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Envision Eugene

I recently wrote an op-ed piece for our local newspaper, The Register-Guard. here it is in its entirety:

The Envision Eugene draft document, which is poised to create “A Legacy of Livability,” is open for public comment; a public hearing is scheduled for Monday before the City Council. I know some have expressed frustration that we aren’t jumping in and drawing lines and getting to the details faster. As one who has lived in Eugene almost all of my 54 years, I’ve observed our community’s ups and downs and would like to offer my perspective on this process.

While the original mandate from the state Legislature was for cities to identify and establish a 20-year supply of buildable residential land, our city’s officials decided this was an opportunity to carry the process further and with more depth and completeness than just meeting the legal minimums. We had not performed such a comprehensive analysis since the 1980s, and it was long overdue.

These two goals — accommodating the next 20 years of growth and creating a livable, sustainable future for our community — are outlined in the draft Envision Eugene document.

What this meant was taking a few steps back to see the big picture and establishing some goals that went beyond just the mandate. And it means taking a little longer for the process. We must come to grips with the concept that everything is connected. Land use, transportation corridors and many other elements are inextricably dependent on each other.

Past planning decisions have not always recognized this. Plus, we also have a community that is known for its very diverse views on how to approach solutions, sometimes leading to no decision.

A Community Resource Group was formed by John Ruiz, our city manager. This group represented people with a broad range of interests, backgrounds and opinions.

What I observed with the CRG and other listening sessions was a bringing together of diverse members of our community in a way that started with our common thread. Then, the sessions took the common threads our community agrees on and used those as the foundation to build our collective vision for what we’d like Eugene to look like over the next few decades.

And that intentionally must start with general concepts before we delve into the details; we have to decide and agree on our destination before we choose the method of how to get there. That is what the whole Envision Eugene process, the seven pillars and the strategies and tactics attempt to do: provide the framework for actually “drawing the lines.”

Those seven pillars are objectives set out to: 1) provide ample economic opportunities for all community members, 2) provide affordable housing for all income levels, 3) plan for climate change and energy uncertainty, 4) promote compact urban development and efficient transportation options, 5) protect, repair and enhance neighborhood livability, 6) protect, restore and enhance natural resources, and 7) provide for adaptable flexible and collaborative implementation.

In short, these pillars address at least one aspect of the “triple bottom line” regarding the economy, the environment and social equity within a framework that allows flexibility and adaptation in the coming years.

As an architect, whenever we design a project for a client, we first require them to go through what we call a programming phase. This is where they lay out and establish what their goals are with their project: what their needs are, what they want it to feel like, look like and cost. Until those things are established, we won’t start designing or drawing lines. And when our clients have done a good job of thinking through their needs, goals and resources, our design and the end result for them is always successful.

I believe it will be the same with Envision Eugene. If we are patient enough to really establish and articulate our goals as a community and resist the urge to prematurely dive into drawing lines, we will have a much better result, a much more livable Eugene and a framework we can use for decisions in the future that will achieve the goals of our community.

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