The Revitalization of Downtown Eugene

Downtown Eugene recovered, from a widely-perceived five-decades-long slump, following the 2007 referendum that defunded Urban Renewal. The revitalization began in earnest in 2009, and was widely noted by 2011, even in the middle of a serious economic recession. This happened, without significant planning or initiatives, because the incentives changed, and City government investments were generally too small to hurt anything.

The proposition that defunding Urban Renewal caused revitalization is “counter-intuitive”, because Urban Renewal promotes itself as revitalizing. In fact, it only revitalizes the bank accounts of a few large landlords and developers, who work with city governments to take advantage of the bond authority that leverages these anti-democratic tax-increment financing districts. These funds create a classic “moral hazard”, encouraging developers and landowners to work against community interests.

The primary story can be found at Rain Magazine, but for the patterns community — architects, urban activists, community developers — it is useful to demonstrate this proposition more fully, by providing a detailed analytical timeline, with historical references.

Timeline:

  • May 2005 – Recognition that empty storefronts had one owner.
  • This demonstrates that the deadness of downtown is part of deliberate action. What causes this? A model of development that is not about people, or community development, but about profit paid for by the City.
  • June 2006 – Interview with Majority Broadway Landowner
  • This provides some insight into the thinking of a local landowner / developer who let downtown buildings sit empty or undeveloped, something that would be illegal in some cities and countries, but which is often accepted in the US. Essentially properties are only commodities. The notion of urban revitalization, creating a livable space by filling buildings with local activity, are very far from the thoughts of someone like this. Urban Renewal offers them a funding mechanism for these large-scale, non-local developments, so that such developments are considered “normal” and people who understand that are considered “educated”.

I’ll be adding to this timeline by mining news stories like these.

Research Support

If you’re involved in research surrounding Patterns, Pattern Languages, the Fifteen Properties, The Nature of Order, The Oregon Experiment, and other core research initiatives of Christopher Alexander, then you’re in the right place. The University of Oregon’s involvement with this research stretches back to 1970, and at least a dozen faculty members collaborated with Alexander, some for many decades. Those on campus today include Howard Davis, Hajo Neis, Don Corner, Jenny Young, Rob Thallon, Jim Givens, and Greg Bryant. A number of people in Eugene outside of the U of O also worked with Alexander, for example David Edrington, David Heine, and Olga Volchkova.

We’re continuing the work he started, and will track it here.