Downtown Eugene


Thursday, April 17, 2008

User-generated downtown



When we launched our non-profit public dance-hall, The Tango Center, one of our main incentives, was to provide places downtown where people could actually do something.

There's nothing wrong with going downtown to shop or drink, or take in a show or a movie -- but we wanted to see if we could successfully create a self-sustaining activity, by providing people an opportunity to learn from each other, and be creative with each other. Social dance, and Argentine Tango, seemed to fit the bill. But you could do it with almost anything.

There's another way to look at what we did. On the world wide web, the mantra for the last 10 years, or so, has been to encourage users to provide a website's content. "User-generated content" is populist, appropriately providing what the people want, because they actually did it themselves.

In the same way, a dance-hall provides people with the opportunity to create the evening they want. And each evening is, indeed, wonderful and different. There's a structure, but most great events need some structure: people can more easily express themselves in relation to something. Partner dances provide structure quite well.

So, an evening of dance is a "user-generated" event. At these events, everyione agrees, the most exciting stuff is on the dance floor, not on a stage or screen.

Maybe user-generated activity is the formula for a successful downtown. If organizers and entrepreneurs fill an area with opportunities for people to learn and be creative, then these activities will fill with people's energy, and get people out of the house, so they can test themselves, fulfill their own potential, and find their own meaning.

Citizens for Public Accountability has launched a series of meetings, called Downtown Together, intended to encourage new projects downtown. In order to try to bridge the gap bewteen a user-generated physical space, and a user-generated web space, the meetings are using software known as Urbanology, which is in the early stages of an attempt to create a networking and project community self-management tool, online.

17 Comments:

At 6:45 PM, Blogger William said...

"There's another way to look at what we did. On the world wide web, the mantra for the last 10 years, or so, has been to encourage users to provide a website's content. "User-generated content" is populist, appropriately providing what the people want, because they actually did it themselves.

In the same way, a dance-hall provides people with the opportunity to create the evening they want. And each evening is, indeed, wonderful and different. There's a structure, but most great events need some structure: people can more easily express themselves in relation to something. Partner dances provide structure quite well.

So, an evening of dance is a "user-generated" event. At these events, everyione agrees, the most exciting stuff is on the dance floor, not on a stage or screen."

Greg,

This is William from DNA. So, I find this post very interesting. I respect what you are doing with the Tango Center/Market and I'm glad it seems to be a success.

I wonder though, given the current state of West Broadway - is this concept of "user generated" events giving people what you think they "need" or is it what they want? Is it enough to fill 2-3 city blocks sufficiently? Is it enough to turn around the poor perception of the area held by Eugene's general population?

There is a population in Eugene who will and do come to West Broadway. Is it our task to satisfy them? Or is it to figure out what is missing? What we can do to bring down those who won't step foot down there?

I think like you seem to be, I used to be very frustrated by the common complaints about Broadway "nowhere to park, nowhere to shop (in terms of Gap, Old Navy, Borders or even any of the local biggies like PC Market, Smith Family, or CD WORLD), and it's DANGEROUS".

But after a few months of DNA meetings, thought, discussion, and observation of other cities and other parts of Eugene that are commercially successful I began to think "they're telling us what THEY WANT, why won't we LISTEN?" These aren't the people who already do come to Broadway - these are the people we NEED to attract.

Broadway is a business district and business is giving people what they want.

You seem to be a well educated guy on these things and I'm just writing from personal experience, but I have a lot of passion for Eugene. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

 
At 12:48 PM, Blogger Greg Bryant said...

Wiiliam,

Well, we do what we can do. There's nothing that attracts everyone, and every organization on West Broadway attracts some people who would not otherwise come downtown.

Downtown has seen a number of "give them the standard stuff" initiatives, that simply didn't work, and caused incredible harm. Starting in the 1950's, the mantra was "demolish blocks for parking and create something that looks like a shopping mall". Those brilliant "leaders" turned a beautiful, locally-focussed downtown into a desert, destroying hundreds of small local businesses in the process.

So, I think we need to concentrate on differentiators and the stuff that is missing in life ... activity that cannot be found in shopping developments on Coburg Road or Gateway. We'll never be able to compete with such massive clusters of commodity merchandise and easy parking space.

We need to fill the gaps with locally-generated, and user-generated, activity.

This is also a more tractable approach. Filling a space, like Davis or The Tango Center or DIVA, is within the ability of one person and a circle of friends.

By the way, this viewpoint comes from listening to people. At the Downtown Together meetings, 100% of the attendees wanted more COMMUNITY activity. Nobody said "I want a Gap downtown". Of course, they might want one. But they'd sound shallow expressing it. There's a reason for that: it IS shallow. Life is not about franchise shopping experiences. There's a Gap at Valley River, when anyone needs it. A lot of people go to shopping malls, but that doesn't mean everything should be be a shopping mall.

So, we're giving people what they want downtown. We just need to do much more of it. And they need to find out about it.

Cheers,
Greg

 
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