Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jason Lee was Fired! Ruth Rover's Alternative to Mission Hagiography

The whole Mark Hatfield v. Jason Lee debate is being cranked up again, and apparently a new blue-ribbon committee is going to make a recommendation on who would best represent Oregon in the National Statuary Hall.

A great friend of the blog shared a fascinating book recently. The Grains, or, Passages in the Life of Ruth Rover, with Occasional Pictures of Oregon, Natural and Moral was published in 1854.

Original 1854 title page
via Wikipedia/Oregon Encyclopedia

The book is many things.

For one, it is a candidate for one of the very first novels written in Oregon. I say candidate because while some critics and historians stretch call it a "novel," I can't read it as one. It's thinly disguised (if at all) autobiography and really has the form of a kind of literary scrapbook.  It's a pastiche of letters, journal entries, commentary on other published documents, and finally some episodic narrative. There's not really a story. It's not picaresque even in the tradition of Don Quixote or Huckleberry Finn. Or fully epistolary like Pamela or Clarissa. Maybe in form it anticipates (as in theme it surely must) something like Lessing's Golden Notebook, which I have not read. Earlier this year the obituaries for Bel Kaufman highlighted Up the Down Staircase, which also sounds similar.

Readers who have read more widely may know more about mid-19th century forms, especially those written by women, and about innovative 20th century forms, and might have more incisive things to say.

Apart from ways in which the book might be interesting formally, in a normal readerly experience, as a whole it's not a satisfying aesthetic work.

It's ranty, is what it is.

Maybe that shouldn't be surprising.  In the pre-settlement and very early settlement eras, you had to be a little crazy to give up everything, get on a ship for half a year or more, and to settle in a strange country with a handful of fellow missionaries, whom you didn't know and might not even have liked.

In January of 1837 Margaret Jewett Smith left Boston on a ship and traveled with David Leslie to join Jason Lee at the Willamette Mission.

Her time at the Mission was not pleasing. It was more like a disaster for her. Between the intensely sexist patriarchal social structure at the Mission and her own propensity for self-sabotage, things didn't work out and Margaret was miserable.

After a bit more than a decade of additional experiences outside of the Mission, culminating in a bold and very rare divorce proceeding, Margaret composed The Grains with a view towards defending and vindicating herself.

Published in 1854, it's a rare peek into pre-Statehood settlement and society (such as it was), but it also is a testament to Margaret's tremendous sense of being wronged. It is a difficult work in many ways, but it also complicates our picture of Salem's origins.

And Jason Lee is one of the central figures.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Drought casts Doubt on Wisdom of New Reservoir

While so far Marion County has escaped real drought conditions, this summer has been "abnormally dry" and the farther southeast you go in Oregon, drought ranks from moderate, to severe, to extreme. (There's one last rank of even worse, "exceptional drought," but you have to go to California to see that. But it's everywhere in California.)

USDA Drought Map for Oregon, August 19th
Marion County is dry
You might remember a Climate Assessment for the US that projected a dramatic reduction in summer stream flows by 2040:

Creeks feeding the Santiam and Willamette Rivers will be low in 2040!
That'll impact the Santiam and its tributaries, from which Salem gets its clean, pure, "sweet mountain water."

There's news today about a big new reservoir that will serve business and new subdivisions.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Cascadia 9.0 Quake will be about 1000x Worse than the 6.0 Napa Quake

Remember earthquake ratings are on a log scale, so each integer, from 6 to 7, 7 to 8, and 8 to 9, represents a 10-fold increase in energy. From 6 to 9 is 10x10x10 = 1000 more energy!

If earthquake prep is cited as a reason for a "third bridge," it's a lot cheaper to do a retrofit.

A bare-bones seismic retrofit doesn't fit on the chart
For hardly more than we're spending on the widening of Wallace and Glen Creek, we could retrofit one of our bridges to withstand the Cascadian Subduction Zone 9.0 "big one" earthquake.

For the cost of three Wallace and Glen Creek widenings, we could reinforce both bridges.

Seriously, why is this even a debate?

Monday, August 25, 2014

NEN-SESNA Looking Forward to Talk Opportunity Sites Tuesday

Remember the NEN-SESNA map clip?

Opportunity sites include
three potential mixed-use centers
"Looking Forward," the process for the new NEN-SESNA neighborhood plan, is going to meet to talk about this map of "opportunity sites." It includes several proposed parks and mixed-use centers. It also includes upzoning some areas to higher density and downzoning some other areas back to single-family, detached housing.

They meet Tuesday, August 26th at 6:30 PM in the Court Street Christian Church (1699 Court St NE).

Saturday, August 23, 2014

City Council, August 25th - Parking Report

After Councilor Clem requested it, on Monday at Council staff will present a report and update on free parking.

