Saturday, May 26, 2012

In the News: Cemeteries and a Hoyt-Rural Connection

Not real excited about the framing in the SJ today. It's Memorial Day Weekend, after all. (Is it even possible to write a neutral and even-handed piece given the nature of the weekend's obsequies?)

The frame could be the way that the existing Cemetery Master Plan already encourages casual recreational use of the cemetery, and the way that more eyeballs and ears could provide enhanced security. It could be about honoring history by making it more accessible.

But instead the frame is doubt and danger:
Elisabeth Walton Potter with Friends of Pioneer Cemetery said the volunteer caretakers continue to be skeptical of the idea.

“We appreciate the concept and the value of neighborhood connectivity, but we believe that the Pioneer Cemetery is not suitable for this type of path,” she said.

Walton Potter said the cemetery needs to be protected as a historic place and that more access would put the monuments at risk.
The original staff recommendation, from April 2011, to postpone the vacation was also omitted.
The issue should have been put to rest after the council voted for it Sept. 28. A staff report presented to the council at the meeting said “the proposed vacation does not restrict the city’s ability to comply with the State TRP and the Salem TSP policies regarding transportation system connectivity.”
That graf is strangely non-neutral.

The piece also misses that the alley matter does not necessarily imply a pathway through the Pioneer Cemetery. In fact the photo they use in the paper (at top) is from City View, not the Pioneer Cemetery!

It would be disingenuous to say the cemetery and alley matters are totally unrelated, of course, but there might be ways to imagine a walkway on other alignments. To construe a walkway as mainly a "threat" to Pioneer Cemetery is something of a straw man, and the emotional values muddle the fact that there are several separate but interrelated planning questions.

The thing about a connection that involves the cemeteries is that wide community support will be necessary. Larger values are in play. It is important to honor the dead. No one disputes that. It's not like advocates for the connection want in any way to encourage something that will harm the cemeteries and those buried there.

We'll have to see how the community rallies. This is one instance where community consensus is more important than connectivity. I just don't see a way to say (as I would in other contexts) that here connectivity might trump prevailing community sentiment. If community sentiment is frequently contingent, with history so often having a way of reversing our judgement on some values and finding them short-sighted, many of the values at heart here are non-contingent.

(At the same time, it is not pleasant to think about the ways we would bulldoze an expressway through an existing neighborhood and the lives of families, through the land and neighborhoods of the living, but hesitate to create a walkway through the nieghborhood of the honored dead. There are strange inversions and ironies involved in our readiness to entertain one project but not another.)

For more on Watt Shipp, see here. More history see here, here, and here.


Kelly Carlisle said...

It stands to reason that most if not all of the vandalism to monuments has happened when the culprits believe nobody's watching them. I don't understand the concern about folks riding or walking by. Seems to me they would actually be a great deterrent to acts of vandalism.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

People like enclaves and enclosure - we saw this the other night at Council when people argued for cul-de-sacs. But just as you say the eyeballs and ears of engaged strangers offer an effective and even friendly low-level policing of public spaces. But if making that argument is difficult for neighborhoods of the living, it's even harder to make for neighborhoods of departed ancestors, family, and friends. These invoke powerful feelings and fears. Fear of the unknown, and all. Hopefully we can all land on a compromise.