patterns that predate the electronic age and persist today exacerbate our isolation and the ubiquity of placelessness. Preserving and augmenting a sense of place is an antidote: the particularity of real places, the memories they help make or elicit, and the way they bring us together provide us with the kinds of genuine experiences we naturally crave as human beings. 

Bringing a critical approach to designing every project means designing with place and what it means always in mind. I think it’s totally AWESOME we architects are entrusted to contribute positively to a sense of place with every project we undertake, and in the process help people truly connect with the world they live in.

Next Architecture is Awesome: #12: Ordered Complexity

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Next Generation Downtown: CoLA Speaks Out

Lane County Farmers Market in downtown Eugene on a warm, sunny day (my photo)
The following is a piece regarding the future of Eugene’s downtown urban renewal district penned by the members of AIA-SWO’s Committee on Local Affairs for submission to The Register-Guard as a Letter to the Editor on the paper’s Opinion page. CoLA also intends to send the letter to Eugene city councilors, the mayor, and the City Manager. 
The Committee on Local Affairs (CoLA) of the American Institute of Architects – Southwestern Oregon Chapter endorses extension of the downtown Eugene urban renewal district. Extending the district would fund downtown projects that in turn would attract high-quality private development consistent with the City’s long-term objectives. 
Opponents argue urban renewal districts siphon money out of the city’s general fund but this isn’t entirely true. Tax increment financing reserves any increase in property tax proceeds for improvements inside the urban renewal district. In other words, higher revenue attributable to increases in the assessed value of properties, which might not otherwise have occurred or been as pronounced without investment within the district, are reinvested there to further encourage desirable outcomes. The result can be a positive feedback cycle wherein financing of downtown infrastructure improvements begets needed private sector development resulting in additional income from property taxes, which funds further public investment, and so on. 
Yes, dissolution of an urban renewal district once all debt is repaid should be the ultimate goal. When dissolution occurs the entire city would benefit from the increased property base within it; however, CoLA does not believe now is the time. What we do believe is that we must capitalize upon the momentum of downtown Eugene’s recent resurgence. 
Everyone wins when our downtown core is economically prosperous and a vibrant, inviting, and safe center for business, government, culture, and housing. It should be the heart of our community’s regional economy, one that buoys the entire city. CoLA strongly supports extending the urban renewal district as a significant means to achieve these widely shared and far-reaching goals.

Austin Bailey, Scott Clarke, Randy Nishimura, and Travis Sheridan
Members, Committee on Local Affairs, American Institute of Architects – Southwestern Oregon Chapter