Here's another way of looking at things. Which is more pro-business?

A)  A regulatory scheme with large subsidies combined with cumbersome reporting requirements and significant fines for non-compliance?

- or -

B)  Market-pricing applied across the board with little or no reporting requirements and simple enforcement?

Perhaps the same basic schema applies to downtown parking?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Project Space had Bike Art this Summer; Liberty Plaza's Auto-centric Design

Liberty Plaza downtown is pretty dead. Sure, it's got the Starbucks on the corner of Liberty and Chemeketa, but even with the tanning salon and a couple of other stores, it's really not very lively inside.

Liberty Plaza is in the old Lipman's Department Store
Salem Library Historic Photos, image circa 1956
The building was the old Lipmans department store, which became Frederick & Nelson around 1980. It's been heavily remodeled since, and like many other department stores that became indoor malls, it struggled.

You have to go up to the second floor
This summer the Salem Art Association is using two of its vacant storefronts for the summer Project Space series of gallery shows.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Do we Really Need more Committees?

The idea of a Environmental Advisory Committee got some press in yesterday's paper, and it's an interesting one. Apparently Councilor Tesler has some interest in it, and as the concept "percolates" through Council, perhaps it will gain enough traction for a formal proposal.

But here's the thing. We already have a bunch of advisory and even quasi-judicial boards, and it has seemed difficult for them really to lead.
  • The Citizens Advisory Traffic Commission doesn't even have a meeting posted for 2014 (but I believe they have met at least once this year) and in the last decade seems to have met on average about 4 times a year. It is a badly underused resource, fairly neglected by the City.
  • The Historic Landmarks Commission does a great job policing vinyl windows, new garage doors, and wireless antennae on historic buildings, but is seemingly helpless on actually preserving buildings that owners are trying to demolish. Even when the HLC takes a principled stand, Council feels free to disregard the stand and enact its own veto.
  • The Planning Commission is more difficult to nutshell, but it seems relevant that it wasn't able to maintain the integrity of the Fairview Master Plan in a proposed refinement plan for a third development at Fairview.
  • The Public Art Commission looks a little too clubby and insidery, and it tends towards institutionalizing and decorating our ornamental emptinesses.
  • There are also temporary committees, like the "Stakeholder Advisory Committees" for Bike and Walk Salem, for the Downtown Mobility Study, the North Broadway Parking study. You will think of others. The committees seem to start with vision, but between the necessary politics of compromise and unnecessary weight given to objections based on maintaining the status quo, the final recommendations always seem so pallid, so watered down. And sustaining funded action on them a near impossibility.
  • Of the commissions we've followed here, the ones that have seemed most effective are the boards advising on the Urban Renewal Areas: The Downtown Advisory Board, West Salem Redevelopment Advisory Board, and North Gateway Redevelopment Advisory Board. They've got real budgets and get to help develop real projects. But I don't know if anyone would say they were strikingly effective.
These are just what we have followed here. Maybe you will know more about Parks, the Library, the Budget, Police, Tourism, Human Rights - there's a bunch more Boards and Commissions.

But in general, as a group the Boards and Commissions don't look like they actually are very powerful or very effective. As institutions and by the city ordinances that establish and govern them, they don't look like they are meant to be very powerful or effective. For the volunteer members without staff resources of their own, it is not always easy to develop alternatives to or detailed critique of the staff-driven agenda. Sometimes the committees just rubber-stamp; sometimes they give the illusion and "blessing" of debate, dissent, and deliberation; in all cases they seem like they are meant to sand down and tame any distinction and vision so it's smooth and easy.

August 2014 vacancies
Some have observed the large number of vacancies on boards and commissions. Is part of the problem a lack of interest in the citizenry? Instead, I wonder if the lack of interest is a consequence of the seemingly nugatory nature of the positions. It doesn't seem possible to make a real difference.

This is why it has not seemed useful here to advocate for a Bicycle Advisory Committee. Would one help us get a full family-friendly bikeway any faster? Or would it just provide more greenwash and cover, the soothing reassurance of "process"?

If you've been reading BikePortland lately, you'll see even Portland isn't living the dream right now:
It has seemed like the two absolutely necessary ingredients are leadership at the top rank of electeds (which Portland especially lacks right now) and a robust grassroots advocacy. The middle level of advisory committees and their staff handlers look mostly impotent or irrelevant without the two other ingredients.

Maybe you have a different analysis of it all. (Certainty's not possible!)

And it's true that the "the proposed advisory committee would have less clout than the old environmental commission. The advisory committee could only make recommendations, not issue decisions." Its proponents don't argue for much in the way of real power or influence.

Still, I really wonder if an effective solution to our dilatory interests in environmentalism and sustainability really is another committee.