Downtown Eugene

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Past vs. The "Too Small" Argument

When nurturing community, we generally try to:

1. preserve and enhance what we have
2. encourage community-based initiatives to solve community problems
3. recover the bits we've lost

Let's talk about #3 for a moment. There's a good standard argument, useful in launching this kind project.

When we launched the non-profit Tango Center, the criticism was made that Eugene was "too small" for a full-time partner dance venue.

At the time, we countered that, when Eugene was only a few thousand people, it had several crowded partner dance venues. At 150,000 people, it should be easy to develop a dance community of equivalent size. And it was.

Recently, during talk of a full-time, elected City Auditor position for Eugene, Portland's auditor interjected that "Eugene may be too small" to provide a pool of qualified candidates. However, he admitted, Portland has had an elected Auditor since it was smaller than Eugene. The past comes to the rescue again.

In a recent Eugene Weekly article about trams one City Councilor said "Our city is just at this point too small" for trams, to which another councilor "points out that Eugene had an extensive electric trolley system from 1907 to 1928 when the city was much smaller. 'Eugene had a very viable streetcar system when there were only 10,000 people here.'"

Plenty of people abuse the study of History at the "macro" level -- making specious arguments about leaders and movements etc. But the really useful history records the activities of everyday people in the past -- and these, if you can find them, provide a key, and excellent market research, for recovering the structures that support community.

In fact, there's nothing like a 100-year-old copy of the Yellow Pages, for inspiring new ideas.