Sunday, June 05, 2005

How it works

In general, small groups, with grassroots support, do wonderful things. Then some massive project comes along, often building on the energy of these groups, and essentially destroys them.

I can stick to the history of Eugene, Oregon for this one.

For example, in the late seventies, there was an innovative, world-class dance, music & theatre scene. Everyone was very excited about it. Some developers decided to get the city to build a giant performance center: the "Hult Center". It sucked all the resources from the non-profit sector, and all those small groups disappeared, or moved on. It has been an albatross around the neck of the arts scene, ever since.

Another example: at the same time, some very innovative cooperative marketplaces were made out of nothing. In an old factory, a group of craftspeople created a lovely one: the Fifth Street Market. It was so successful, that some investors bought the building, kicked out the coop management, raised the rents ... the place has struggled ever since.

For years, neighborhood natural food stores thrived in Eugene. Now the imitators, the investors, the national chains, such as "Whole Foods", are moving in, and many of those small markets will disappear.

For years, non-profits have struggled to keep downtown Eugene alive, while the investors and the City did nothing. I have friends at the city, but they did nothing practical. All they did was help big projects. Not good projects. Because big projects have big advocates, who profit from them.

This system needs to change.

There's major investor-backed redevelopment in the air in Eugene, including the area occupied by the Tango Center. But community interests need to be considered, and good projects preserved. The more people talk about it, the more good can happen. "What should our city, and our downtown, be like?" That conversation is now starting, in earnest.


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