Downtown Eugene

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Board Games vs. Life

Eugene's chief downtown planner, Mike Sullivan, once said to me "You know the Taekwondo business near Cafe Perugino? I think the Tango Center would be a much better fit there. We should try to do something about that." I couldn't believe my ears ... he was thinking of "swapping" two businesses from their locations, as if we were some kind of monopoly pieces? Does he have any idea of the pain associated with the "simple thought" he was considering forcing upon others?

"Easy for you to say" I said.

If he could descend from this sterile, rarified cognitive state, and begin to understand people's reality, there are ways he could present such suggestions, at the appropriate stage. If he's interested in influencing the location of things, he should form an incubator and support resources for new businesses downtown, and make such suggestions before people have created a functioning business in a particular physical/social context.

The planner's God-like Board Game mentality is the norm, not the exception. It stretches to politicians of course. Alan Zalenka, complaining that we were trying to stop his expensive, destructive, anti-democratic megaproject, whined: "I don't see what the fuss is about. The rents on West Broadway are too low. I don't think we want this neighborhood to be a low rent district." The fact that artificially raising the rents would destroy 25 businesses and non-profits, and one of the City's major civic spaces, not to mention the waste of City funds desperately needed for real problems, has no effect upon his thinking.

On the advisory committee there are two openly technocratic members, Mike Coughlin and Jean Tate, who are very happy to play the Board Game with people's lives. At a recent meeting Tate said that reparations for the destructive relocation of a non-profit were too high, even though it was a federally mandated amount. "$20,000 is a lot of money for moving a non-profit" she said -- even after she'd just heard that $1 million in sweat equity had gone into one. Coughlin wanted to disqualify as many of the threatened businesses as possible, to save money. Even though the federal law, as described to him already, said explicitly that everyone active on the date of the City's HUD application was eligible, period.

But even commmittee members with human-rights backgrounds can be entranced by the typical, technocratic, architect/planner mindset. It made Pastor Dan Bryant of the historic First Christian Church downtown, come out against Historic Preservation, and against Human Rights. Because the City presented a mock "report" to the committee, dismissing the historic value of Eugene's first brick building and it's Public Market building (which houses the Tango Center), he concluded the buildings should be torn down, and wrote:

I would also recommend that we follow Jessica's suggestion that the design of the new building "make reference to the old bank by differentiating the base from the upper stories and the use of a prominent corner design feature." Lastly, I would recommend that interpretive displays with photos of the original buildings be included in the new structures.

So, we should destroy the businesses, and the buildings they are in, and then create a memorial to the destruction? The only way a human-rights advocate could make this statement, is after he has been placed on a powerless planning committee, whose members have been hypnotized into thinking they have the power of life-and-death over others.

Now, the entire City council is focussed upon the destruction they want to see happen. They are purposefully blinding themselves to the value of people and places, that don't need their help, and focussing upon expensive mega-developments that the citizens have not asked for. And they are therefore expending energy better spent upon improving the city, and helping its citizens, not tearing it down.

All this inexcusable government-bullying in the liberal university town of Eugene. We must conclude, I believe, that even small governments naturally tend towards inhumanity. That means we must all work harder to push back, if we are to survive.


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